Board Game Night - Mysterium

Number of players: 2-7 (best: 5-6)
Playing time: 42 minutes
By:  Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko / Asmodee
Rank on BoardGameGeek: 124th

As a kid, Clue was the game we probably played the most. Unlike the other boards on the shelf, you wouldn't risk monopolizing (see what I did there?) the entire evening and beyond, which certainly worked with the varying bed times of kids with 10 years between them. Three games of Clue a night was pretty frequent. And I still play Clue from time to time, but I also like other detective game... like Mysterium!

Mysterium is a co-op games where the players work together to solve a murder so the victim's spirit can know eternal rest. One player is the ghost and sits behind a screen which has all the answers. The others are psychics, who each have a possible solution to guess. At the end of the game, the players vote on which of their three solutions (unless they didn't all succeed, in which case, everyone loses) is the correct one. If they vote correctly, they win. To help, the ghost shows them cards with dream imagery on them (they might as well be Dixit cards, if you know it), and these are supposed to clue them in about, in order, the perpetrator, the room, and the weapon used in the murder.
Part of the ghost's problem is getting good cards in your hand that point to who or what you want them to guess, but there is a discard/draw mechanism. There's also a way for players to score points (by voting on other players' picks) that will give them more clues at the end, but ironically, the quicker you solve the puzzle, the fewer points you're likely to get. I don't know if it's an abheration or what. Still, game play is generally smooth, and uses right brain abilities as part of the normally left-brain deductive abilities.

Enjoyment of the game may well depend on setting the mood, and part of that is hardwired into the game. The ghost, for example, can only communicate using knocks (once for yes, two for no), which puts one in mind of a seance. When the difficulty factor is amped, you get little ravens to perch on your screen to represent the number of times you can discard/redraw, which is a nice touch. The cards that represent suspects and rooms are detailed and convey the right mood, that of a haunted Victorian or Edwardian manor. The vision cards are spookier than most Dixit cards, but not all that much. They're just less fairy tale inspired, I think. So take the lights down, put on some creepy music, and listen for those knocks. My main disappointment, theme-wise, is that though each psychic in the game uses different fortune-telling methods, there's no difference in game play. One might also wonder whether each getting completely a different set of clues makes sense. In a way, it's like guessing which psychic is the "true one", relegating others to the roles of charlatans, but then why is the ghost giving them clues at all, right? So don't look at that aspect of the game (or the final vote) too closely. At its heart, Mysterium does the job, and cleverly too.

It's a gorgeous game. The screen is big and thick, with heavy duty pockets for solution cards and enough panels for 6 players (pro tip: sit the players in order of the colors on the panels or else you'll get confused as to which solution fits which player). There's a clock that counts down the number of turns before the sun rises and an hourglass to time those turns. The cards fit a sort of movable frame that represents the three levels. The player pieces are colored crystal balls (again, not in line with each character's story, but they look good). And the cards look great, which is really a must when you're asked to decipher artwork.
House Rules and Expansions
I haven't devised any as yet, but I'd love to figure out a way to make the various psychics different from one another. I bet I will some day. If you have Dixit (or any pack of Dixit cards), then you have alternative images that could be inserted into the game (similarly, you can send your Mysterium cards over to Dixit). And I've mentioned this before, but there is some fun to be had by marathoning various Clue like games on the same day: Save Doctor Lucky, Kill Doctor Lucky, Clue, and finally, Mysterium, somehow imagining them as part of the same crazy, convoluted story.

There are official expansions as well. Hidden Signs adds new cards, as does Secrets & Lies, but the latter allows the ghost to instead tell the story of its demise, which must be guessed instead of the usual Clue-like combo. I haven't tried this, but it certainly sounds intriguing.

In conclusion: Mysterium is an interesting evolution of the basic Clue game, entirely visual so it crosses well into non-English speaking gaming groups. Gorgeous and well made too. My one caveat is that you need to be in a certain mood for it. Too raucous and players will just lose patience with it and each other.


Michael May said...

Another one I need to try. I love these Board Game Night posts!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun game for an intimate group of people. However, it doesn't sound like it would work well as something to play at the local gaming store, which is where I do the great majority of my board gaming these days.

Siskoid said...

Glad you're enjoying these, Michael!

Speedball: You really need a "closed set" for this one.


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