Full disclosure: A review copy of Rosetta: The Lost Language was provided by Story Machine Games.
I’ve been struggling a bit to find games that play well remotely. Plenty play okay, but it’s hard to find some truly great remote play titles. I think that may change, especially if we’re going to continue to be stuck for a lengthy period of time, but in the meantime I’m gonna try to make do with what’s currently available. Thankfully, Story Machine reached out a few weeks ago about Rosetta, their latest title, and, it seemed compelling, so here we are.
In Rosetta, you play as Experts who have found an Inscription penned by a mysterious Author. The pictograph isn’t in a language you understand, so you’ll need to translate it. Helpfully, the Author is available to confirm your guesses and provide some translations as you try to make your way to the right answer. If trying to play remotely, you can send pictures back and forth via chat to really dig into the mystery. Will you be able to translate this mysterious message?
It’s not too bad. One player is the Author. They’ll first shuffle the Locations and reveal one:
Next, they’ll shuffle the Inscriptions, again revealing one:
They should look carefully at the inscription and choose one side to be “up”. It’s their choice! After doing that, draw two Ability Cards (they’re double-sided!) and reveal them:
Those two will be in play for the game. The Author decides based on the Location and the Inscription what the Inscription’s Meaning is, and writes it on the Meaning Card:
There are a few rules to that, though:
- The Meaning cannot be visible on the card.
- The Meaning must be inspired by / related to the Location.
- The Inscription is symbolic (don’t treat any letter-looking glyphs as letters).
- The Meaning does not have to be a single word or a noun, but, you’re trying to help the Experts win, so you’re best off choosing something simple.
The other Guess Cards are given to the other players:
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
In Rosetta, you’ve just found a mysterious inscription in a beautiful location, and you seek to translate it. Crack the code, and you’ve discovered a secret of a lost civilization! Thankfully, you have the Author to help you along the way with your team of Experts. Let’s talk about how to crack that code.
A game is played over 10 rounds; each round, the Experts attempt to guess the meaning of the inscription. To do so, write the word (or words) that you think are the Meaning on the next Guess Card (starting with 1). Give it to the Author. They tell you if you’re right or wrong:
- If you’re right, you win!
- If you’re too wrong, they cross out the thing you wrote. This is to tell you that you’re getting off-track.
- Otherwise, they draw what you’ve written translated to the language of the Inscription. This is a helpful way for you to see how close you are to the actual Meaning, and potentially start to glean the meaning of particular glyphs in the Inscription.
After Guess 3, you may activate an Ability. This is a one-time bonus that you can use to help yourself. Whichever Ability you don’t choose gets discarded back to the box, though, so choose wisely!
After Guess 6, the Author must give you the meaning of the Fragment (the part of the Inscription duplicated in the corner). Hopefully that helps you come up with the Meaning!
After Guess 9, you have one more shot to get the Meaning! Say your final guess aloud, and the Author tells you if you were right or wrong. Either way, have the Author explain the meaning, and that’s the game!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any, since the game’s core is focused around two teams. One team is the Author, and is always one person; the other team of Guessers can be as many people as you want (though 6+ is probably too many). It’s got the same thing going as a lot of the team-based guessing games; having too many additional guessers can be beneficial in that you have more people working on a solution, but it might lead you astray if any voice steers you off of the track that the Author is trying to set up. I think it tends to be diminishing returns. I’ve played at lower player counts, though, and haven’t noticed much of a difference between the games. It can be nice to have additional collaborators, but it’s not necessary. I’d say any player count that they recommend is likely fine, but I wouldn’t push past it; you’re likely to end up with far more signal than noise, if you do add more people.
- I usually try to start with foundational words. Wood, water, air, whatever you think might be useful to define and see if it’s duplicated. Components are usually a good start if you think it’s going to be something related to them because you might be able to infer other things from them. Is it fish? Then maybe the next glyph is “person”, since it seems to be holding a fish.
- It’s also good to try to go for high-concept / compound words, at times, since they may include parts of the Inscription that may let you devise its meaning. If you think a weapon is involved, “soldier” isn’t a bad guess; that lets you get person + weapon, potentially. Army? Well that’s just people + weapon, so, you may get something different. Just make sure you don’t veer too far off or you’ll end up with nothing.
- Coordinate with your partners to make sure you’re letting everyone’s ideas get heard. With most of these games, allowing people to arrive at consensus can be helpful; just don’t let someone steer the group astray. That said, it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen before you guess.
- Don’t just drill down; try to work broadly and assemble pieces of the inscription, rather than committing to one line of thinking that may not be correct. If you’re not getting anywhere, try reexamining your existing assumptions and considering what information you do know, and then restart from there. That may be the reset you need.
- If you get stuck, hope that you’re not stuck with only the Fragment solved. This happened to us once, which meant we got zero new information after the sixth guess. Needless to say, we did not win.
- As the Author, choose as easy of a word as you can. It’s like Fake Artist; you want the guesser(s) to win, so, you should work with them. That said, if you’re getting through the rounds too easily, it may not be a bad idea to bump up the difficulty and really challenge yourselves.
- Be careful what you imply when you are drawing new glyphs for guesses. If you imply from a drawing that the position of the glyphs relative to each other matters, then your Experts are going to likely carry that forward. Do so at your own risk! That said, if you can use it to your advantage, that’s usually a strictly good thing; do what you gotta do.
- Beyond that, do the best you can with drawing. We’re not all artists. I often ask someone if this thing they drew corresponds to this glyph so that I can make sure I’m understanding correctly, and that seems within the spirit of the rules. We can’t all recreate images perfectly.
- Don’t necessarily cross out an answer if it’s wrong; see if you can work some hints for other glyphs into your drawing of it. Partial glyphs can really be your friend here. Want to clue waves, but they asked about fisherman? Draw a person pulling a fish from the waves. Then you’ve at least got the waves in your image and hopefully they’ll pick up on that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The Location art is really pretty. It’s a beautiful game; it almost seems like it could lead into a larger story game where you set up how you found the inscription and give some backstory that way.
- Cool game concept! The translation aspect is really cool, and I appreciate that they did this in a novel way that doesn’t feel appropriating.
- I really like drawing games. I’m very bad at drawing, so it’s fun for me. Even if you’re good at drawing, there’s a lot of symbol work to this, so it may challenge you in other ways. Plus, you have to put a lot of thought into what you want the drawings to convey, which is exciting.
- Can be played remotely very easily, which is nice. Just take pictures of the cards as you send the drawings back and forth. Even better if you have a tablet or are willing to use like Google Drawings or MS Paint. Then you save paper! And that’s a strict benefit.
- Plays pretty quickly, too. 15 or 20 minutes, even remotely, which is great! Maybe a bit longer if you have more people? People like to discuss, when they can, and that’s fine.
- I’d love to see an expansion with additional locations, abilities, and inscriptions. It feels like you could take this in a lot of cool directions. Sci-Fi or Fantasy might even be interesting, since it would create a lot of new potential words to choose from (while still maintaining believability that you could find an inscription such as this and want to translate it).
- Very portable, which is nice as well. Love a good small box game; this one’s coming to a lot of game nights with me … as soon as those start happening again. Whenever that will be.
- Games about language are also pretty fun and interesting to me. I think language is such a cool and interesting thing, and watching a player try to essentially evolve their own from some pictographs. It’s a lot of fun, and I really think they executed well on this.
- It would be nice if more of the components were larger; additional drawing space can be helpful when you’re bad at drawing, like me. I just need the extra real estate to try and be more faithful with my glyphs; as it stands, I’m bad at drawing (see above / the images), so, it would help to have more space to uh … “explore”?
- There aren’t a ton of ways to help steer the Guessers back if they’re totally off, but if that happens, then, well, they’re just going to lose quickly, I suppose. You can definitely feel the game spiraling sometimes, and that’s not always the most fun. It’s worst when you know the Fragment but nothing else, since you can’t get any more real help. That said, it’s a cooperative game; you can cheat if you want to. Just give the players another ability if you think that will help them have fun. Winning and losing are just parts of the process. It might be nice, though, to have a hint system of some kind if you’re just playing the game to like, explore language and have fun. Or just let the players keep guessing and you keep drawing. Up to you! It’s your game.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Rosetta: The Lost Language is pretty fantastic! I’m already a big fan of games that work with and around language, and tasking players with translating a pictograph is a really cool move. That’s not really what makes me the most excited about this game, though. I think the master stroke is forcing the Author to draw other pictographs in response to user queries, allowing the pseudolanguage to expand in scope as you play the game. I think that’s fascinating! It might even be possible to use that as a backdrop to start developing content for RPGs or something, as players can build off of what the Author is creating. And I think that’s really cool! It’s a super inventive approach for these kinds of games, and Rosetta smartly keeps itself small enough that it can execute on its one big idea with aplomb. That said, I think more content (especially as an expansion) would definitely benefit this title, as more Locations can offer other interpretations of the many Transcriptions that come in the box, and more Abilities can give the Author new ways to help the players. I think the last thing I would want to see from this is a Narrative Mode of some kind where you keep going until the players guess correctly, and in doing so actively create a new series of pictographs so that you can fully appreciate the little language you’ve built. It almost makes me regret when the game is won quickly, because I love seeing how players translate Expert input into their pictograph’s language. Add in strong remote play support and yeah, you’ve got a pretty strong showing! I’m a huge fan of Rosetta, and if you’re a big language nerd like me, you enjoy cooperative games, or you’re looking for a way to engage some friends with your poor drawing skills, this one might be worth checking out!