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Michael Strogoff


Alberto Corral


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G@mebox author Manuel Esser writes about the game:

Michael Strogoff, that's the name of a best-selling novel written by Jules Verne in 1876. The story is about a courier, named Michael Strogoff, who is commissioned by the Russian Tsar to warn his brother against a danger from a traitor. This traitor, Ivan Ogareff, wants to take revenge on the Tsar's brother with the support of the Tartars. All this takes place in the Tartar rebellion in which Russian's Eastern lands (where the brother of the Tsar reigns) are separated from the mainland. As the Tartars have cut telegraph lines between Moscow and the capital of Siberia, Irkutsk, Michael Strogoff and the other couriers are sent on horses to to warn the brother of the Tsar.

Michael Strogoff, that's also the name of the game published by DEVIR. And, as in the book, the players take the role of couriers and are sent on a long road from Moscow to Irkutsk. A race between Ivan and the couriers begins right from the start. But moreover, during their journey, the couriers also encounter various other dangers, for example wild animals, illness, wounds or accidents. And then, of course, the tartars are also at their heels.

Michael Strogoff is a race game for 1 to 5 players with a lot of hand management mechanics. All components are nicely made and the game comes with a lot of detailed information about the route through the Russian empire, over the Ural Mountains up to Siberia. Of course, the goal is to reach Irkutsk before Ivan and the invaders to deliver the message to the Tsar's brother.

Each round has two phases: the couriers’ phase and the traitor’s phase. On their turn, the first thing a player has to decide is, if he wants to use an ally's help or not. Each ally has a special ability to help before the players begins his movement. But to use an ally, you have to discard one action card with the same portrait of the ally you want to use. Only then it is possible to activate his or her ability. Of course, allies are always a good thing to use, but sometimes it is better to pass this action although you have an ally in your hand and to wait for the very right moment.

After the allies have been used (or not), the players have three options to proceed: advance, rest and resolve dangers. Most important is to advance on the road (you want to be first, remember?). For this you simply draw a card from the general supply and face it in front of you. But, each of these cards has also dangers, penalties and abilities, some of them worse than others. Players can choose to resolve the dangers from the cards in one of the following rounds with the help of the his hand cards or – a worse choice - with life points.

If however a player does not want or cannot resolve the danger (or if he is just to slow in this), it is possible that the player draws more route cards to move with the same danger-icons, and in that case the penalty is activated. Basically there are three different types of penalties: to discard a hand card, to loose an energy point and to flip a card on the road, so it is lying face down). All of these penalties are annoying and delay the journey. So, it can be a good strategy to rest from time to time, because by performing this action, players can choose two benefits out of three: Draw two new action cards, regain one energy point or flip over a route card that was face down (with a penalty). Finally you can resolve dangers on the table by using one of your hand cards with the same icon, two cards with the same icons (but different from the penalty card) or one energy point.

In the following traitor’s phase one action card is drawn from the general deck. Symbols on the lower part of the card have to be carried out now. First of all it is Ivan Ogareff time to advance (1, 2 or 3 spaces), the second indication is a benefit for all players: for example, drawing an additional action card, rolling an action die to perform player abilities or activating new allies. The last symbol stands for the tartars and their movement between the different areas and can also modify their strength. Tartars are an additional obstacle for the players in the same region.

As you can see, cards are multifunctional in Michael Strogoff. In fact, although you have a board to move the different parties on the road, cards are the true principal elements of this game. And to reach Irkutsk before the invaders do, you really have to find a good strategy. The traitor can be faster as you think and the tartars are unpredictable, too. On the one hand the game is a semi-cooperative, with the players helping each other, but on the other hand everyone is still trying to be the first to deliver the message to the brother of the Tzar. Only the first one reaching Irkuts can start the final duel with Ogareff. But if you only play for yourself during this way, failure is very likely. Also, you need good health and lots of matching hand cards to withstand the final duel. Otherwise you only will survive with an awful lot of luck.

In my opinion Michael Strogoff was implemented in nearly a perfect way to appreciate the couriers’ journey through Russia. You really feel to be a member of the race with Ivan Ogareff and the tartars like Jules Verne has described it in his novel. Each move feels risky but in the end, you are really happy, if you can defy all the dangers. The authors had a good hand to implement a quite complex theme in an easy and quickly to understand game. Since now I had only the chance to play Michael Strogoff with two players. Even in this variant it was really exciting to see who reaches the last station first and if this courier is able to defeat the traitor. But I think that the race game between the couriers’ might will be even more brought off when player with three or more opponents.

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