Dale Yu: Review of Messina 1347

Messina 1347

  • Desiginers: Vladimir Suchy and Raul Fernandez Aparicio
  • Publisher: Delicious Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 90-140 minutes
  • Played with copy provided by Delicious Games

messina 1347

Messina 1347 takes place during the introduction of the plague epidemic (a.k.a. the “black death”) and the spreading of its infection through town. During this time period, merchant ships delivering luxury goods to Europe brought to these countries an unprecedented epidemic — and one of the first affected cities was Messina, Italy.  The plague is represented by black wooden cubes which will be found all over the city and cause problems whenever they are left around too long.

In the game, players take the role of important Messina families who are leaving town and moving to the countryside out of fear of being infected by the plague. While doing this, they are focusing on saving other inhabitants and helping to fight the plague infection in town. They must also endeavor to prosper in their countryside residence, where they are temporarily accommodating rescued residents. They are all waiting there for the epidemic to subside, then they return to Messina to take over and dominate particular districts in the town.

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The city itself is built up with a number of hexes depicting different buildings and ports in the city – the size and pattern of which are dependent on the number of players. 

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Each player also gets a personal board which shows their estate with three distinct areas, with boltholes for rescued citizens, and some pathways to walk around the periphery of each area.  To the upper left of this are four quarantine cabins (where rescued folks with the plague are kept), and in the lower left are three tracks to track scrolls. There is one more board which has the score track, player order track and the three influence tracks for popularity, city growth and church strength.  The final piece of hardware is a population wheel which looks like a ship’s wheel and will help you with setting up each round.

The game is played over six rounds – the different phases being iconographically represented on the scoreboard.  The setup for each round includes a number of steps.  First, look through the city, and remove (kill) and citizen tokens that have a black plague cube in their hex.  Then, set the turn order based on the progress on the appropriate track specified in the player aid.  Next, place a boat in one of the dock spaces, and place a plague cube on it (because ships always brought the plague to cities).  Then using the population wheel, put a plague cube on all the city hexes with a matching rat icon as seen at the top of the wheel.  Then, place nuns, craftsmen and aristocrats on colored spaces matching that seen on the wheel as well.  Finally, place a new city hex in the indicated spot from the rulebook.  Note that each round will be somewhat different in this setup phase; just refer to the round reference on the scoreboard to see which actions are done in the setup for any particular round.

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The bulk of the round is then done by using your meeples (lieutenants) to take actions.  Each player starts with 3 lieutenants, but can possibly increase this number to 5 through gameplay.  To take an action, you choose an unoccupied hex (no upright meeple in them) in the city and place your meeple on it.  At the start of the game, your meeples are placed on the board – in subsequent rounds, they are lying down in their current space, and then they stand up and can use that hex or any adjacent hex (if free, of course) without cost.  Further movement costs one coin per hex moved.  

If there is a citizen on the hex where movement ends, you rescue it.  If there is no plague cube in the hex, take that tile and place it on one of the boltholes of matching color on your estate board.  If there is a plague cube in the hex, place the citizen tile in one of your quarantine cabins to the upper left of your estate.  Each cabin can only hold one citizen (you’re quarantining them after all!)  These citizens must stay there for two turns before they are felt to be disease free and can move into the estate proper.

Next you fight the plague.  If there are plague cubes on the hex, you may pay fire tokens to remove plague cubes (cost seen on the round reminder area).  For each cube removed, you gain one step on the popularity track. After the change to burn the plague, the player then gains one rat token for each plague cube still in the hex – these will turn into end game penalties.

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Finally, you take an action in the hex (it is slightly different if you move to a dock, but more on this later).  The majority of the time, you use the actions seen in the upper left corner of the hex.  You could also choose to repopulate the hex by paying the resources and people seen at the top of the hex – this is mostly done to score points.  The actions may let you gain resources (wood, fire tokens, coins) from the supply.  As you move forward on the tracks, you can earn bonus things or actions as you pass spaces.  You could earn a scroll to advance on one of the tracks on your scroll board.  You may be able to advance an overseer – these are the three colored markers that start in the center of your estate.  They will walk a single loop around their area, and when they stop, they can activate the special action of an adjacent occupied bolthole.  If your overseer has been upgraded, you can choose two rescued citizen actions instead of just one.

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You may be able to advance on a particular register on the score board.  As you move forward on each of the tracks, there are bonuses that can be earned as you progress (seen at the top of the track spaces).  Remember that there are 3 registers on the score board.  The popularity register can only be advanced on by fighting the plague.  The city and church tracks have icons found as actions throughout the game.  You can also always buy advances on these two tracks.  The city register is important because it is the only way to gain the extra lieutenants from the supply.  This will then give you more actions in subsequent rounds.  The church track is important for moving and upgrading the three overseers on your estate.

The last major action option is building.  You can improve your quarantine cabin – this gives extra bonuses each time you have that cabin occupied by a rescued citizen.  You could build a workshop; which, if occupied by a citizen, can provide ongoing bonuses in resources of points.  Finally, you can build a wagon, and these are used to repopulate hexes in Messina – a major way to score points at the end of the game.

If you went to a dock instead of a city hex, you instead get to take the boat tile and add it to your estate – gaining coins or scoring points.  If you have an even number of boats, you also get a free advance of an overseer in your estate, likely gaining extra actions from that.

After you have taken the action for the hex, that lieutenant’s turn is over, and the next player in order gets to activate one of his lieutenants and repeat the above process.  Once all the players have activated all their meeples, you get some production from your estate.   First, each occupied quarantine cabin will make whatever is shown on its improvement tile (if there is one there).  Then each workshop with an infinity symbol will produce whatever is seen on the right side of the workshop.  Finally, you advance your quarantined citizens one space to the right, and if they move out of the quarantine cabin, they move into a bolthole on your estate board.

The next round is set up based on the icons shown on the round reference.  If this is the end of the sixth round, the game instead ends and scores are tallied.  First you must deal with the rat tokens that you have collected during the game.  For each, move one space back on the population track.  Then, counting the total sum of rat tokens, take a VP penalty on the score track.

Now score points for the following things.

  • VPs for your progress on the three tracks, noting that there is a bonus on the popularity track for your relative rank on that track (seen at the right hand end).  
  • VPs on each hex that you have repopulated.  
  • VPs for progress made on the three tracks on your scroll board
  • VPs for the buildings you have built
  • VPs for the boat tiles you have collected
  • 1VP per 3 coins, fire token and wood tokens left over

The player with the most points wins.  Ties broken in favor of the player who has repopulated the most hexes.

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My thoughts on the game

Well, from re-reading the rules summary above, the game doesn’t sound overly complicated, but let me tell you, in actual playing – there are a LOT of things you need to consider each turn, and this is definitely a brain burner (for me at least!).  It’s a lot to grasp on a first play, and I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing until about my third game.  But, it’s been fun trying to work my way through the puzzle that Messina 1347 presents – as there are so many different facets of the game.  In the end, you should remember that you really only get six turns in the game, so there isn’t much time for wasted actions.  Everything you do should advance your cause in some way – and I think you have to have a fairly focused strategy to make each turn count.

You have to consider so many things when plotting out your turn.  First, where do you want to be on the map; which actions do you want to take, and which citizens are you hoping to rescue.  Do you want to go to a hex with a rat or are you better off just avoiding it – sometimes it’s just a matter of whether or not you have the fire token or not…  It’s always good to have an extra coin or two to make sure that you can move into the hexes you want.  And, look around at what your opponents are doing too – there is a bit of a race aspect, and you need to see whether or not someone is going to cut you off from a space you want…. Or whether you can snake a coveted action away from them!  

Early on, you might be focused on getting resources just to build stuff – but by no means is this the only way to progress.  Buildings in the early game offer income each round; so the earlier you build them, the more benefit you get.  Buildings in the endgame offer scoring bonuses or very strong actions; so they should not be ignored either.  As points are tough to come by, building buildings that score points or upgrading citizens are a good way to start a point scoring engine.  I honestly like to build a building early that produces a coin or two as I can then be assured of having some money each turn in case I need it to move my workers further along than just the next space.

You will definitely need to get citizens at some point or else your overseers will have nothing to activate as they start moving around your estate!  I would also recommend figuring out which register(s) you want to concentrate on.  In my experience, it’s very difficult to advance far on both city and church – and the best bonuses (and points) are obtained from moving near the end.  The city track is where you get more workers.  The church track is how you get overseer movements and upgrades.  (The popularity track is from killing rats, so that sort of just goes with that, but don’t forget about the sizable bonus from being ahead on that track at the end of the game).  Interestingly, both of the tracks make your turns better.  If you get more workers, you get more actions on the board.  If you get more citizens and use the church board to move overseers, you will get extra actions from the activations in your courtyard.

But as you can see, you have a lot to think about when trying to set up your turn, and I have definitely found it useful to survey the board for a minute before my first play of each turn to make sure I have an idea of what I want to do… and maybe even a backup plan in case someone takes an action away that I was planning on using!  The key here is to get the most out of your turn – maybe it’s specifically doing the actions you want.  Maybe it is figuring out how to chain your actions to get a lot of “extra” things from your courtyard or the tracks.   On some turns, you might even choose to do specific things just to get an advance on turn order for the next turn (you can always see what the criteria is for each turn on the chart on the scoreboard).

We have found that there are multiple ways to do well – there hasn’t been one strategy which has dominated in every game.  In one game, a repopulation heavy strategy proved to be quite impressive; and the higher scores from each of those actions was hard to top.  For much of the game, it didn’t look like much was happening until the last two turns when he struck with the repopulations.  Another game had a player work the popularity and church tracks beautifully; killing lots of rats to move forward on the top track and then using the Church track to upgrade overseers and get double actions in the estate for much of the game.   We have even seen a boat heavy strategy do pretty well as it gave a steady stream of income to allow for worker movement, and the free overseer action coming with every other boat really came in handy.

The game itself is very busy, and an outsider glancing at it on the table might only see chaos.  But, while you’re in the game, we did find much, if any, confusion with the bits.  All the icons are easily understandable, and made the gameplay fairly smooth.  There is a bit of upkeep to be done in the game, but the chart on the scoreboard helps everyone remember which phases need to be done on which turn.  The wheel to determine rats and citizen placement seemed confusing at first, but became second nature midway through our first game.  

The game is not quick though; our first 4p game took about 3 hours, but later games are coming down closer to 2 hours.  The game doesn’t feel long for what you get though, as you are spending lots of time trying to figure out what you want to do, and I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with at least one turn where you just have to stop and spend a bit of time thinking of what your plan should be because one of your opponents just totally screwed up your master plan by beating you to a city hex.  My mind is definitely engaged in the playing of this game from start to finish.

Messina 1347 is a challenging game, and one I would recommend to any group looking for a longer experience.   Delicious Games seems to be carving out a niche with this style of game as Underwater Cities and Praga Caput Regni are similar in weight and complexity.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Alan How: I’d agree about the game length- 2 hours seems about right and it’s an enjoyable and clever game.

Dan B. (1 play): This is a pretty standard game in the modern Euro style – put a lot of mechanisms on the table and lightly glue them together. In this case it all works reasonably well and feels a bit better-integrated than some games I could mention, but it’s still messy, and I am not at all convinced that there’s enough going on to be worth the trouble. That being said, it was reasonably interesting and if you like this kind of game, it’s worth checking out.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Alan How
  • Neutral. Dan B., Steph 
  • Not for me…

 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2021, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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