Strategic considerations in Messina should begin with the ending. The victory conditions for Messina are unusual because victory is shared, and scores only apply to pairs of players.
If the game were declared over at the very start, before the first move, the scores for each potential pair of factions would be as shown below. (The chart also shows scores for individual factions along the diagonal, but those are displayed for interest only.) Cryos and the First Fleet have a head start, in terms of food, water and population, and this is reflected in their combined score, but every combination is viable. The AI+UE combination begins with the lowest score, but they have other advantages. Note that the two players with the highest individual scores (Cryos and SF) are not the strongest pair.
These scores are not usually apparent during regular play, even at the end of the game. In practice, scores are only calculated for factions that agree to an alliance, and each faction can only pick one alliance partner, so at most only two scores get calculated. (The chart above was generated by a playtesting program. Note that the program used a slightly different currency for population, based on population tokens that could support two on-map Units. Just double the scores shown to get the scores in the new currency. [This graphic will be updated.])
Games of Messina can have 12 possible outcomes: any of the ten different allied pair combinations shown above, an AI solo, or a shared defeat involving all 5 players. The last two situations should be considered unusual, and they should not dominate strategy.
In most cases, two allied players will win by beating the other three players. That is, a minority will beat a majority. The victorious pair can form in three main ways: they each pull ahead of the pack in their own economic game, and then the two leading players join forces; they work together against the majority from the start; or two players break away from a majority trio, having successfully duped the third member of the trio into working for them for a large part of the game. Some games will see elements of all three routes to victory, and players should be ready to reconsider the alliance structure if they seem unlikely to emerge victorious with the existing pattern of play.
For two players to beat three others, they need to overcome the fact that two pooled economies are generally weaker than three pooled economies, particularly in a game with three main resources that are geographically restricted. One factor that makes it easier for the minority alliance to be competitive is that a majority alliance is inherently unstable – only two players can win, so one of the majority players must be betrayed before the end of the game, and each of the majority players must make sure the others in the majority trio are not too successful. This constant threat of two players breaking away from the majority trio tends to undermine it, and this gives the minority players their chance. If a strong majority trio appears to have formed, the two minority factions should concentrate their efforts on predicting (and possibly announcing) which of the trio is likely to be dumped when it comes to final scoring, in the hope of breaking up the trio and rearranging the alliances. In some games, picking off the weakest member of the majority will encourage a realignment – in others, the best strategy will be to target the most critical or least well defended part of the majority economy. Thus, a good player needs to judge the military and economic prospects of every other player, as well divining the political wind.
For any pair to win a game of Messina, their pooled economy needs to have access to all three of the main Commodities: Energy (E), Water (W) and Food (F). Trade can cover up a lack of one or two of these resources for a while, but cannot lead to a strong scoring position at the end of the game. This usually means that, to achieve victory, one or both of the two winning factions needs to expand geographically, spreading out from their starting position and getting access to a resource that, initially, is not within easy reach. And they need to defend these gains from the other three factions.
Each of the five factions begins with an initial head start in at least one domain:
- AI – Technology: already advanced on the Crypto and Tech tracks, and able to run its Military without F, the AI is the only faction able to survive the complete economic collapse of the planet.
- United Energy – Energy: enjoying easy access to the A and B-zones, UE has plenty of the E that underpins the Kepler economy.
- SF – Military: starting with the biggest Mech army, and 2 of the 3 main Utility types already in its portfolio, SF can expand relatively easily. Its valley can span across all 3 resource regions<./li>
- FF – Population/Food: with two shielded Farms, a stockpile of F, and a high starting population, FF offers any alliance a point-generating agricultural machine.
- Cryos – Water: with a near monopoly on Water, and a geographically protected source on the Moon, Cryos can dictate terms.
Each faction also has a couple of substantial vulnerabilities, as will be covered in more detail later, in the faction-specific strategy guides. Even in combination, most pairs of factions are missing at least one important resource, as shown schematically below. This means that factions must cooperate with their rivals for survival, initially, but then shift into a competitive mode as the end game approaches. If they fight too hard too early, they risk a planetary famine, which will potentially lead to an AI solo. If they let other factions expand, militarily or economically, they risk being made redundant. In this, as in most aspects of the game, they must find the middle course, like Odysseus passing through the Straits of Messina.
Economic Weaknesses in Potential Alliances