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Message to the Czar
English language edition
List Price: $27.95
Your Price: $22.35
(Worth 2,235 Funagain Points!)
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from 6 customer reviews
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The governors have important messages that must reach the czar as quickly as possible. Because the governors live in provinces in the far reaches of his empire, a governor must be clever and a little lucky to be the first to get his message to the czar, winning the game and the favor of the czar.
The players each send several couriers on the long and convoluted trip to the czar's palace. Along the way, the couriers travel from village to village through swamps, forests, and mountains. In each village, the couriers check in to one of the inns and spend the night. But only the early risers will be able to move on to the next village in the morning. Those who sleep late must remain in the village for another night, hoping the new day will provide better opportunities.
- 1 game board
- 60 couriers
- 6 signs
- 5 messages
- 30 coins
- 1 rule booklet
Average Rating: 3 in 6 reviews
I must admit I've never played Muscat but I've enjoyed each game we've played of Message. There is definitely a huge luck factor between the draw of tiles and bribing the guards, but I think the game play is great. Do you move your message? Is it worth moving an opponents messenger to advance yours? And all the other factors you must consider to reach the palace guards. It played well with 2 and was even more fun with 5. I found it to be a fun filler with engaging play! Recommended!
Message to the Czar did not impress me at first. I had to memorize the locations in each inn of the Officer, the Cossack, the Diplomat, and the Attache. We played two player, two rounds, to get the feel of the game.
Soon it became apparent the game produced more intricate strategy. It wasn't enough to remember the location of the four protagonists. You had to remember which way the arrows were drawn in the inns. I liked the idea of jumping swamps, grasslands (skipping inns), and so forth if the particular tile did not fit in the certain inn. Four inns were immediately closed in the two-player game. When you first place the message block on the drawn tile of 12 pieces, you discover the placement may not work. Constantly, I was having to fuss with changing the message to accommodate the changing vagaries of the other player's placement. It became disheartening to see your message left in the dust by the other player moving to different inn levels.
You had to judge whether you wanted to move the Officer and the Attache, for example, with one of these tiles being the other player. It too soon became apparent the other player was going to force you to spend 10 rubles instead of his lowly six to win the game. The 20+ rubles are grouped at the top of the board for the player who reaches the Czar's fortress.
In the ruble spending for the last level, one player commented it was a matter of luck which rubles were turned over first. Having not played Muscat, I cannot comment on whether the luck factor interfered with the game's end. I can say the other player (blue tiles) became nervous about drawing too many overturned rubles and finding the Njet. That action of Njet allowed me to catch up and move closer to the Czar's fortress.
Religiously, I tried to challenge the other player's placement in the inns. Still, as the blue tile player commented, 'If you don't provide an aggressive stance at the beginning, you will be left in the dust.'
With my more conservative play, I lost both rounds of what is basically a good beer-and-pretzel game. Would I play it again? The answer is certainly, because the game challenges you to improve your strategy with each new play. You want to beat the other player to the Czar's fortress and claim those rubles and the game.
Personally, the tiles are attractively done, and the board is nicely laid out for the different inn levels. However, if you can't draw a Cossack from the discard pile or the main pile when you need that tile, all may be lost at the moment.
First off, the previous review appears to be a little harsh.
Message to the Czar is a simple race game with a considerable amount of strategy. Where Muscat appears to be a game of force, Message is one of finesse.
The vagrants, which tend to bog down the game of Muscat with their 'special' actions and additional rules, have been removed. The 'Struggles of Power' have been simplified and, in my opinion, are much more rewarding of good play.
One of your 'Couriers' holds a 'message', which must ultimately move to the palace if you want a chance to win. Its movement is your unlimate concern. With four opponents, that's not an easy task. In Muscat, you can win without getting one piece to the palace, which should be the whole object of the game!
Luck does play a part, but it is evened out considerably by the Palace Guards bribe mechanism.
All-in-all, Message to the Czar is a solid filler game which should see a lot of play at our gaming tables this year.
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Talk about fussy couriers: Officers demand room #1, Attaches #2, Cossacks #3, and Diplomats #4 at every inn! A random courier carries your message in a first-level inn. One courier starts your faceup discards; 10 are shuffled facedown. Each turn, you may place a courier (from either the facedown pile or discards) in a first-level inn (if all are full, selected facedown couriers join your discards); pass your message to a courier on the same level; or move any two couriers at a full inn to different inns on the next level--or higher if they cannot occupy the next.
Message-bearing couriers reach spaces valued 6,8, or 10 on the Palace level. Subsequently, owners draw facedown tokens one at a time, winning by drawing the space's value. Shuffle tokens back if you pick a "No!" token. You can stop, permanently keeping your current drawings to try for the balance next turn. But others are pursuing you in this bizarre race!
Muscat is a tactical tile-laying game in which players try to work their way up a social ladder and where, as with real-life social ladders, the rewards for success and the penalties for failure are greater the higher you go. The setting for what is basically an abstract game is an Arabian Nights style sultanate and the story line is that entertainers, newly arrived in town, are trying to work their way up from being the sort of act that busks on street corners to the sort that is invited to perform at the palace itself.
The tiles represent the entertainers and they are of four types: pipers, snake charmers, elephant trainers and fire eaters. Each player has 4 of each and the game revolves around the pecking order that exists among them. Unlike most pecking orders, this one is circular. Pipers outrank snake charmers; snake charmers outrank elephant trainers; elephant trainers outrank fire eaters; but fire eaters outrank pipers.
The board is divided vertically into "levels" and within each is a collection of squares with spaces for one entertainer of each type. Between each level is a "street", which is where you end up if your act finds itself being thrown out of the theatre. At the start of the game each player mixes their tiles face down and then turns one of them face up.
On your turn you may do one of three things. The first is to take either your face-up tile or a randomly drawn face-down one and place it in an available space on the lowest level. The second is to resolve a power struggle and the third is to do something fancy with a tile that had begun to climb but which has met with a reverse.
A power struggle is something that can happen if a square somewhere on the board contains three tiles. (Squares are not allowed to contain more than three.). The fact that there are three tiles there means that the circular nature of the precedence chain has been broken, to be replaced by a simple linear ordering. So, for example, if there was no elephant trainer in the square, you would have an ordering with the fire eater at the top and the snake charmer at the bottom. If a player chooses, they may use their turn to resolve things. What happens if they do is that the square is emptied, with the top two being moved up a level and the bottom one being placed on the street immediately below the level from which it was ejected.
Resolution of a power struggle is something that you will normally want to do if your man is in one of the good positions but not if he is in the bad one. In that case you will be hoping that something can be done to change things. This is where the vagrants, the entertainers who have already been put out on to the street, come into play. The third option you have in your turn involves moving one of these. The simplest and least aggressive choice open to you is to "reinstate" the tile. This means taking it from the street and placing it in an open space which is of the appropriate type and on the adjacent level. The other three are more hostile and, if you are entering into the spirit of things, will often be directed towards getting revenge on the player who put you out on to the street in the first place. They involve various types of switching, such as replacing an opponent's tile with your own. There is a price attached to these revenge manoeuvres, which is that you have to remove one of your tiles from the game, but it will nearly always be worth it, since not only will your position be improved but any power struggle positions that the manoeuvre produces are resolved immediately, thereby almost giving you an extra turn.
The ultimate aim is to get your pieces up to the top level, which is the sultan's palace. Once there they are safe. The game ends when a certain number of entertainers have reached this level, just how many depends on the number of players. Each tile you have on the board is now worth points, positive ones for tiles in the palace or on one of the squares in a lower level and negative ones if they are on a street. The points, both positive and negative, increase in magnitude the higher a tile is up the board.
This is a neatly constructed little game that will appeal to those who like slightly intricate, tactical struggles and who can live with the fact that the game also involves a certain amount of good and bad fortune. Whether your current face-up tile is the one that you would like to be holding is in the lap of the gods. So too, for the most part, is whether it is your tile or someone else's that loses out in a power struggle, since in my experience players are usually more concerned with moving their own tiles up than with which other tile is promoted with them or with which one loses out. However, if you are willing to accept such good and bad breaks and don't mind the inevitable dryness that comes with abstract games, Muscat will reward you with some interesting play.