[microfilms] is a small, deduction game by designers David J. Mortimer and Dávid Turczi. It’s set in the same universe as [redacted], a game by Turczi, Katalin Nimmerfroh and Mihály Vincze, though no knowledge of [redacted] is needed.
The game supports two to six people ages 12 and up, and it takes 10 to 30 minutes to play.
Published by LudiCreations and distributed by Passport Game Studios in the United States, [microfilms] can be found online for about $10.
Players take on the role of agents or four other “freelancers,” depending on the number of players. They are invited to a poker game by an ambassador, where microfilms are embedded in the playing cards.
A player’s secret identity and alliance (or lack thereof) determine how to win.
How it works:
One of the four agent cards is removed from the game, along with its corresponding microfilm and alliance card. Then enough freelancer role cards to have one card for each player are shuffled with the remaining three agent cards. (A two-player game works quite differently.) Each player receives a role card, which is kept secret.
The three remaining alliance cards are shuffled and one is removed from the game. The two remaining will show which two agents are allied, though they won’t know at first.
Action cards are shuffled and one is dealt to each player, then the microfilm and alliance cards are shuffled with them.
Players choose a starting player, and those farthest from the starting player, depending on the number of players, get 1 franc. Each player gets a suspicion token, which shows all possible actions. It’s turned with the “Suspect” side up. The other side is “Cleared.”
On their turn, players can choose from one of five actions: draw a card from the deck or the top of the discard pile; pass and take a franc, bribe another player by offering a card to another player, thus making the offerer “Cleared”; take an action, often by using a card; or attempt to win.
Actions include stealing two francs from another player; blackmailing another player, forcing them to pay two francs or lose a card and become “Suspect” while the other player is “Cleared”; cashing out to get three francs; interrogating another player, looking at a card from another player’s hand, which has been chosen so that the other player does not know which card has been looked at.
Players must discard down to one action card (not counting the role card) if they are a “Suspect” or two if they are “Cleared.”
The game ends when one of the agents is “Cleared” and reveals a microfilm that belongs to another player to whom the agent is not allied. If an agent reveals a microfilm of an ally, both allied players lose.
Freelancers each have different objectives, from revealing a Microfilm and naming the player to whom it belongs to naming the player with the ace of spades card.
Why you might buy [microfilms]:
Despite being a little strange, the Cold War spy poker game theme is fun, and the art fits well.
The gameplay also fits the mysterious theme.
The price is amazing.
I have a feeling if you have a group that will take the time to internalize the rules and play it together relatively often, it could be a very interesting experience, especially for three players (because none of the freelancers are used in a three-player game).
Why you might not buy [microfilms]:
The rules are very difficult to learn for such a short game.
The freelance roles seem quite imbalanced. For example, the Hitman can only win by being “Cleared” and identifying which player has the ace of spades. But once the ace of spades has been discarded, the hitman has no way to win (and not much to do) until the deck has been run through and reshuffled. Then the hitman is starting blind again.
Becoming “Cleared” is quite difficult, and without being cleared, your hand limit is only one card. The game is supposed to be limiting, but the folks I played with thought it was too limiting.
The two-player game has a dummy player, which would be okay, but each player has both an agent and a secondary role. That’s confusing and makes the winning conditions a bit convoluted.
The rules are much too complicated for the length of the game. After I played this with people, they immediately started suggesting changes to the game. And oddly enough, they wanted more cards and more to do. That’s a problem for a microgame, since they’re usually known for their simplicity and elegance.
But it also speaks to the fact that everyone at the table badly wanted to get into the game and enjoy it. They didn’t leave apathetic.
That’s why I think with a crowd that has enough patience to really learn the game, it could be good. That may be a tough group to find, however, since most 10- to 30-minute games are made for casual experiences.
Full disclosure: I got a review copy of [microfilms] from Passport Game Studios. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.