Middara Review (Spoiler Free)

Middara is a game by Clayton Helme, Brooklyn Lundberg, Brennon Moncur and Ian Tate, published by Succubus Publishing. It is for 1-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of a party of adventurers in a world much like our own but full of magic and mayhem. Players will explore a truly unique story driven adventure that has plenty of decisions that will affect the outcome of that story. Players will need to work together to overcome obstacles and fight hideous monstrosities while earning experience to customize their characters to their own play styles. In the end, the story and outcome is completely up to the players.

To begin, players must first choose a game mode. This can be either Crawl Mode or Adventure Mode. I will briefly touch on the Crawl Mode in the Gameplay section. The majority of this review will be based on the Adventure Mode. That said, let’s continue. Once the game mode has been chosen, players must now choose an Adventure to play. Since this game only contains one Adventure, the Unintenional Malum: Act I will be chosen. Players should now break out the Adventure book, turning to the first page and reading over all the information presented there. So as not to create any spoilers, I will simply be referencing the setup for the first encounter and how the game actually starts. Now then, the following 4 characters should be assigned to the players; Nightingale, Zeke, Remi and Rook. The number of characters each player gets is based on the number of players. Each player takes their respective character cards at this time. All the various dice, tiles, cards and other game tokens and components, including the Red Reveal Decoder should be sorted and placed where everyone can reach them. At this time, either the best reader or the app should be used to read aloud the first story scene; Before the Mast. Through the course of the story each character will receive a specific Discipline and a variety of Mundane items. Which should be placed in and around the Adventurer’s play area. For a better understanding of what should go where, please check the rulebook. Once the opening story has been read, players continue into the first encounter; The Mast: Day 1. Setting up the first encounter requires a few things. To begin with, as with all encounters, players will then go through the 4 phases of setup.

The 4 phases of setup for an encounter are the prepare phase, the placement phase, the distribution phase and the initiative phase. First off is the prepare phase. For the first time playing the game, this step is skipped as there’s nothing to really do. For any future encounters, players will remove their Used tokens from any of their per encounter abilities. If any adventurers have damage tokens equal to more than half of their max HP, they will remove these damage tokens until half of their Max HP is reached. Any effect tokens are also removed and each adventurer will set their stamina points to their stamina point recovery value. Next is the placement phase. For the first encounter, the 3 tiles referenced in the Adventure book are placed as shown in the middle of the play area. The corresponding terrain, totems, loot and exit tokens are also placed as shown in the book. The special encounter rules should be read aloud so that everyone is familiar with them before continuing. Players should place their miniatures on one of the starting areas. Finally the Combatant Loot Deck should be setup as indicated in the rule book based on the level. In this case, the level is Mundane. The cards are then shuffled and set to the side. Next is the distribution phase. Any combatant cards listed in the encounter setup should be evenly distributed between players, so that each player is able to help keep track of enemy combatants. This may include setting aside any miniatures and colored rings to help keep track of these figures once they make their way onto the board. Finally there’s the initiative phase. At this time, players will take an initiative card for each adventurer and each combatant in the encounter and shuffle them together. The cards are then dealt out in a row, usually above the tiles to make the initiative track. This determines which characters are able to act first and which acts last, as well as when enemy combatants will go. Once the end of the initiative track has been reached, the current round ends and a new one begins. This ends the setup. One player will now read aloud the encounter intro and play now begins starting with the character with the first initiative card in the initiative track.

Each encounter is played in a series of rounds. The encounter continues until one of the end conditions has been met. As noted above, the initiative track determines when a character goes and when an enemy combatant will take a turn. An Adventurer’s turn consists of 5 phases; Start of Turn Phase, Status Phase, Refresh Phase, Action Phase and the End of Turn Phase. The first phase is the Start of Turn Phase. In this phase, the player will first resolve any special encounter rules. Next they will resolve any abilities that the Adventurer controls. They will then resolve any abilities that other allies control. Finally they will resolve any abilities that their opponents control. Once all this is done, play moves to the Status Phase.

In the Status Phase, any effects or abilities that have a Status tag on them will be resolved at this time. This can be negative effects like Poison that deals irreducible damage equal to half the adventurer’s remaining HP. It can also be positive effects like Haste that allow the adventurer to gain +1 SP.

The third phase is the Refresh Phase. In this phase, the Adventurer goes through 2 steps. They will Recover Stamina Points or SP and then will Un-Exhaust cards. First the adventurer recovers SP. The amount of SP recovered is based on the Adventurer’s Stamina Recovery Bar on their Adventurer Card. This bar also tells how many SP the Adventurer may have at any given time. It should be noted that Adventurers do not gain SP during the Refresh Phase of their 1st turn for a particular Encounter. Once SP has been recovered, the Adventurer may then Un-Exhaust any Exhausted cards. Exhausting a card simply means that the player has turned it sideways to use one of it’s printed abilities. Un-Exhausting a card means that the card is turned back right side up.

The next phase is the Action Phase. In this phase, the adventurer is able to spend SP to take actions and/or use abilities. These can come from any of their cards or character sheets, as well as from the list of standard actions and abilities. There are 4 standard actions and 3 standard abilities. The standard actions are move, attack, encounter action and re-equip. First there’s the move action. This action costs 1 SP and allows the adventurer to move up to their maximum movement value. For each additional SP spent, they’re able to move 2 additional spaces. It should be noted however that adventurers are only allowed to take the move action once per turn. Movement may only be done up and down and side to side or orthogonally and may never be taken diagonally. They also may not move into or through an area on the tile marked with a red line. They also may not end their movement occupying another ally’s space. Also of note is that some abilities allow a character to move for free and does not count as a move action. Any negative effects cause by terrain or allies are negated by a character using this ability. However obstructing terrain and opposing figures would still prevent the character from moving through the space.

The next action is to attack. Making an attack consists of following 8 steps. First the target must be chosen. This means that the player must select a figure within line of sight and range of their character’s miniature as their target. One thing to note is that some abilities may have special targeting parameters that override this. Line of sight is determined by drawing an imaginary line from the center of the space that the acting figure occupies to the center of the space that the target figure occupies. If that imaginary line crosses over anything that blocks line of sight then the action or ability can not be performed. Some things like obstructing terrain, edges of a tile and spaces occupied by opponents will block line of sight. Allies give a -1 to attack rolls made through them and do not block line of sight. Range is determined by a character’s equipped weapons and items. Melee or adjacent range means that the character must be adjacent to the attacking figure. Reach means that the melee attack must be made within a certain range equal to the number in parenthesis. Ranged means that a target must be no farther than the listed range number on the adventurer’s equipped ranged weapon. They can be made against adjacent targets but can not gain the flanking bonus. Second the player must build the combat dice pool. When doing this, the player will use the combined dice of all weapons that they have equipped; 1 die for 1 handed weapons and 2 dice for 2 handed ones. If an adventurer only has one combat die being added from their equipped weapon, they will also add a purple die to their combat pool. If a player has no equipped weapons, they will add 2 purple dice. They will also add their combat dice that is printed on their character sheet. Once the combat dice pool has been built, the next step is to empower. In this step, the player may choose to empower their attack by spending 1 SP to add a black die to their combat pool. However, they’re only allowed to do this if they have an ability on one of their cards that allows them to empower. For the next step, the player checks if the target uses Dodge and makes a Dodge roll. A combatant may Dodge if their card states that they have the ability, using 1 SP to use this ability. The Dodge roll is done by rolling the black die. For each shield rolled, the target adds 1 to their defense. If a skull is rolled the Dodge fails and no additional defense is added. Now on to the fifth step where the player rolls to hit. To do this the player rolls the dice in their combat pool. Once rolled, they may then spend symbols and use abilities to add to their attack roll. These come from abilities written on the cards. Finally they determine if the attack hit by checking to see if the total number rolled along with any bonuses from abilities is equal to or greater than the target’s defense value. If it is, the attack hits and the player determines damage. If it misses, then the player checks to see if the target counters, more on this in a moment. Step 6 is all about determining damage. First the player determines the difference how strong the attack was by adding 1 point of physical damage to each number above the target’s defense value. They can then use symbols from abilities to add to the damage. Next the player will subtract the target’s armor value from the total of physical damage performed. It should be noted that some abilities have the armor piercing tag which means that the attack ignores a certain amount of armor. Next any resistances that the target has are calculated. Finally any damage remaining after subtracting armor and resistances is the final damage that the attack delivered. The target will then add damage tokens to their character card equal to that number. Once that’s all done, the player must check to see if the target counters. If the attack missed, as stated earlier, or the attack dealt no damage, the player must then see if the target has the counter ability or wishes to pay 2 SP to use the ability. This then allows the target to attack the attacker, following the same steps. As long as the attack did not miss, the player is then able to use follow up abilities. If it did miss, then the attack ends immediately and skips the follow up step. The eighth and last step is to use follow up abilities. These abilities may be used off the attack, as long as they do not start a new attack or spell action. If they do, then the current attack ends and a new action begins as normal.

The next standard action that can be used during the Action phase is the Encounter action. These actions can be used any time a special encounter rule calls for it or when a character interacts with a loot token. These usually require performing a skill check of some sort and cost 1 SP. Speaking of skill checks, to perform one of these the adventurer will roll 2 purple dice and add the appropriate skill value from their adventurer card. If the total is greater than the listed skill check, the player passes. Enemy combatants can also perform skill checks but they roll the black die. Any result other than a skull is considered a pass for the combatant.

The last standard action is to re-equip. This costs 1 SP and allows the player to equip items from their pack or store items back into it. This also allows the player to take items and companions from an adjacent adventurer. It should be noted that an adventurer may never give items or companions to another adventurer. They may only take them from another. When an adventurer takes an item or companion from another adventurer, then the adventurer being taken from may then requip their items during this action. Once a player decides they no longer want to spend SP, take actions or use abilities, the adventurer will then move to the next phase, the End of Turn Phase.

The final phase of an adventurer’s turn is the End of Turn Phase. This phase is conducted much like the Start of Turn Phase. The player will first resolve any special encounter rules. Next they will resolve any abilities that the Adventurer controls. They will then resolve any abilities that other allies control. Finally they will resolve any abilities that their opponents control. Once all this is done, the adventurer’s turn is over.

One final thing of note before moving on is the Spell action. There are a lot of abilities that allow an adventurer to cast spells. To do this, they must perform a Spell action following these steps. First they must choose the target by checking to see if the target is within the SOI or sphere of Influence of the spell. SOI is both a type of range and line of sight and has a base range of 4, adjusted by items and abilities. Opponents, allies, and all terrain other than obstructing terrain do not block or hinder line of sight for SOI. Once that’s determined, the player may then spend 1 SP to empower, rolling a black die. For each book rolled, +1 is added to the force of the spell. Next they will determine the force of the spell by rolling their casting die and adding the value of the spell to the result. The target will then make a conviction check by rolling their conviction dice, printed on their card. If the total is equal to or higher than the spell’s force value the spell is resisted and the action ends. However if the total is lower, then the printed spell’s effects occur.

Now that I’ve explained the adventurer’s turn, let’s talk about the enemy combatants. There are 2 types of combatants, command combatants and intelligent combatants. Command combatants are controlled by the players and usually represent characters that temporarily join the characters on their adventure. Intelligent combatants are not controlled by the players but instead make their own decisions based on the AI steps on their card. Command combatants go through the same steps as adventurers and use the same standard actions and abilities. An intelligent combatant’s turn consists of 4 phases; the Start of Turn phase, the Status phase, the Activation phase and the End of Turn phase. The first phase is the Start of Turn Phase. Much like an adventurer’s start of turn phase, the intelligent combatant will resolve any special encounter rules, resolve any abilities that the combatant controls, resolve any abilities that other allies to the combatant control and then resolve any abilities that opponents to the combatant control. Once that’s done, they will move on to the Status Phase.

The second step is the Status Phase. In this phase, any effects or abilities that have the Status tag will occur. These can be positive effects like Haste that will give the combatant +1 SP, or negative effects like Condemn that causes them to roll a black die. If they roll a skull, then the combatant is defeated.

The third step is the Activation Phase. In this step, the player in charge of the combatant will go through the AI steps on the combatant’s card, one at a time until one of the conditions read is true. Once they find one that is, the combatant will then perform the instruction listed under the true condition.

The final phase is the End of Turn Phase. Much like the adventurer’s End of Turn Phase, the combatant will resolve special encounter rules, resolve abilities that are controlled by the combatant, resolve abilities that other allies to the combatant control and resolve abilities opponents to the combatant control. Once this phase is over, the enemy combatants turn is also over.

One last thing of note, when activating an intelligent combatant’s AI, there are 3 Golden Rules. First if they have multiple options to take, they will always choose the option that players deem the most detrimental to the adventurers. Second they will sometimes hurt themselves but if they can still complete the instruction as written without the risk of hurting themself, they will will take this path always. Third unless otherwise stated, a combatant will never make an action or use an ability that would result in their guaranteed defeat. This means that sometimes a combatant may do nothing on their turn.

A round moves from the front of the initiative track and moves to the back with adventurers and combatants taking their turns. Once a figure has taken their turn, the next card in the initiative track takes their turn. This continues until the back of the initiative track is reached. When this happens, the current round ends and a new round begins. Rounds continue until the encounter reaches an end condition. As soon as one of these end conditions is met, the encounter immediately ends and the players read the listed reward beneath the end condition that was met. Any rewards from end conditions are gained immediately. After gaining their rewards, players continue the adventure.

One final note, if at the end of a round where no opponent had an AI step with a true condition and no opponents were spawned, an Urgency token is added to the end of the Initiative track. If the party of adventurers ever gains a fourth Urgency token, all adventurers are defeated. Urgency tokens are removed at the end of each encounter.

There are a lot more rules including ones for summoning familiars and upgrading items, ones for elevation and terrain and many others. For this review I wanted to give a basic overview of how the game is played without getting too lost in all the details. Hopefully I was able to do that.

COMPONENTS
This is a monster of a game. There are so many cards, tokens and miniatures that come inside just the core box alone that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Let’s begin with the books. This game comes with 5 books. There’s the rulebook which will be covered in the next section, then there’s the Adventure book, Diagram book, Crawl book and Bounty book. The Adventure book is by far the biggest book of them all. It’s a whopping 483 pages filled to the brim with lots of amazing stories, pictures and scenarios to play through in a fully realized campaign. Just the sheer size and weight of this thing blew my mind. There’s some really great storytelling inside. The author has definitely created an amazingly realistic world to explore. The Diagram book is basically just a thin book of layouts for the tiles that are used with the Adventure book, Crawl book and Bounty book. The Crawl book has 5 scenarios for players to explore and is more of your basic dungeon crawl. The Bounty book is a short side quest still adventure that players can use to hunt down a dangerous monster. From what I’ve heard, there will be more such Bounty books with varying degrees of difficulty in the future. Next up are the miniatures, these are some of the most detailed and gorgeous looking plastic figures that I’ve ever seen. I’ve compared them with Zombicide, Conan, Star Wars Imperial Assault and others, but these are still the best miniatures in any game that I’ve ever seen or played. The level of detail is simply overwhelming. I could honestly spend the rest of this review just discussing them but I’ll move on. The game also comes with 17 custom dice that are brightly colored and have lots of different symbols and numbers on them. These are really great quality dice and really look great with the game. This game also comes with a whole bunch of cards in different sizes. There are the Adventurer and Combatant cards which feature some really great looking artwork of playable characters and awesome looking monsters. The Discipline cards are mostly just colored cards with some text abilities on the other side and the Combatant loot cards just have treasure chests on them with a gold coin reward on most of them. The Initiative cards feature a picture of the character or monsters that they represent. The rest of the cards; Familiar cards, Item cards, Monster Loot cards, Exalted Esper cards and Abraxis cards all feature really great looking artwork of the different pieces and monsters that they represent. Overall these are really great looking and feature some truly amazing looking artwork that I really like. Oh and the game also comes with some handy reference cards to help you play through the game. The Tiles for the game are these huge squares that have some interesting looking art on them. The art on many of them feels a bit dark, but it’s still pretty easy to determine what it is your dealing with on each one. The game also comes with lots of story cards and hidden cards of various shapes, sizes and art. The story cards are used with the Adventure mode of the game. The Hidden cards are full of different things like items, disciplines or other special things that the players will uncover as they play the game. The game also has a large number of cardboard tokens. So many that I had to get a plano organizer just to hold them all and keep them separated for ease of play. There are terrain tokens which are placed on the different tiles to add variety to the game. There are circular combatant tokens, ability tokens, encounter tokens and smaller SP tokens. Each with their own text, number and/or artwork. There are the unique heart shaped tokens for keeping up with damage. There are square effect tokens with text on one side and a piece of artwork on the other. There are tracker tokens with all different shapes and art to keep up with the different aspects of the game that need to be kept up with. Another unique token is the urgency token. I still haven’t figure out just what these are supposed to be. Is it a bomb or a timer, I don’t know. The game also comes with some cardboard standees that work with different combatants. The artwork for these is pretty much the same as that on the combatant card. The last piece is the red reveal decoder which is one of those red plastic rectangles that you’d look at the hidden codes on the back of your cereal box when you were a kid. This is used to reveal the secret hidden stuff in the Adventure book. Needless to say, there’s a lot of stuff inside this enormous coffin box. Add in all the extra bits and pieces that came with the game inside the promo box, and you’ve got a whopper. I love the art style chosen for this game. It reminds me a lot of the Japanese manga style that I love. Every piece of the game is dripping with theme and is very high quality. There’s really not a thing that I’d change as far as components go. This game looks extremely cool. For me, it’s the pinnacle of epicness. Once you see it for yourself, you’ll see the love that was put into this game and why it took so long to be created. Definitely a perfect 10 in my book.
10 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is a rather large spiral bound book that has 75 pages worth of information in it. Like the game, it’s a bit overwhelming. There are lots of illustrations and examples throughout the book which do help out quite a bit. Both the crawl mode and adventure mode are explained in deep detail. There are also lots of diagrams, breakdowns of different parts of the game and charts for everything from the dice to creating a combatant loot deck. Most of the information presented follows a set straight forward line of thinking, however there are some aspects of things like creating the aforementioned combatant loot deck that you sort of have to look for to figure out what you’re actually doing. Some things aren’t exactly cut and dry and easy to understand. Even with the addition of an index at the back of the book, some things require a bit of digging to find. With 75 pages of material to look through, it can be a bit of a struggle and quite time consuming. The book does look quite beautiful though and it contains some extra things like the mini game rules for Abraxis Battle Dice. There are also several variants included in the rules like playing without player elimination or tweaking the rules for an easier experience. As I said, a lot of things are easy to follow, it’s those things that you really need to know right at that moment that may not be as easy to find. Overall I think the book does a good job at handling all the enormous wealth of material that is presented. I just wish that a bit more attention had been paid to things like set up and ways of finding particular information on a subject besides just the index. There are a few things here and there that were off so expect to see some errata and faqs to clear up the things that were off and to highlight the changes that were made after the game was made. Still, I do think that the rulebook is good, overlooking these few minor flaws. Overall it’s a pretty good job.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
As noted earlier, this is a monster. There’s a lot to think about and remember while playing this one. If you feel a bit overwhelmed looking at all the materials in the box, you have every reason to be. There’s a ton of game in that big ol’ box. Don’t let the sheer volume of material dissuade you though, this is some of the coolest and most captivating story telling in any game that I’ve ever played. Every page of the Adventure book draws you into this fully fleshed out and imaginative world that the designers have created. Each scenario leads you deeper and deeper while rewarding you along the way. With over 80 hours of adventure to be had, this one will take awhile for me to get all the way through. Needless to say, I still have a long way to go. Along the way, your characters will face all types of obstacles and choices. Each choice will change the narrative, thus changing the direction of the adventure itself. So far, the closest thing that I’ve come to this type of game would be either Star Wars Imperial Assault with it’s win/loss story progression or Stuffed Fables with it’s completion of objectives to move the story. Trust me, neither one can come close to what Middara does in an epic way. Enough of about all that though, this is about the gameplay. So the game itself does a lot of things right, like those that I just mentioned. Other things it does right is initiative and monster AI. I really do like the initiative track. The visual reminder helps players see when the monsters will activate so that they can try to take certain ones out first, before they’re able to do too much damage. I also like how this visual reminder also keeps track of rounds of play. As for the AI, this is one of the coolest features of the game, apart from the story telling. I really love that this game is played cooperatively instead of one player being forced to run the bad guys and monsters. I already have enough of those style of games, so this is a breath of fresh air to me. On top of that, the AI is really quite simple to activate. It’s basically just a series of questions, if the first question is true, you follow the directions for it. If not, you move to the next question to see if it’s true. Simple as that. Don’t let the simplicity fool you though, some of these monsters can be quite tough to beat and the AI can be quite relentless. I do like that thanks to the richness of the AI, it feels like these different monsters are alike and thinking, as if they were controlled by a real player. Nowhere else have I seen such a simple system be so deep. With all that said, let me say that combat can be a real beast. Keeping track of each character, checking all the different icons, tags and abilities, using the icons on the dice to add or subtract hits or points of damage…It’s a lot to keep up with and remember. It’s even more difficult if you’re playing with less than a full compliment of players, each playing only 1 character. Playing solo can be quite daunting in that regard. That’s not to say that the solo game isn’t fun, because it is. It’s just a lot of checking and rechecking to make sure that everything bonus or penalty is applied correctly. Another thing about this game is that it can really be a table hog. With so many cards and tokens to keep up with for each character, on top of the tiles, monster cards and initiative cards, you can find yourself wishing for a much larger table. Honestly, my small little kitchen table simply doesn’t have the room for this game. In my playthroughs, I had to lay things out on the floor and hope and pray that noone stepped on anything. Even with a lack of space, this is definitely one that will entertain. The final thing I want to discuss is the Crawl Mode. If players are looking for a more straight forward dungeon crawl type of game where they’re just battling monsters, gaining loot and leveling up, then this would be the mode of play for them. There’s plenty of customization even with this style of play. Players will create their own adventurers by shopping for Disciplines and items. Of course this mode of play can be played on a scenario to scenario basis or it can be combined into an epic dungeon crawl extravaganza, starting off with a low level character and growing that character into a force to be reckoned with. All in all, this is a game that players looking for either epic story telling and adventure or simple hacking and slashing their way to the top will absolutely love. Fans of story driven games like Star Wars Imperial Assault, Stuffed Fables and Mice and Mystics or those that prefer scenario based games like Conan or Batman Gotham Chronicles should really enjoy this game. This is a game that I would highly recommend. It’s will truly blow you away.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
Middara is a epic game of story telling and scenario based adventure that contains over 80+ hours of gameplay. This game varies as far as game time goes. Some games can last as little as an hour, while others can last quite a bit longer. The components for this game are absolutely incredible and are some of the best looking pieces that I’ve seen in any game. I love the artwork and the quality of the miniatures. The rulebook is quite large and full of some complex ideas. It can be a bit daunting to read through and can be difficult finding just exactly what you need sometimes. The game itself is an amazing ride full of thrills and excitement, regardless of which mode you choose to play. Of course, I’m partial to the Adventure mode myself. This game takes players on an amazing journey with lots of imagination and plenty of choices to be made. Fans of story telling games like Star Wars Imperial Assault, Stuffed Fables or Mice and Mystics should really enjoy the epic story of this game. Players that prefer scenario based games like Conan and Batman Gotham City Chronicles should really enjoy the tactical aspect of how this game plays. Overall this is one epic game that is a sheer joy to own. It’s one that I’m definitely glad I’ve had the chance to play. Don’t miss an opportunity to give this one a try. It’s well worth your time. Game On!
9 out of 10

 

For more information about this great game, please check out Succubus Publishing at their site.

https://succubuspublishing.com/

You can also check out the Kickstarter link below and back their campaign for your own copy of Act I and more.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/succubuspublishing/middara-unintentional-malum-the-complete-trilogy?ref=discovery_category_newest

 

About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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