I thought I have played The Message: Emissary Crisis many times, but when I checked my records, I realised that I have only played three sessions. I did play quite a few games at each session. Just one game was never enough. My copy was a review copy. Usually I don't have high hopes for party games or big-group games so I normally don't buy them. However I quite enjoyed The Message: Emissary Crisis. For a recent boardgame meet-up, since it was the Chinese / Lunar New Year period, I decided to pick games related to that. I picked China (the definitely counts right?), and The Message: Emissary Crisis (a game designed and published in China - I know, this is stretching it a bit). This time the group who played The Message: Emissary Crisis with me was again all new to the game. We played five games back-to-back. Here are some of my thoughts.
- Our first game was a 7-player game, and the rest were 5-player games. 5P is less interesting. It can be quite quick to figure out who your teammate is and who your enemies are. It's serviceable, but not as good as with more players. 6P should be better, and I suspect best would be 7 or 8 (max is 9). If you only have four, then I'd suggest picking a different game.
- I still struggled a little with teaching the game. The English rules that come with the game are so poorly translated that I had to rewrite it myself by comparing it with the rules of the Chinese version. From this recent session, I found that teaching from the translated rulebook was not ideal at all. I needed, and have since made, a rules summary like what I often do with other games. Hopefully I'll do better next time. The structure of a turn is actually very simple - draw two cards, play any number of cards, then send a message. What can be difficult to digest are the various effects of the action cards, how they interact, which ones have precedence over which other ones, and when or under which situations they can be used. Another challenge is the character abilities. The approach I used was this: after explaining the rest of the rules, I asked everyone to read his own character card, and then we took turns to explain our characters. In hindsight, I probably should have taken charge of reading all the character cards and explaining them one by one, because new players might not be able to grasp the character abilities immediately and understand the gameplay implications.
- I had a reference card for the action card powers, but it was just a simple extract from the rewritten rules, i.e. a lot of text and not exactly easy to use. Now I have made a more graphical version, which is also simpler. Hopefully it'll help the next time I teach this game.
- This is a game heavy on player interaction and light on game mechanisms. It's more about gaming the people than about gaming the rule system. It is about guessing what your fellow players' know and what they think they know. It is about luring or bluffing them into revealing clues about their identities. When you send a black message to a player who already has two in front of him (receiving a third black message means elimination from the game), it may trigger his teammates (or those who believe they are his teammates) to come forward to save him, and it may also trigger his enemies (or those who believe they are his enemies) to step in to prevent those teammates from saving him. In the end, that one message sent might be a harmless blue or red message, but it could have coaxed out a lot of information. Also tempting others into playing many cards means the next time someone else makes a big move (hopefully it's your teammate) other players may no longer have the cards to stop him.
- Sometimes, even if you succeed in finding your teammates quickly, you still may not win, especially if you and your teammates don't draw cards of your team's colour. Still, generally speaking, knowing who's who helps.
- On the other hand, it's not necessary to know everyone's identity, of even who your teammates are, to win. In one particular game, I reached a point where I had two black messages and two blue messages. I was on the blue team, which meant I was on the verge of dying as well as winning. The guy on my left (whom I had thought was my enemy) used his character ability to draw two random cards from the deck to be played as messages for himself and for me. I thought he was trying to get me killed. It turned out that he was actually on the blue team too, and was gambling on getting me a blue card so that we would win. Talk about bold moves! And he did draw a blue card for me! We won! I almost wet my pants, but we won.