Middleware: Instructions

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Instructions ♦ Design NotesReflective Essay


Middleware is a cooperative cyberpunk card game of raiding servers, avoiding being crushed between an American Megacorporation and a Japanese Zaibatsu in the post-transhuman future dystopia of the year 2X15.  Players take on the roles of a handful of desperados trying to escape the control of corporate overlords, banding together through distributed means to attack the powers that endanger their lives and threaten to overwhelm them.

In these instructions there are rules for playing a gentler, more approachable version of the game, or a more difficult one. These are marked as Soft Rules vs Hard Rules. These are optional, but should be agreed upon at the start of the game.


Middleware is composed of a deck of cards, divided into the following types:

  • 20 Server cards
  • 70 buy cards, composed of:
    • 60 cards divided equally between the four types (Infiltrate, Manipulate, Assault, Overwhelm)
      • 1 each of two rare cards
      • 2 each of two uncommon cards
      • 3 each of three common cards
    • 10 Halt Cards
  • 28 Basic Access Cards
  • 16 Player Cards, composed of four sets of:
    • 1 character card
    • 3 goal cards associated with the character


At the start of the game, each player selects one character card. Then, for each player a deck is constructed composed of seven Basic Access cards, and the three Goal cards associated with that character.

Then, the Server cards are shuffled, and a number of them are dealt out into two stacks of an equal number of cards, face down.

Soft Rule: Deal out 3 cards to each server.

Hard Rule: Deal out 7 cards to each server.

Finally, shuffle the Buy deck, and deal out the top five cards from it face-up before all the players. These cards are the marketplace.

Playing The Game

Middleware takes place over a series of turns.

To play Middleware, players draw a hand of five cards, play those cards and choose whether or not to take any actions these cards let them do, and put their cards into their discard pile. All players do these steps together – the turn is simultaneous, and all the players are expected to cooperate and coordinate to avoid conflicting.

Cards happen in the order players most want them to – there’s no reason for players to worry about playing things ‘in the right order’


The two actions players can most often perform are Buying cards and Raiding servers. Other cards may create opportunities for players to do other actions – if they do, those actions are indicated on the card. These cards are then discarded with the rest.

Buying cards is done with the primary resource of Access. Access is symbolised in-game with a grey ring, with a number in it. All access a player gains adds up – and the player then can spend that access to pay for things. Access that isn’t spent disappears at the end of turn, so players should spend as much of it as they can each turn.

One way players can spend Access is to pay their Upkeep. If players don’t pay their Upkeep, they will incur Debt.

If a player wants to add a card to their deck, they pay its cost (signified in its upper right corner), then put that card in their discard pile, then replace that card with the top card of the buy deck. If two players want the same card, they need to discuss who should have it, and why – this is a cooperative game, not a competitive one. If nobody can decide, players can flip a coin.

Raiding is how players attack the Servers. Some cards are marked as Raid. Each card that’s a Raid card has a Raid Strength, signified by a number on the card, in a ring coloured like that card. Every card a player plays in a turn, with a symbol of that colour can be used to Assist the Raid. This value indicates the strength of the raid. If the raid’s strength exceeds the strength of the server, the raid is successful, and the player should flip the top card of the server deck to add to the Server Stack (see ‘The Server’ Below).


Each character starts with an amount of debt, which represents the operating and living costs they have had to deal with to reach this stage of their life. Each character has a certain amount of extra debt they can accrue without it necessarily impacting their freedom to act. Every turn a player fails to pay their Upkeep, they gain a point of Debt.

When a player passes their Debt Limit, shown on their character card, the costs of their life have overwhelmed them.

Soft Rule: In a multiplayer game, a player who has hit their debt limit can still play the game, but they cannot buy new cards or spend access on anything but their Upkeep. They can still play the cards in their deck, and can raid or assist raids, but they cannot buy new cards until their debt is reduced back below the limit.

Hard Rule: Players who pass their debt limit are knocked out of the game immediately.

Special Actions

Junking cards is to remove a card from the game and put it in the junk zone. Sometimes cards will be junked by the servers, and sometimes players will use cards that let them junk their own cards. Once a card is junked, it can’t be used again – it’s completely outside of the game.

Goal cards can only be played when the goal stated on the card is fulfilled. When they are played, they are removed from the player’s deck and sit next to the player’s character card, outside the deck.

If a Halt card is drawn from the buy deck, players cannot raid. At the start of each turn, if there are Halt cards in the marketplace, they are shuffled into the buy deck and replaced.

If a turn passes where no player Raids or Buys any cards, the entire marketplace is put into the buy deck, then a new marketplace is dealt out.

The Server

Servers start at a strength of 1. Whenever a server card is flipped over, their strength becomes the sum of all the revealed cards. Each time a new card is flipped from a server, arrange it so that the numbers on each server card are visible, covering the text panel on each card. A server is immune to raids of the colour of its top card, and can only be attacked with other kinds of raid.

When a server card is flipped over, it can trigger a special rule or affect players somehow. If it does, this is known as its Flip Effect.

Winning & Losing

The game is won when each player has played a number of goal cards.

Soft Rule: The game is won when each player has played a Goal card.

Hard Rule: The game is won when each player has played all their Goal cards.

It’s hypothetically possible for the game to be unwinnable. If every player has crossed their Debt Limit, or if the buy deck is empty of everything but Halt cards, the game can no longer be won.

It’s possible for the buy deck to be entirely empty – but that doesn’t mean the game is unwinnable. As long as people can raid, that’s an option.