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Middara: Unintentional Malum – Act 1» Forums » Reviews

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Balazs Szendroi
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Hello everyone!

Not so long ago, the four of us finished playing Act 1, and as it took 4 months of our weekly gaming time, I felt like a review is needed to tie up our journey.

I won’t leave too much to suspense, I will say before we start, that Middara became my favourite dungeon crawler and campaign board game by a big margin. BUT it doesn’t mean that Middara is for everyone, or that it is without any fault. As Middara is back on kickstarter, I hope my pros and cons list will help the reader decide if the game is for them, as it is a huge investment both money and time wise to just jump into blindly.

What is Middara: just a super short description if someone is totally unfamiliar: Middara is a mix of the classic turn based JRPG games, a good fantasy novel, and the Telltale adventure games you probably know from PC/console, neatly packaged into a dungeon crawler board game.

I won’t go into the exact mechanics, as we already have many articles and/or videos focused on them, my review will focus on what you can expect from the campaign part of the game.

About Spoilers: as it is a post-playthrough review, there might be some spoilers, but the review will be in bullet-point format, so you can easily skip the parts you feel might be spoilery. (Also after re-reading the review, I don’t think I gave away anything specific)

PROs:

Component quality: wow, Succubus Publishing pretty much kicked component quality out of the park. Everything is high quality,no corner was cut during the manufacturing process. The books are spiral bound so you can flip them around a lot, the cardboard elements are thick, not warping, and have a special glossy finish for specific parts, also while the cards are not linen finished they have a great feel as well.

The miniature sculpts are great, they are full of charm and character, but unfortunately the only part where component quality lacks a little is in the final (manufactured) miniature quality. They are no CMON quality for sure (or wargame quality, but that wouldn't be fair), but without some exceptions they hit the “OK” level. Greenstuff and painting them works wonders though, painting them is actually advised as you will be stuck for a long time with the figures .



Content VS. Price: this is pretty simple, you get a TON of components and playtime with Act 1 alone for the price of a usual KS these days (it was even cheaper the first time around, so can’t complain).

Characters: this is the first really big positive for me. I’ve played lots of similar board games, but out of all of them Middara is unique because it is hugely based around its characters. In dungeon crawler board games you usually just pick a class, and then the game doesn’t really care about you anymore. You are either "gnome bard #12", or a "Mindthief", etc. the story doesn’t care, you just there to make choices and level up. In Middara this is changed. You are still there to make choices and level up, but you play REAL characters that are rooted in the story. To remain at video game analogies, it is like the Witcher games, where you play as Geralt no matter what you do, but you can control mostly everything else. For me it led to forming much stronger bonds with the characters than in most other games, and having the miniatures after beating the campaign is like having the action figures of your favourite book/anime.

Customization and unique builds: this was the second big positive for us. Customization in Middara comes from 2 sources. One is learning new skills, and the other is gearing up your character with items. This is pretty much where the limitations end (except skill prerequisites and weapon type restrictions for certain skills), you are free to combine anything with anything. During the campaign we came up with a lot of strange builds that shouldn’t have worked, but they turned out awesome. Skills give the backbone of your build, but gear can break the rules or improve your abilities in a myriad of ways to crank it up to 11 . And then I haven’t even talked about adding runes to your weapons/armor that can tweak your build further.

While you can build super strong characters this way, one more thing I liked is that you can’t build a character that solves everything alone. You can be the best character to dodge attacks, and slice up enemies, but magic attacks might make a short work of you. Or you can be tough like a fortress, but can’t really jump through the smallest pits, etc.

Creative solutions: with the level of freedom the game provides there are always multiple solutions to the different surprise situations the game throws at you. These can often be solved by thinking out of the box, and makes the players feel clever. For example the plank item became one of the signature items for our group, as we kept finding new and new situations where it helped us. You can bridge over chasms, attack enemies with it, open up shortcuts, cut water enemies path, etc.



Great scenario mechanics and surprises: while the end goals of the maps in Middara are quite repetitive (in 95% it is to find the exit or kill the boss), the surprises and events during the maps keep every scenario fresh. As the game progresses they become more and more varied. New parts of the map will appear, alternate conditions pop up, and as the hero base grows, you might even find scenarios where you split up and play concurrently on multiple maps

Boss mechanics: the bosses deserve their own section, because most of the time they aren’t just a normal enemy with more hit points, but they come with their unique mechanics, many of them being familiar if you’ve played lots of video games, we were always excited to see what twists and turns the designers came up with.

Great Support and Community: the designers of the game are great guys, I was able to contact them through e-mail and give them feedback about the game, and they even kindly answered and listened. They are also active on the "Middara - The Crimson Vanguard" facebbok group, where you can join a big, friendly community of Middara players, and share your adventures with each other.

whistle NEUTRAL:

It is a book as well: like it or not, Middara could have been the first book in a new fantasy trilogy, as it has a ~500 page campaign book included with the game and about half of it should be read by the group as the game’s story progresses (the rest is alternate scenes and the map descriptions). You have some alternate choices, as 3 acts out of the 5 already has audio files and short versions uploaded to Succubus Publishing’s webpage, but your team will have to come to a conclusion which one to use throughout the campaign. In our case I had to read the story always 2-3 maps ahead (skipping the maps, and then not participating in choices) and then shortly summarize it to the others, as they found even the short version to be too detailed. Then after the game one more guy read the full story as he was really invested in the characters, and wanted to know all the details.

CONs:

Math: this point is tricky, as when you read this, the new completely reworked enemies/items/skills/etc. will be released, and might make this negative obsolete. Or they won’t, I can’t tell you unfortunately, so I will stick with what the 1.0x base game had in stock for us. Unfortunately while the game’s system worked great, the math behind it was just kind of broken. The characters became so strong by the time of Chapter 2, that the enemies could barely hit them, and the heroes could delete multiple enemies per activation. Around chapter 4 we started killing the bosses without them being able to activate. The designers were great and took responsibility for it, then reworked the whole math behind the game, but this doesn’t change that we played ~80 hours with very minimal challenge (there is the occasional instant death and unavoidable damage here and there fortunately). Actually come to think of it, it shows how awesome the rest of the game is, as we would have stopped playing long before the end if it wouldn’t .

To make it more specific, we've only lost 3 scenarios during the walkthrough. Out of it one was unwinnable as we did too well in the previous map, one time 2 of us fell into our death even after rerolling the basic jumps and the last one was a real defeat where we just lost. The problem with it is not only the lack of challenge, but that the designers planned routs for the fail scenarios in the story, and as it is now, not a lot of people will experience them.

Flags: the game has a flag system, which means that if something happens you mark a flag, and this way the game will remember what happened during your adventures. We were expecting quite a lot from this system, but unfortunately it is mostly there to mark which characters should be in any given story part, or to get some minor rewards. We had multiple choices which seemed like it will have big consequences in the story, and we expected big things to happen, just to not see those flags pop up anymore. I guess they could be in later Acts, but we are reviewing Act 1 as a whole now . There is one memorable flag, that spans through most of the game, but we ended up not liking it. Without giving too much away it belongs to a character that joins the party (can join randomly by failing a roll), and makes a lot of the scenarios in the game easier without any choice on your part.



Chapter 4-5 scenarios: starting from chapter 4 the scenarios are still very fun and surprising, but we felt that they weren’t tested enough. In chapter 4 there is a scenario where you could lose before you activate, and another where you have 0 mathematical chance to win, also bosses start to spawn at the end of the initiative track for some reason, and they just die before they can activate once.

The problem with chapter 5 was that it has a mechanic that sounds really fun (on paper), but leads to never ending dice chucking for almost no effect in the end. It made the scenarios at least 2 times longer in chapter 5 and we just didn’t really enjoy them as they felt really drawn out. (then there was a scenario where we had an npc added to this all that casted a spell on almost everyone on the map when it activated, but I just don’t have the strength to talk about it )

Lack of closure: the thing with trilogies in any medium is that while the first part is just the intro, it should have at least one subplot that is resolved at the end of the first part, or else it feels incomplete. Act 1 unfortunately ignores this, and while it foreshadows pretty well what is to come in Act2, it forgets to give any kind of closure to the players.

(minor spoilers about ending gameplay)
The other problem is that the ending is not only lacking story wise, but gameplay wise as well. The final boss is probably the least interesting bossfight in the game mechanically, and depending on player choice you can actually avoid the fight if you choose so, making the ending even less satisfying.

NOT a standalone game: I made this point in the lack of closure section, but I feel like it’s really important: Middara Act 1 is not a complete game, it is one huge game split into 3 releases. If you want to play Middara’s story, you will need all 3 acts, there is no wiggle room. Act 1 is not like the original Star Wars where the rebels win, and everyone’s happy, and you could just call it an ending. Instead it’s end is like taking a small break during a really long movie .

________________________________________________

FINAL VERDICT:

I hope this wall of text will help at least some players decide if the game is for them or not. There is no easy answer, as completing Middara (all 3 Acts) is probably the biggest undertaking that currently exists in campaign based board games, but for us it was one of our best board game experiences thus far, and we are eager to jump into Act 2 as soon as it comes out.

If you want a dungeon crawler with deep story, rich fluff, awesome character customization, and really tactical combat, AND you have the budget, I don’t think you can go wrong with it, just make sure no one wants to play anything else for some months .

________________________________________________

UPDATE:

After writing the review (but before posting it) I've ran through the available 1.1 files, and I have to say that the changes are extensive. Both the players and the enemies seem to be stronger now, so i have 0 idea if the balance will be good this time around or not, what I can say is that if you finish the game with the 1.0x rules, you will have to reset your heroes starting Act2, as the skills changed both in cost (you will have more skills) and in what they do (some of our builds won't work anymore). This is not a terrible thing as it seems like there will be more viable builds, but it's good to know. Also I'm not sure if there will be enough skills to build 9-10 viable heroes with the lowered costs if Act 2 and 3 doesn't introduce more skills to the game.
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Ryan Miller
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This is a perfect, honest, exactly-what-I-needed-to-know review. Thank you for it!

I already knew that I wanted it - I just wasn't sure whether I should get Act 1 and then decide if I wanted the rest, or just get it all now while it's cheap. I'm changing my pledge to all-in.

I cannot live in a world where Star Wars ends in the trash compactor...
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Thank you for posting this. Since Act 1 just came out earlier this year for the first KS backers, it seems like not many groups have finished it yet. I did a lot of research about the game before backing KS2, but I couldn't find much in the way of final thoughts on the game like you did here. I just had to back it more on blind faith and the initial thoughts some people had.

After reading your review, I think I will enjoy the game very much. It'll be interesting to see how the 1.1 changes affect those gameplay issues that you mentioned.

It does also make me wonder how characters will carry over to Act 2 for people who backed KS1 and will finish Act 1 under 1.0 rules. Succubus said that they consider 1.0 playthroughs "just as valid" as a 1.1 playthrough, but then at the same time it sounds like characters might have to be completely rebuilt thanks to cost changes.

I wonder if they'll make us just completely rebuild any surviving characters between acts. I don't know about board games, but there certainly is precedent for this in video games. You had to rebuild Commander Shepard abilities and stats-wise in every Mass Effect game. You have to build back up Yuna and Rikku in Final Fantasy X-2. I know for video games they do that because they can't assume the player played through the original game. It doesn't make sense to me for that same assumption for Middara, but who knows.
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Balazs Szendroi
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OuterPop wrote:
I cannot live in a world where Star Wars ends in the trash compactor...

That should be on a T-shirt
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Balazs Szendroi
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SilentMix wrote:
It does also make me wonder how characters will carry over to Act 2 for people who backed KS1 and will finish Act 1 under 1.0 rules. Succubus said that they consider 1.0 playthroughs "just as valid" as a 1.1 playthrough, but then at the same time it sounds like characters might have to be completely rebuilt thanks to cost changes.

Great question, I think what we will do is keep the items that our group had, and just refund the heroes experience points and build new characters (you can respec for 1xp anyway). Not sure if all heroes will need to be reset, but I already see that some of our builds lost its key skills. It will be actually fun to re-learn the skills and see what new things we can come up with .
 
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Stoibs
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szendroib wrote:

Chapter 4-5 scenarios: starting from chapter 4 the scenarios are still very fun and surprising, but we felt that they weren’t tested enough. In chapter 4 there is a scenario where you could lose before you activate, and another where you have 0 mathematical chance to win, also bosses start to spawn at the end of the initiative track for some reason, and they just die before they can activate once.

Can I ask which initiative/spawning rules you are using?
Our group started with what was just printed in 1.0 but then switched over to the 1.1 'shuffle every round + enemies who spawn always go next' rules a few sessions in.

We discovered that it can be finicky in some circumstances that maybe the game wasn't designed for initially (Miner Rescue Sidequest comes to mind..)

I think we're just about done with chapter 3 at the moment, I'm sort of curious and concerned going forth now after reading this..
 
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Balazs Szendroi
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stoibs wrote:
Can I ask which initiative/spawning rules you are using?
Our group started with what was just printed in 1.0 but then switched over to the 1.1 'shuffle every round + enemies who spawn always go next' rules a few sessions in.

We've used the same spawning rules, but that doesn't really lead to any problems. For the bosses they will be instructed that after dealing the initiative cards you should move them to the back. If you feel like your team is too strong, maybe just don't do it.

The other one, where you can lose before you get the chance to act, I will put in Spoiler, but it's really not, I'll just talk about the mechanic that leads to it.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The lose condition for that scenario is that if a certain character gets any damage you are out. You are spawned next to this character. Then you deal the initiative cards, and if the enemy acts before your guys who spawned around the one you want to protect, the enemy will use an aoe attack on them. You fail the conviction check -> you've lost. This can be fixed easily if you want, if you see that the initiative was dealt the wrong way, or you can just accept the quick defeat .


My last mentioned problem with Chapter 4 is the unwinnable scenario if you did too good previously. I won't spoil that, but our friends who played the game paralell to our campaig experienced the same happening to them. Thematically it works in the story, but gameplay wise you feel cheated.
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Endevor Rovedne
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I send SP a message about that and ask to contact you (i don't want to spoil myself) about these scenario.

Very interesting review anyway.
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Balazs Szendroi
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Endevor wrote:
I send SP a message about that and ask to contact you (i don't want to spoil myself) about these scenario.

Very interesting review anyway.

Thanks, but I already sent these to SP as feedback, and they responded that they will look into it .
 
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Steve R
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Great review, not changed my mind and I’ll stick with act 1 and pirates for now and hope to pick up other stuff later once confirmed really is for me, but if had the money I’d probably pull the trigger on this after your review.

As for now...into the garbage shoot flyboy!
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Awesome review to the point. Now I can not wait anymore for this game. But I'm really concerned about the difficulty. I don't like no-thinker games. I want a challenge.

Can be a way more (!) higher difficulty archived with house roules, which scales good with the progress of the game?
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Xyt4n wrote:
Can be a way more (!) higher difficulty archived with house roules, which scales good with the progress of the game?

Definately! First you should try the new 1.1 difficulty I think, but if you don't like it there will be harder monsters as well the second time around. If that still isn't enough you can houserule as much as you want. We planned to change enemy symbols of +damage to +hit, because hit means more attacks connecting and damage if it goes above the target, so enemies could deal more chip damage,but anything can be tweaked really. We just wanted to play as it was officially.
 
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Frank Branham
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New Dia die Los Muertos. Lighter, sillier, and Stickers.
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szendroib wrote:
[q="stoibs"]
My last mentioned problem with Chapter 4 is the unwinnable scenario if you did too good previously. I won't spoil that, but our friends who played the game paralell to our campaig experienced the same happening to them. Thematically it works in the story, but gameplay wise you feel cheated.

Ayep. We did the EXACT same thing. I looked at the scenario and we didn't even bother to set it up. It would have worked if the previous scenario had given you an objective or ANY clue that you needed to...do less well.
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Stoibs
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After a bit of a hiatus our group finally got up to and just did *that* unwinnable set of scenarios in Chapter 4 also..

Yep. Win in 1 round earlier - "yay awesome."
Except it unfairly punishes you in the next map. thumbsdown

Still, I guess it led to some flags that we may or may not have triggered otherwise. I think we got another Sidequest out of it in the next story round if memory serves (Though the frustrations of *That* bonus side mission and the way in which urgency tokens are implemented in the game is a whole separate kettle of fish entirely that desperately needs a rework.. shake)
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Endevor Rovedne
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they have added some changes in thé v6 update does it change this situation? (i havn't played chapter4 yet)
 
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Ron Ahedana
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V6 does not yet seem to address this issue.

I think Brooklynn has said he'd look into it though - to me it mostly seems like an issue of clarity - make sure the players know that the objective is not to finish quickly, but rather to stall for time.
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