Theme and What is it?
It is the end of the 19th century. Colonel Ivan Ogareff has allied with the Tartars to invade the Empire. You take on the role of loyal couriers dispatched from Moscow to Irkutsk to warn the Tsar’s brother, the Grand Duke, of the incoming threat. Will you make it in time?
Michael Strogoff from Devir Games is a game of action selection and hand management for one to five players that plays in about an hour. Players will face various impediments along their route, some more dangerous than others, which must be dealt with before progressing to the final stage. They may at times benefit from the aid of valuable allies granting short-term benefits. However, players will also have to carefully avoid a roaming band of Tartars who will capture and injure players if given the chance. The game culminates with a showdown between one player and the traitor, Ivan Ogareff. To begin players will set up the board, shuffling the allies deck and various event decks. A black die will represent the Tartars location and relative strength. Players will take a character board and associated meeple, along with a starting hand of five action cards and a starting route card.
The game alternates back and forth between two phases. The first phase is the Courier’s Phase, in which each player will take their turn. On a player’s turn, they may first activate an available ally if they so choose by discarding an action card with a portrait matching that of the ally they wish to use. This is optional. Then the player will take one of three actions. A player may Advance, spending one energy and moving their meeple forward on the route toward Irkutsk and drawing a route card from the matching region. If the route card has an immediate danger, the player can immediately discard an action card with a matching symbol, placing a resolution disc over the resolved danger. If a player’s line of route cards ever contains a repeat symbol, the player has triggered a delay and activates all of the penalties from their route cards. These include losing an action card, losing an energy, and turning a route card face down.
Players may also choose to Rest on their turn, which allows them to choose two benefits from a list of three: draw two action cards, gain one energy, or flip over a route card that was face down. They may repeat the same benefit if they wish. Finally, a player’s third option for their turn is to Resolve Dangers in which they may use action cards or energy to cover dangers and complete route cards. Many route cards provide an ability that a player can acquire and/or trigger at a later time in the game for specific benefits.
After the player’s turn comes the Traitor phase. This phase makes use of iconography at the bottom of route cards and determines what occurs during the phase. There are three icons, usually two of them determine how far the traitor advances and where the Tartar die moves. The third directly impacts the players and can allow them to draw a card, or roll a die to trigger abilities, or bring new allies into play. It may also trigger the spy Sangarra who serves as an extra impediment on your route to Irkutsk. Players will want to do their best to avoid the Tartars as they bring some negative consequences should you find yourself captured.
If a player reaches Irkutsk, there is a final showdown with the traitor Ivan Ogareff. Players must first resolve all of their route cards, before resolving a number of Irkutsk cards, determined by Ivan’s distance from the city. If the player resolves all cards without running out of energy, they are victorious. Should one player fail, the remaining players may also try to face the traitor should they reach Irkutsk on their turn. If no one manages to defeat the traitor, then Irkutsk falls to the traitor, Ivan Ogareff, and his Tartar forces.
Michael Strogoff has a really nice artstyle and a theme that drew me in. Classic literature fueling a mix of hand management and action selection with the promise of a 60 minute playtime was something that appealed to me from the outset.
Game Build Quality
Michael Strogoff comes with the main game board, one white action die, on black die representing the Tartars, five double-sided character boards, five character meeples and matching discs, 10 resolution discs, one figure of Ivan Ogareff the traitor, and 154 cards (24 Russia route, 7 Ural Mountains route, 32 Siberia route, 8 Tomsk route, 20 Irkutsk route, 1 Sangarra route, 56 Action cards, and 6 Allies). The player boards are of decent stock and the cards are thick enough to avoid bending. The wooden components are in line with current industry expectations. The insert could easily be tossed out if that’s your thing.
The art by Pedro Soto is a clean style with great colors. The art reminds me of classic comics to an extent. I like the art on the route cards in particular because they give some narrative to the dangers you must overcome, rather than just having the cards be a list of icons. The are works with the graphic design to enrich the experience while not obstructing or distracting from the necessary information on the cards.
Age Range & Weight
Michael Strogoff is a game of action selection and hand management. The box suggests ages 12 and up, but I think younger kids would have no problem approaching the game. There are only a few things you can do on your turn which keeps the complexity low and makes the game very approachable. There is some depth to the game though as players weigh when to make use of any special abilities they have earned and whether their action cards are best for handling dangers or for requesting aid from Allies.
Michael Strogoff is a really neat little game. I seem to be in a phase where I appreciate games with very few choices to be made, but which offer surprising depth within those limited options. Michael Strogoff falls right into this category. There are only three different actions and they are all relatively straight forward. The system for advancing the traitor every round really keeps the pressure on the players to advance and not delay. You are going to have to take risks to have a chance at success and sometimes fortune will shine on you. Other times, you will plunge from the height of fortune’s wheel, shaking your fists as you plan for how to recover. The game also has a feeling like a semi-cooperative game. It isn’t really, but since each player is trying to defeat the traitor, I found myself excited and hoping that if I should fail, one of my fellow players might still find victory. Simple, straightforward rules and a quick playtime make Michael Strogoff appealing and many groups will find something to enjoy in this title from Devir Games.