Over the course of the last month, I was able to spend some time playing Miremarsh, a forthcoming game from UK publisher Room 17 Games. Designed by Matt Green and Sam Mercer, Miremarsh is an action-packed game of adventuring and monster-fighting as players take control of a bog goblins competing to gain honour for their tribe. It accommodates 1-5 players, taking around 10-15 minutes per player.
Miremarsh will be unveiled on Kickstarter from July 2, but I got a chance to play with one of the prototype copies to try it out and see what I thought.
Who will be the most daring, dastardly goblin?
The world of Miremarsh is a dangerous swamp, full of surprises. The bog goblins, while they make this swamp their home, are by no means the biggest or the meanest things you can come across there. That means that if they want to survive and win glory for the tribe, they'll need a winning combination of wits and luck.
Miremarsh captures the flavour of that environment perfectly as players take control of individual goblins and compete to complete one of the four victory quests on the edge of the board. These quests could be anything from destroying the fairy court, kidnapping a lord, or killing the last surviving unicorn. On the way to these final quests, the goblins must navigate a treacherous swamp made up of monsters and traps that vary in their viciousness and in the rewards you'll get for overcoming them.
By rolling your unique combination of dice and making the most of any items you manage to pick up on the way, you'll be racing against your opponents to be the first to complete a final quest. But watch out, a wrong move could prove fatal...
The Mechanics of Miremarsh
There are two core mechanics at the heart of Miremarsh: a modular board made up of semi-randomised, face-down hexes that creates the unknown environment of the swamp, and rolling a pool of dice that simulates the skill set of each unique goblin.
I say that the set-up is semi-random, because there are levels of hexes that you have to stick to. A ring of level one hexes surrounds the central starting position, which is then surrounded by a ring of level two hexes, with a couple of level three hexes standing between level two and each of the final quests. As you move out from the starting point - the warren - the challenges become more difficult, but the rewards become greater.
At the start of each turn, players will roll their collection of dice. Each goblin has access to at least four or five dice, which will let you move around, scout the area and fight off monsters.
- Green - This generalist die gives you access to all the core functions.
- Yellow - This is the adventuring die, which is best for travelling and scouting.
- Black - This is the combat die, which is great for fighting off the swamp's nasties.
- Blue - This is the magic die, which gives you a 50% chance of rolling the wild symbol, that can count as whatever you like.
The precise combination of dice that each goblin has will give it different strengths. Some are good all-rounders, while others are excellent in combat. You can also collect items that give you access to more dice, or buy pets and spells that might give you more symbols to use in your term. In this way, you'll build up your abilities to give yourself more chance of success.
After you've rolled, you spend foot symbols from your dice to move. If you don't roll any feet, you can re-roll until you do. When you land on a new hex, if it's face-down, you turn it over to reveal what's on it. Hexes can be a variety of things:
- Lairs - These reveal monsters, which I'll talk about shortly.
- Traps - The player must complete at least one challenge to survive and possibly gain a reward.
- Encounters - Mixed. Some don't require the player to do anything if they don't want to, but they nearly always promise a good reward for completing an optional challenge.
Lairs are the most common tiles, which get a monster of the corresponding level added to them the first time their flipped. Monsters always have one compulsory challenge to allow you to survive, then have one or two more optional challenges that give you the chance to seek a reward. If all the challenges on a monster are completed, the monster is slain and removed, often giving the player an additional bonus from the lair.
I've mentioned challenges a few times now. These are the core part of the game. A challenge can be compulsory (silver) which means you have to complete it to survive on that hex, or optional (brown) which means you can attempt it if you want to gain higher rewards. Every challenge is made up of one or more symbols and to complete it you have to spend dice that match the symbols.
If you don't have the symbols available when you start the challenge, you can re-roll all your remaining dice once. If you pass, you can pick up any items on that hex, move on to the net challenge, move to another space, or end your turn.
If you fail, you instantly die. There are no lives in this game. One failure means death. But it doesn't mean you're out. Instead, you lose that goblin, scatter any items you had where you died, then pick a new goblin card and start again from the warren. The only time you're out of the game is if you die and there are no goblins remaining.
You also have a supply of nine fish that you have to keep an eye on. Each turn you that you end alive (therefore not counting the turns you die), you have to eat a fish. If you ever can't eat a fish, you're out of the game. This is a pretty effective way of making sure no one spends too long getting too powerful before attempting a final challenge.
In that way, by exploring hexes and completing challenges, you move through the swamp to the final quests, which contain three compulsory challenges. It will often be impossible to complete these with a standard set of dice, so you'll need to pick up bonuses along the way. The first goblin to complete one of these quests wins! If no goblin completes them, then you're all losers...
Is it worth a look?
I love playing Miremarsh. I've played it two-player, four-player and solo and enjoyed each experience. It was definitely easiest at four players, as there were more goblins moving around and turning over hexes or dropping items when they died, but even playing it solo I found it a tense, exciting game.
There are lots of good things to talk about. Each turn feels meaningful and exciting as you're nearly always attempting a challenge that could kill you. Rolling the dice is tense and dramatic as everyone around the table leans in to see what you got. When I first played I thought the game was too random, but while randomness does play a part, it's really a game about managing that element and pressing your luck. As I said at the start, you need a combination of luck and wits in order to win.
In addition, the game is short enough and, in some ways, forgiving enough that even a bad roll doesn't feel too awful. If you're playing solo, you can get through a game in 15 minutes, so if things don't go your way you can just reset and try again. In most cases, you're also going to be able to just take a new goblin after you die as well, so the game isn't over for you if you get unlucky one time.
Miremarsh is also really flavourful. I like how the different kinds of dice give each goblin an identity and represent their skills. The challenges for the different monsters and traps also feel appropriate. Even the combination of wits and luck that I keep mentioning fits right in with the theme of the game. When you add this together with unique, distinctive art and a thematic idea that I don't think has been done before, you're onto a winner.
Sure, this game won't be for everyone. It's definitely got a healthy dose of dark humour and the cartoonish but gloomy art style won't appeal to all. I happen to really like it - I wasn't sure at first but it's grown on me. Now I just wish that I'd had the chance to play with the incredibly cool looking miniatures that I know will be coming out with the Kickstarter.
That brings me on to the next point: component quality. When you're backing a game on Kickstarter you'll want to know if you're getting value for money. The prototype I played had the finished art, cards and dice, which all looked fantastic, but I haven't seen the finished board, tiles and miniatures in the flesh. That said, the images I've seen look excellent and I think they'll really bring the game's theme to life, whether you choose to paint the minis or not.
It's also worth saying that I know that this kind of game won't appeal to everyone. I happen to love dice games, so rolling all the dice and seeing what happens isn't an issue for me. However, if you prefer heavier games with more control over what happens, this probably isn't for you. You can plan ahead a bit, but the actions of your turn will always be dictated by the dice you roll and tiles you flip up. I love the mystery and the drama that this creates, but I know that not everyone will.
I don't want to end on that, because I really love this game and I want plenty of others to experience it. The gameplay is fast and exciting, the drama is real and there are plenty of chances to interact with other players by rolling the swamp monster (I didn't get the chance to talk about that so I'll have to leave it as a teaser...). The theme is fantastic and it looks like the finished components are great.
I sincerely hope that Room 17 Games' Kickstarter goes above and beyond all their expectations, because this is a game that deserves wider attention. When the campaign starts on July 2nd, do yourself a favour and check it out. This game is a winner.