Middara: Unintentional Malum Act 1
Published by Succubus Publishing
Designers: Clayton Helme, Brooklynn Lundberg, Brennon Moncur, Ian Tate
Head Artists: Stephanie Gustafsson, Alex Hansen, Hector Lujan, Rhett Mason, Jon Nickel
1 - 4 players ~ 60 - 120 minutes per session, 60 sessions
First Impressions by Luke Muench
Board gaming has a reputation to be inaccessible, complex, and a hobby that requires a lot of time and energy to get invested in. In recent years, many publishers have made it their mission to buck that impression, focusing on small, family-friendly titles that can be brought out during holidays or to share with those who’ve never rolled a die before. And yes, typical “gamer’s games” like Twilight Imperium and Terra Mystica have lively, passionate communities to continue to gush and indulge in heavy, complex titles, but they certainly aren’t the prominent focus in the hobby these days.
In walks Succubus Publishing, a company I had never heard of until a few weeks ago when they announced the launch of Middara: Unintentional Malum, a Kickstarter that was funded back in 2015 and will be delivering sometime in the next month or so. Not only is this a game as massive and expansive as Gloomhaven, including standees, minis, and map tiles, it also includes a gargantuan tome that promises an adventure on the level of a Final Fantasy game. In other words, Middara promises the world, and whether it actually delivers will be up to the eyes of the beholder.
Quality and Quantity
One thing is undeniable, the production value here is INSANE. The minis are well-sculpted and look awesome strutting around the maps, but there are standees included if that’s not your thing. The art contained on every card and page is colorful and lively, making me feel invested in the world at hand. The tiles have a nice gloss to them and serve to make each encounter have an interesting backdrop. The books are spiral bound and feel great to handle, never becoming overly cumbersome and some might suspect. And the sheer volume of things you’ll find the box is staggering, literally. My UPS delivery man barely managed to drag it to the door of my 3rd-floor apartment.
Which means that you will need to dig through all those things, which to some will be a blast, like opening a fresh toybox of nicknacks, wondering what each token or card has in store, but others will find this process tedious and frustrating, as they may just want to get to gaming already. But that’s going to take a while because first, you’ll have to understand the mechanics.
Oodles of Rules
Middara is nothing if not thorough, as there’s a lot of gameplay to cover, but I’ll do my best to give you an overview. Middara, at its core, is a storybook with various choices and encounters to interact with every couple of pages. The easiest comparison would be to Gloomhaven, but the story, as the art may suggest, takes a distinctly more JRPG/Anime-esque approach, feeling both brooding and bombastic; stylistic and direct.
The story, which I won’t get into here, is detailed and expansive, with the dialogue reminding me of various manga I’ve read over the years, and it’s enjoyable in its charm, with the main characters becoming quickly likable. It can feel a little awkward to read it aloud, as there are various voices you’ll have to create for each character, but if that’s not your bag, Succubus has you covered, with audio files for each of the reading sections available for download on their site. And if the whole story thing isn’t your bag in the slightest, there’s a list of SparkNotes available as well, giving you the brief bullet points of what’s going on before getting to the next adventure. While I have read a good extent of the story thus far, I decided to check the aforementioned SparkNotes, and they do an admirable job summing up the events at hand, helping to get players to the action.
That action being classic dungeon-crawling magic. On each player’s turn, they’ll move their character through the map generated for that scenario, stumbling upon events, treasures, and other points of interest, while fending off various monsters crawling around the catacombs and towns you’ll visit. Different locales will have different terrain types, which affect how you can traverse the map, how combat is resolved in certain areas, or can force your heroes into some sticky situations.
If you’re not moving, you’re fighting, which has a variety of different custom dice assigned to it, depending on the weapons and abilities your character has and what kind of attack you’re making; melee, ranged, or magic. Oh, and did I mention that said combat also features dodging and countering, potentially interrupting a player’s turn in order to figure out how a combat roll resolves? It can feel a bit overwhelming, at least during your first couple of combats, but once you get the hang of it and start remembering what dice each of your characters tend to wield, it can become second nature.
There’s a wide range of cards, tokens, and items that represent items, abilities, traps, you name it, and it would be unfair to Middara to try to go over them all here, not just because of how expansive it is, but also because it would ruin part of the fun. Like any RPG, discovery is half the magic, and Succubus knows this. One of the games key features is a red decoder which, when used in conjunction with certain passages in the narrative tome, will reveal hidden text and passages, informing players of what interacting with certain tokens or tiles resulted in. Did you stumble upon a new wave of baddies or find a cool treasure? You can’t really be sure until you actually make the choice to check it out, preventing you from accidentally skimming over key info, a very nice touch.
It Gets Even Bigger
You may have noticed that niggling “Act 1” hanging off the end of this game’s title, and that’s largely because this massive box is just the beginning, providing many of the tools for a 3-part narrative adventure. While the game already offers 60 one or two-hour scenarios already, you won’t reach the end of the narrative here, as Succubus is still hard at work putting that together. To some, this will be annoying, especially considering the $100 price tag, but that’s assuming you do make it through the initial content in a reasonable amount of time. Middara is a game meant to take you years to delve through and thoroughly appreciate, where your team gets together once a week to really invest in and discover what lies in wait.
In the coming months, I’m going to see how far I can manage to get in this rather sizable adventure, but my thoughts at this moment? Middara is large to a fault; its rules are thorough and extensive, it box barely containing all the components, its storybook bigger than your average dictionary, and its components towering over those of other games, both in quality and quantity. It can feel a little overwhelming for sure, and it takes up a good amount of space in the apartment, but ultimately it provides an experience that I won’t find anywhere else, and I’m looking forward to going on this adventure will the Succubus crew.
A full review of Middara will go up on our youtube channel in time for their kickstarter to reprint the game, tentatively planned for Summer 2019. In the meantime, check out other recent written reviews here: