Middara from Succubus Publishing – Review

I decided I had enough dungeon crawlers and wouldn’t need anymore. Then along comes Middara and blows that idea out of the water.

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Theme and What is it?

*Note* Copy of the game provided by Publisher for review purposes.

Middara is a world connected to our own. A magical and dangerous world separated by mystic portals that allow those of Earth to travel to a world of ageless beauty. Those who pass through into Middara are blessed with new abilities, powers, and physical features such as beautiful wings or mighty horns. Most wonderfully of all, you cease to age.

Of course all such things come with a price and Middara is no different. Dangerous creatures roam the lands. Ancient powers take the occasional interest in the affairs of man. But for those brave enough to visit adventure waits around every corner.

If you have the courage to take the journey to Middara then you have the opportunity to face a greater challenge than you have ever seen before. All you need do is complete the Magical Aptitude and Skills Test, gain your citizenship, and a world of adventure is yours.

Middara is a narrative dungeon crawler where you will take control of a team of four heroes as they progress through a story of the world. You’ll play through with a dice driven combat system, a huge campaign book, and a modular map system.

In addition to the campaign Middara features a one shot adventure play system for a more casual experience.

Are you ready for a deep dive into a new world? Are you ready for a trip to Middara?

Gameplay Mechanics

Boiling it all down Middara uses a dice pool system. Everything you do has a type of dice attached to it. Using the various color coded six-sided dice you’ll determine what dice you’re using based on the action you’re taking and roll those. Each dice features a number and a series of symbols. You’ll add the numbers and compare them to a target number that you’re attempting to overcome. Symbols will add modifiers based on what item or action you’re using at the time. If you’re in combat you’ll subtract the opponent’s defense and then the remainder is the amount of damage you do. If you’re attempting a skill roll then your results will be defined in the book.

That is the core of this game. The heart of it is the huge campaign story. You’ll take a party of four and delve into the story. Beginning with the MAST you’ll run Remi, Zeek, Rook, and Nightingale through their citizenship test, get to know the characters, and work through their further adventurers.

Each map/adventure session you go on is laid out in the book. The adventure map is set out using some of the double-sided map tiles. Tiles are populated with monsters, tokens, and terrain pieces. Some of the tokens will represent treasure chests, objectives, and point of interest markers. The POI markers are used to expand the map in some way. Once a character moves to a place where they have line of sight to the marker they will read hidden text in the campaign book using a red translucent screen to learn what happens. This can place additional treasure, more monsters, cause events to happen, or expand the map. A smaller book included in the game includes a number of diagrams that will show you how to add additional tiles to the board expanding the map. This can add new monsters, path ways, or cover up existing areas of the map as the world changes.

Monsters you face while adventuring have a matrix built in that tells you how they react in any given situation. Following the series of if/then instructions down their list until you find the one that applies to the situation you’re in. This gives you a bit of information on how monsters will react when their turn comes up and lets you plan accordingly. It also gives you the tools you need to know when to jump in and make an attack or when to pull back and let them get closer.

In addition to all of this is a robust Role Play Game like set of rules that add conditions, tokens, markers, skills, and powers to each hero. You can use these to customize your heroes between adventures while visiting shops. This allows you a lot of customization to your character. I know from taking to other people and watching a couple of different videos online that the options make for widely different party makeups. In my group Remi is the tank, I’ve armed her with weapons, armor, and skills that let her put herself in the way of the monsters as they approach the group. I’ve heard of other people arming her with bows, spells, and even made her the quick attack character armed with fast stabby weapons.

In between adventures there are a system of side quests and bounties that have been set up so you can walk away from the main story and go for other things with your characters. The story includes an achievement system, hidden information, a large collection of equipment cards in different qualities that you can switch to as you progress through the story, and a series of creature specific treasures for certain types of treasure cards. 

Initial Impressions

The scale of this game is impressive. I was drawn to the look of it and as I went through and sorted the pieces I was struck with just how much there is to do here. I love dungeon crawlers and was excited to see what this added to the experience. 

Game Build Quality

This is a feat of construction. There are a lot of beautiful mins, excellent cards, and great dice. The campaign book is ring bound and the pages are pretty sturdy. There were some small tears in my page but I’m not certain if that happened in transit or as a result of my handling. A bit of tape and everything was fine. The card quality in the game is impressive and they are sturdy. This makes sense with the amount of shuffling and moving around you’ll need to do. There’s a couple of trays for the minis that are very well built and handy for organizing everything. The map tiles are thick and sturdy, with a glossy finish on the water features of the terrain that makes them stand out.

There is so much stuff in this box that in the above photo I forgot to put some things out and didn’t notice until I was putting everything away. Also note, the plastic storage box does not come with the game. I just really needed it for all of the bits and tokens.

 

Over all, the production on this game is outstanding. It’s probably one of the best produced games I’ve ever seen.

Artistic Direction

The art is amazing. I love the slight anime look to the characters and the world. The book is filled with images of the world, the characters, and some of the creatures that you’ll face and it’s all just beautiful. The art on the cards give a very nice view of the thing you’ll be using and has a catalogue quality to it that is functional but still fun.

Fun Factor

This is a dungeon crawl RPG where you don’t have a dungeon master. You’ll have to make tactical decision to complete the scenario with minimal complications. You have to balance using your inventory with what you’ll need alter on. You don’t always heal between scenarios and may have to deal with the fallout from a couple of decisions or rolls in follow up missions. The monsters hit hard and are unforgiving. However, your team feel powerful from the beginning. I never felt underpowered however I have felt as if my characters were in danger several times. 

Age Range & Weight

The box says 15+ and I think that’s pretty close. There are a lot of very tactical decisions that need to be made and you have to pay attention to a lot of what’s going on at once. This will make it difficult for younger players. I’ve played with my niece who is 11 and she did okay but I had to remember the majority of the rules and needed to point things out to her as we played.

 

Weight wise, it’s on the fairly heavy side. The rules are very deep and there are a lot of moving parts. The analogy of an RPG without the dungeon master is a pretty good one. There are a lot of key words for the monsters and it’s a good idea to try and remember to look everything up when you put a monster out just to make sure you’ve got it all ready. That said the rulebook is pretty good at keeping the lists of tags and such in a place where you can find them, with a couple of exceptions.

Conclusions

A few years ago I decided I had enough dungeon crawlers and wouldn’t need to buy anymore because I just couldn’t see them adding anything new to that style of game that I didn’t already have. Then along comes Middara and blows that idea out of the water.

I love this game. The first weekend I played it I spent one entire day running through the story and got so engrossed in it I forgot to eat. (I don’t recommend that part. Have snacks available, take care of yourselves. Hydrate people.) I was so engrossed with the tactical choices and the way the story worked out that I was enjoying the act of playing the game.

The rules for the game are deep and when to do what and why it’s important come with practice. I forgot stuff and only realized it later. I found the rulebook to be very helpful. I was constantly looking up rules to see what to do next and how things worked. As the game progressed I used the book less and less. Though I still have to check back in or learn that I forgot or missed something entirely. For the most part the rules were well written and easy to use. I did hit a couple of places where it was hard to find something. It took me a while to figure out how to add a monster to combat and figure out where its initiative card went in the order. (Roll the skull dice. Then for each shield on the dice skip one person beyond the character who’s turn it is. If you roll the skull or no shield it goes right after the current character.)

The story. I haven’t played through all of the story yet. I’m at the end of chapter one on page 72 of 483. I’m enjoying it. I like the narrative and have found it to be fun. There are sections where it is long. They have an app that reads it to you and the voice acting is very good. The actor reading the part does an excellent job of differentiating the four main characters and has a pleasant voice. As of writing this they only have files for chapter one finished and the rest are on the way. I’m interested to see where this goes and what happens next. I want to know how the heroes will deal with everything that comes next.

Thus far there haven’t been a lot of branching paths to cover. I’ve had a couple of minor decisions that have all led to the same place. I’m hoping as I go forward that I will get other choices made available to me that will split the story a bit more or give me the illusion of that happening.

I’ve opened the secret files as a part of the story and added thing/s to my game. I won’t talk about that due spoilers. But I have enjoyed what’s been added and am looking forward to more.

A couple of things that are a part of the game, like bounties need to be fleshed out. In between adventures you can complete bounties for additional experience and loot. The type of bounty you can complete is based on where you are in the story. As of right now there is only one bounty available. I’m looking forward to more being added. This could easily be done through an expansion pack or PDF. Hopefully, we’ll get more soon.

There is a crawl mode in the game that let gives you a few missions and an amount of gold and experience you can use to kit out your characters and just run forward into the fray for some good one off fun. I like that it’s there so I can play with some friends who aren’t in my campaign group. We can buy equipment, try new skills, and play an evening and be done. 

There was some problem with some of the dice and miniature base colors being too similar for certain kinds of colorblindness. They have are addressing this in a second printing. As I understand this it was a production problem and hopefully will be fixed. They have a chart that tells you what is on each dice so you can look it up visually, but it still seems like there are places where that will be a problem. 

The Future

There is a Kickstarter coming soon for the second season. I believe what exists now is part one of three. The new set coming to Kickstarter will include streamlined rules that will iron out some of the more troublesome sections and include the errata. They will be continuing and expanding the story in the new season. More adventures, maps, and quests.

There are some things I’m hoping they’ll include. I’d love an expanded selection of bounties to fill out those available lot in the game now. I want to see an upgrade on the dice and bases for the color blind. I’d like to see a little more branch in the narrative, though that’s low on my list since I’m truly enjoying the story right now.

I’m anxious to see what sort of monsters, heroes, adventures, and story beats will be introduced with that. I like where the game is going and want to see more. I’ll include a link above when the campaign goes live so you can jump over and check it out for yourself. I want to reiterate that everything in this section is unconfirmed. I’m hoping these are true and will keep an eye on the campaign as it moves forward.

Versus Gloomhaven

One of the questions I’ve had and have seen others asking is; how does this compare to Gloomhaven? They kind of don’t. There is enough difference in how the games work and how they represent randomness that keeps them very separate. While both games are huge box dungeon crawlers they are very different experiences. The mechanics from Middara’s dice driven to the card driven combat found in Gloomhaven offer different tactical solutions. Gloomhaven’s story is a little more freeform allowing you to go to anywhere on the map where you’ve found a dungeon and Middara is much more linear, at least as far as chapter one is concerned.

I’ll be keeping both of these games and am playing them with two different groups based entirely on play styles and preference. I think they’re both fantastic. Last year I spent my birthday playing Gloomhaven all day. I could easily see myself doing that with Middara this year. Fortunately, I’ll not have to make the decision between them as two members of my Gloomhaven group will be having a baby around my birthday and will probably be too busy to play. If not for that it would have been down to schedules and a coin toss.

Finally

I made a joke about it earlier but I want to come back to something. Take care of yourself. You are important and special. There is only one you and world will be a little less magical without you in it. Be good to yourself, take care, you are wanted.