Luke Muench
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First Impressions - Middara: Unintentional Malum, Act 1 - Dungeons and Demons

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.

If you liked this first impression, follow us on twitter @cardboardherald and check out our youtube channel. You can also check out our podcasts featuring interviews with creative gamers and game creators on iTunes, Stitcher, or www.cardboardherald.com

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Jeff Johnson

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Thanks for posting your impressions!

In adventure mode, how long did each play session take you?

In their how-to-play videos Succubus indicates the game is intended to be played once a week for a 3-4 hour session. This concerns me a bit as I can certainly find 3-4 hours a week to dedicate to the game, but one 4 hour block is gonna be tough.

I’m planning on playing it solo, is there a way to save such that each time I play it would be more like 1-2 hours? Or at least under 3?

Thanks again for posting, even if I just do crawl mode for a while I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this!
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Luke Muench
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BiggityBogle wrote:
Thanks for posting your impressions!

In adventure mode, how long did each play session take you?

In their how-to-play videos Succubus indicates the game is intended to be played once a week for a 3-4 hour session. This concerns me a bit as I can certainly find 3-4 hours a week to dedicate to the game, but one 4 hour block is gonna be tough.

I’m planning on playing it solo, is there a way to save such that each time I play it would be more like 1-2 hours? Or at least under 3?

Thanks again for posting, even if I just do crawl mode for a while I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this!

Hey BiggityBogle!

- In adventure mode, the amount of time the mission takes largely depends on how involved the mission is and how much set-up occurs, some of which will occur mid-mission as you discover things. I'd say between 2 and 4 hours per mission is fairly accurate.

- Solo play will not reduce game time, as, like in something such as Final Fantasy, you will always be controlling 4 characters. There'll be less table talk perhaps, but the game itself will still consist of the same number of turns/actions. The absolute best way to reduce playtime is to have a dedicated game space for the game; one table that you leave the components organized and partially arranged, making it waaaaaaaaaay easier to get the game started up each time.
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Jeff Johnson

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Thanks for the quick reply! Looks like an awesome game but sounds like it may not be for me.
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Henrik Schmidt
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Thanks for the review. You make it sound like the standees are replacements for minis whereas I thought they are in addition, representing different beings. Can you elaborate?
 
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Luke Muench
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LarkinVB wrote:
Thanks for the review. You make it sound like the standees are replacements for minis whereas I thought they are in addition, representing different beings. Can you elaborate?

When I went through the components, I'm fairly certain that I found that every standee had a miniature counterpart. In other words, you could choose to either use the minis or the standees if you so chose.
 
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Casey Nordell

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TFJ383 wrote:
LarkinVB wrote:
Thanks for the review. You make it sound like the standees are replacements for minis whereas I thought they are in addition, representing different beings. Can you elaborate?

When I went through the components, I'm fairly certain that I found that every standee had a miniature counterpart. In other words, you could choose to either use the minis or the standees if you so chose.

I too thought this was the case, but co-creator Brooklynn has chimed in to say it is untrue in this thread:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2155143/are-currently-stand...

Basically the standees do not duplicate any of the minis in the core box (although some of the minis in the promo box replace some standees).
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Luke Muench
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PoshFrosh wrote:
TFJ383 wrote:
LarkinVB wrote:
Thanks for the review. You make it sound like the standees are replacements for minis whereas I thought they are in addition, representing different beings. Can you elaborate?

When I went through the components, I'm fairly certain that I found that every standee had a miniature counterpart. In other words, you could choose to either use the minis or the standees if you so chose.

I too thought this was the case, but co-creator Brooklynn has chimed in to say it is untrue in this thread:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2155143/are-currently-stand...

Basically the standees do not duplicate any of the minis in the core box (although some of the minis in the promo box replace some standees).

Ahhh, I received the promo box for review as well, so that's likely where my confusion on the topic occurred. Thanks for the clarification!
 
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Benjamin Ra
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Thanks for the impressions. I have been waiting for this to become a reality for the last 4 years. Great to see that it is hitting tables!!!!
 
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Cmdr Salamander
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I was intrigued until I saw the art for Nightingale Arsen in your photo.
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galaxyrise wrote:
I was intrigued until I saw the art for Nightingale Arsen in your photo.

I agree its oompletely sexist that she gets her upper body clothed while Rook struts around without his top on. God where's the gender equality? shake

EDIT: OK before I start the flame war and get jumped on from all directions, let me be clear I am joking and its not a subject that is one I should make fun of. But while I agree the Characters in this game are not dressed in a way I would consider fitting for adventuring I'd also point out the neither sex is specifically made in a asthetically unpleasing fashion and this reply focusing purely on the female character is pointless.

Don't like the Art style fair enough, in truth its not to my taste, though it is good but you focus on a single picture isn't suggestive of this position at all, in fact your insinuating that this is gender targeted and its not, the guys are equally buff and asthetically pleasing.
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One could argue though that shirtless guys are power fantasy, while girls in skimpy clothes are objectification...

Anyway, I passed this game (and invested in S&S instead) mainly because of excessive amount of fanservice (and partially because of kinda weird theme). I dont mind some fanservice generally (looking at you, Auriel), but this was way too much for my taste
 
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Siar wrote:
One could argue though that shirtless guys are power fantasy, while girls in skimpy clothes are objectification...

I'm not sure I agree here, objectification because of what being worn is purely in the eyes of the beholder. Women and men should be empowered to wear whatever they are comfortable in and while this is a fantasy game so its actually irrelevant about being able to wear what one wants.

There of course remain concerns about impracticality of clothing, however it's not done in an objectified fashion since it's present for both sexes unless you're arguing that both men and women are being objectified in this game at which point I guess that purely subjective person to person.

The post I was responding too was very specific in regarding it was the female representation that was too his/her distaste so my point stands.

Siar wrote:
Anyway, I passed this game (and invested in S&S instead) mainly because of excessive amount of fanservice (and partially because of kinda weird theme). I dont mind some fanservice generally (looking at you, Auriel), but this was way too much for my taste

First up let me say, S&S is my fav Dungeon Crawler at present, its what Middara will be in prime competition with for table time though they are different enough that I can play both choosing based upon my mood.

I would suggest however that the role of women in the Immortal Souls series is actually representedi in a worse fashion than in Middara, in Immortal Souls character Class is sex dependent so females not only have less representatives than males but also have predetermined roles. Middara by contrast has true equality between the sexes, you can literally do anything any other character can do regardless of sex. angry

Personally as someone with a Wife who's an active feminist and a young daughter I want to support an empower the idea that both sexes should be represented equally in games and that each sex shouldn't be restricted to certian roles, I feel this is far more important than what somewhere wears within the confines of socially enforced restrictions and any objectification based upon what someone wears should be stamped out.

I also feel further validated in this opinion by the fact that Ares Games who make S&S in there most recent KS for Sword and Sorcery Ancient Chronicles actually made alternative gender varients for every hero in the game. This shows that they are equally more concerned about role definition than clothing representation.cool

Finally my argument wasn't with you, or really directly with the previous poster, I've seen a few comments like that popping up about this game and I don't think the way its being done is a fair or true representation and its being put out by people because very rightly the movement has a lot of traction at the moment now, but this isn't the right battlefield there's no war here and I'm taking the tinder away from the fire before it starts. I should also point out I don't know what you mean by the term Fanservice, I will google it but I've not seen it before so while I have a feel for its context I'm not actually sure as to the exact point you where making using it.shake

Thanks as ever for reading,
Crimsonsunlaugh

Aha Fanservice - is from Anime and Manga that has something included to serve the fanbase, and I'm assuming its used to talk about how women are often represented in the Genre. I am clueless to this term as it's not a genre that suits my tastes in the Art style, which is the ironic thing about me defending this because I'm really not here for the art, I have the same thing with Kingdom Death Monster, much of the Anime art just doesn't do it for me, in fact it has the reverse effect but I love the gameplay and I don't find there to be poor gender representation in either game.
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Eugene
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I am talking not only about heroes - it is enemies (many enemies , just look at KS page) in Middara who dress ridiculously and/or are drawn in provocative poses as well...
Anyway, not really interested in arguing since this was just an opinion
 
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Casey Nordell

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If you don't like the Nightingale art on the standard character card (shown in the review), definitely don't look at the alternate Nightingale art card (that comes with the artbook):

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Nightingale-...

or for that matter the alternate Remi art:

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Remi-5346639...

Other than dropping those two links, I'm staying out of this.
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Baramon
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I find these complaints about how female characters are represented pathic at the very least. Midarra is a game that has anime style art, and you will see a lot of ridiculousness just because style dictates, so why bother complaining about it if you could get a different game that doesn't trigger you on this aspect? It's like complaining that Kthulu games are anti-christian games and they should be less diabolic and just nicer overall.
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Colin Baker
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Quote:
If you don't like the Nightingale art on the standard character card (shown in the review), definitely don't look at the alternate Nightingale art card (that comes with the artbook):

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Nightingale-...

or for that matter the alternate Remi art:

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Remi-5346639...

Other than dropping those two links, I'm staying out of this.

I was looking for a new co-op adventure for my girlfriend because she really loves those and we just finished another. Too bad...
 
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Casey Nordell

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Thesixtdoctor wrote:
Quote:
If you don't like the Nightingale art on the standard character card (shown in the review), definitely don't look at the alternate Nightingale art card (that comes with the artbook):

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Nightingale-...

or for that matter the alternate Remi art:

https://www.deviantart.com/genzoman/art/Middara-Remi-5346639...

Other than dropping those two links, I'm staying out of this.

I was looking for a new co-op adventure for my girlfriend because she really loves those and we just finished another. Too bad...

You probably wouldn't be able to get your hands on a reasonably priced copy of Middara for quite a while anyway (months from now or more).

I mostly play co-ops with my girlfriend also, so I too am always on the hunt for the next fun adventure for us.

Might I suggest some things which might fit the bill and are available now:

Folklore: The Affliction which is a massive, heavy, co-op adventure with mostly modest artwork.
One Deck Dungeon is a more bite-sized co-op adventure with an all female cast all of whom are modestly dressed
Escape from the Dark Castle is a very light, atmospheric story adventure with completely non-sexualized artwork

And there are also some other Kickstarted co-ops which I believe still have late-pledge options available if you are looking for stuff a little down the line. The following interest you as well:

Legends Untold is card based co-op crawler with modest art
Tales of Evil is a 80's nostalgia, cute-horror co-op adventure where you play children investigating supernatural events
1001 Odysseys is an entirely story based adventure written by an all-female team

As far as future Kickstarters go, I'm keeping an eye on:

Altar Quest: from the makers of Streetmasters and Brook City
The Ghosts Betwixt: the art in this is very similar to Tales of Evil and the dice mechanics seem similar to Middara (with different colored dice of different powers determining combat outcomes)
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Colin Baker
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Thanks for the advice!

1001 Odysseys looks like something we are probably going to buy.

Arydia: The Paths We Dare Tread is also an instant buy but we can't wait that long

For know I am looking at Direwild. If nothing goes wrong I can get the KS edition for cheap and the game looks interesting.

Legends Untold : I have no idea how this slipped past my attention. Thanks for the advice. Looks great!!

Folklore: I like this one but maybe there is to much witchcraft for my girlfriend.

One Deck Dungeon & Escape from the Dark Castle : If it's very light it has to be Harry Potter themed We became a little spoiled by Spirit Island and heavier euro games. We do travel by train a lot so One Deck Dungeon could fit in our train & picknick game collection.

I'll look up the rest and keep an eye on KS.
Thanks again x-


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