Messina 1347 Review

05 October 2022
Beating the Black Death one cube at a time

The beautiful island of Sicily is a gorgeous Mediterranean destination enjoyed by countless tourists. It’s the stuff of legends, from the constantly rumbling Mount Etna to being the home of the mythical Cyclops. But in 1347, the eastern port of Messina was anything but top of the tourism charts. Bubonic Plague, or the Black Death, had arrived on its shores via grain fleets. And the rest, as they say, is dark and miserable history.

While not the jolliest of backdrops for a board game, it does at least provide a fluid narrative that fits the otherwise bone-dry euro mechanisms. Players take the roles of noble families occupying the land around the stricken city. Players send their lieutenants (workers) to rescue its inhabitants, bringing them to their estates to wait out the plague – and do a little work while they’re at it. While in Messina, they’ll also endeavour to fight the plague by burning the infected areas – gaining popularity in the process. While building quarantine cabins and workshops for rescued nuns, craftsmen and aristocrats to work in. Later, when the plague begins to subside, you can send the people back to repopulate the city. All, of course, in the name of victory points.

Before each round, a fiddly and convoluted process sees you populate the city with people, plague cubes and plague-carrying ships. The city is made up of 14-22 hexes, depending on player count and the round of the game (you add a new hex in five of the six rounds, opening up new actions). The hexes don’t have specific places to put anything, and are covered in artwork, meaning it soon resembles a bit of a dog’s breakfast of tokens, cubes and workers. We took to placing things in particular corners of a hex to keep it neat, which worked well enough. And generally, Messina 1347 looks pretty good on the table. In a beige Mediterranean Eurogame kind of way.

In contrast, the worker placement and action selection processes are smooth and satisfying. Each hex can hold a single active worker, but as there are multiple ways and spaces to do each action, you’re rarely blocked from what you need to do. However, movement beyond one space costs gold which you’d rather be spending elsewhere – moving along your typical Euro-style tracks or building places for your rescued people to work. You definitely need to plan strategically, but other players are bound to get in your way in that again typically euro ‘passive interaction’ way.

Once on a hex you’ll first deal with the plague, then save any people present, before doing the hex’s action. Plague needs fire (a resource) to get rid of it, but you’re rewarded with a move on the popularity track – which in turn gives all kinds of nice rewards. And not dealing with it earns you rats, that will punish you for points at the end of the game – and there’s no way to get rid of them. Saved residents move to your player board (if you have space). Ones from plagued hexes go into one of four quarantine buildings for two turns before joining the others. The rest go into one of 18 action spaces on your board, which can be triggered later. Actions do what you’d expect – allow you to build, move you on tracks, and give resources. You’ll earn resources and points for working citizens on your board and can later use them to repopulate the city for even more points.

I’ve not been a fan of Vladimir Suchý’s games in the past. They’ve tended to hide overly long, dry experiences behind themes that suggest otherwise. Perhaps it is the influence of relative newcomer Raúl Fernández Aparicio as co-designer, but this time they’ve nailed it. The theme doesn’t suggest anything but ‘dry Euro’, which feels appropriate. While the gameplay is satisfying and – most importantly – just the right length. Every action feels important, while there are definitely a variety of workable routes to victory. And there’s just enough passive interaction to keep you watching the other players throughout. Sometimes actions trigger other actions, which can get a little messy mentally. But equally this can be hugely satisfying to pull off. Getting a complex Euro to play in little more than an hour (for two players) is an artform in itself, and Messina 1347 is a keeper for me because they’ve pulled it off with aplomb.

Chris Marling


Try this if you liked Underwater Cities…

Read the full review here

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A similar weight of worker placement to Suchy’s previous offering Underwater Cities, with as much to do and think about but in a shorter play time.

Designer: Vladimir Suchý & Raúl Fernández Aparicio

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Time: 60-140 minutes

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £75

What’s in the box?

  • 124 Wooden pieces
  • 160 Cardboard chits
  • 90 Cardboard tiles and hexes
  • 5 Boards


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