GAME REVIEW: Mysterium

Before my review, please indulge me and let me just tell my story about how I got this game:  This was my most anticipated game that was released at GenCon.  And when I say “released”, I mean that the distributor Asmodee only sold 50-100 copies a day.  On Thursday, I waited for nearly 3 hours for the exhibit hall to open at 10am.  I was one of the first ones in and I raced to the Asmodee booth.  But when I got there, they were already sold out.  How could this be?  Well, they let all the VIP people in an hour earlier.  You know, press, online reviewers, people like that (hopefully I’ll be on that list next year).  I was pretty disappointed.  I mean, I’m not against them doing things like that, but they should at least let the public know so that they don’t wait three hours in line for a game that is already sold out before the hall even opens.  Sheesh!

Anyway, I waited again on Friday.  The hall doors opened and I raced again to the Asmodee booth.  When I settled in my spot in line, there was probably 50 or 60 folks ahead of me….. maybe.  Everyone was in good spirits.  I even got to stand next to and talk with Phoebe Wild from Cardboard Vault.  I finally got close enough to see inside the Asmodee booth (which had walls surrounding it, like it was its own little mini-store).  I did not see any copies of Mysterium.  A few minutes later, an employee came out to us and told us that there were only 7 copies left.  We began to count ourselves starting with the first person:  1….2….3…4…..5……. THAT WAS ME! I was the 3rd to last person to get Mysterium that day!  Whew!  It doesn’t get much closer than that.

When I walked out of the booth with my copy, an eager gamer approached me immediately and offered me 200 dollars on the spot for my copy.  I’ll be honest and say that I did carefully consider this.  But, GenCon is about games, and that was the reason I was there, not to mention that this was my most anticipated game at the Con.  I politely turned down the offer (after asking him to give me a few minutes to think about it).  Did I make the right decision?  Well….. here is my review:

Mysterium is a Co-Operative game that plays 2-7 players.  On the box it says it takes 42 minutes.  I would say with the full player count, it should take just about under an hour (not including setup).  The box says it’s for ages 10 and up and I would say that sounds about right (though I did play with my 9-year-old nieces and nephew, and they loved it).  This became available to the public about 3 weeks ago, in early October.

Mysterium was actually a polish game that was published in 2013, but was never released in North America.  This new version features new artwork, upgraded components and some tweaking with the rules.  I never played the original, so I won’t be making any comparisons here.

This game takes place in a spooky mansion set in the 1920s.  One person plays as a ghost who haunts the mansion, and the other players are psychics who communicate with the ghost.  The ghost is trying to tell the psychics who killed him/her through visions.  Specifically, the ghost is trying to tell the psychics “who” did the murder, in which “location”, and with what “object”.  Hmmmmm.  That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  While it does share a certain aspect with the popular board game Clue, it’s a very different game.

The ghost cannot speak.  Instead, it communicates to the psychics through visions by giving them “vision cards”.

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The ghost is also confused.  It doesn’t quite know who was the murderer, where it took place and what was used.  So the ghost is going to need the help of the psychics to help him/her remember what the heck happened.

Here’s how the game plays out:

The ghost player randomly makes 4-9 groups (depending on the number of players and the selected difficulty) of a character, location and object.  They then randomly (and secretly) assign one group to each player.  So each player must guess their group: one character, one location, one object.   The ghost player keeps track of everything with a nifty player shield that comes with the game It has little pockets to hold all of the cards for each grouping.

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Then, 4-9 (again, depending on the player count and difficulty), cards of each group are laid out in this order:

The characters:

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The locations:

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And the objects:

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The complete set up will look something like this:

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The game is played up to a maximum of 7 rounds.  It is up to the players to guess the character, the location and the object of their assigned group.

Each round consists of 2 steps.  Vision Interpretation and Spectral Manifestation.

Step 1: Vision Interpretation – The ghost begins the game with 7 vision cards.  Silently, (this player should never be talking, or making sounds of any kind) he/she gives a psychic one or more vision cards.  All psychics begin with their intuition token on the character board, so their first visions will be retaining to their assigned character.  (Later in the game, when they guess their character, their token will move to the location board, then the object board).  Once the ghost player has given all the vision cards they want to one psychic they move on to the next player (always drawing their hand of vision cards back up to 7 cards).  Once all the psychics have received their visions, the ghost player flips the hour-glass, and the psychics now have to decide what their vision(s) mean.  They put their token on the card that they think represents their vision.  Once all the players have done this, we move on to……..

Step 2: Spectral Manifestation – This is when the ghost lets the players know who was right and who was wrong.  If you were right, the ghost will point at you and nod.  Take that card and put it into your psychic’s pocket (A nifty cardboard sleeve that stores your cards when you guess them correctly) Then move your token to the next board (either the location or object board).  You also discard all of your vision cards that you received.  If you guessed all three cards from your group, then you get to wait for the others to guess correctly.  You are allowed to help them since this is a co-op game.

If you made a wrong guess, then you must stay at your current spot.  You keep your vision cards and the ghost may give you more cards during the next round.

Added to this, during the first phase, players can use any number of their clairvoyancy tokens (they get 0, 4 or 6 depending on the player count).  This allows players to predict if another player’s decision was correct or not.  If they predict correctly, they get to move up on the clairvoyancy track.  Depending on where you are on the clairvoyancy track at the end of the game determines how many cards you are allowed to see during the final vision (which I’m about to explain right now)

If all players have guessed their groups by the end of the 7th round (if not, everyone loses), there will be a “shared vision”.  This means that the ghost has remembered exactly who killed them in which location with what object.  All of the groups that the psychics were assigned to are now placed side by side, and numbered.  The ghost will look at their vision cards and pick exactly three of them.  They will only pertain to ONE group.  One card will relate to the character, one to the location, and the other to the object.  All players must make a final guess.  They discuss, then secretly, place their voting tokens face down.  The ghost reveals the actual killer, and if the majority of the players voted for that group, everyone wins.  If not, everyone loses and the ghost disappears for another hundred years…. or something like that.

I know that was a long-winded explanation, but I swear to you, this is not a complicated game.  It’s fairly simple.  Mechanically, all you are doing is trying to guess what the vision cards that the ghost is giving you mean.  When I put it that way, it sounds like an empty game, but I assure you it’s not.  I do think the game works better the more you bring to it.  Meaning embracing and playing up the spooky theme.  I always put some sort of creepy music on in the background when I play.

I have played this game with 2-5 players.  I do think it works better with more players, however, it actually does work with 2.  It’s how my daughter and I learned the game.  In a 2 and 3 player game each player controls 2 psychics.  I normally don’t like games that do that, but I think it works here.  It didn’t ruin the gameplay at all.  But I would rather play with 4 or more because this is a great social game.  Get a group of 6 or 7 friends and have a great time trying to figure out everything together.  I love that the players can talk to each other about their interpretations and debate on who’s right and who’s wrong.  And the ghost just has to sit there and try to keep a straight face, which at times can be very difficult.

I’ve only played the game once as the ghost.  It was really fun, but I’m always forced to be a psychic now because my 12-year-old insists on being the ghost every time we introduce the game to new players.  This is one of her favorite games, and I can see why.

It thrives on imagination.  The vision cards (which are very similar to the cards in Dixit) are very abstract.  A ghost may play a certain card because there is something specific on it that relates to a location card, or it can be more abstract than that.  It could be a color on that card or a shape that relates to the location.  It’s whatever the ghost wants it to be.  But, you also have to be in sync with  the player you are giving it to.  Each player thinks differently, so the ghost is forced to try to think like how the psychic would interpret the vision.  Meanwhile, the psychic player may be thinking how the ghost player is thinking.  What I love about this game is how it forces you to get inside of the head of other players.  That’s a lot of fun!

The end result can be a bit anti-climatic once in a while, especially if you lose (which will happen more times than you’d like), but this game is more about the journey than the destination.  You’ll instantly want to play it again.

The artwork is absolutely gorgeous.  I love the look of all the characters.  And each vision card is a work of art that could be displayed in a museum.  Beautiful.  The components are terrific.  That ghost player shield is awesome.  It functions really well.  The player tokens look cool too.

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One minor quibble would be that the Clairvoyancy track could be deemed unnecessary by some players.  It’s a little bit fiddley.  I personally like that aspect of the game, as it works thematically.  But, when playing with less experienced gamers, it can be hard to explain it to them, so you could leave that part of the game out if you’re playing with novices.  But if you want the full experience, I’d use it.

I think MYSTERIUM is fun and unique game full of atmosphere and imagination.  And if you really get into the spooky theme of the whole thing….. even better!  It’s a great social game that lets you get in the minds of other players, allowing you to sync up with one another.  Or at least try to.  This works great with middle school kids and adults alike.  A perfect game for Halloween.

And in case you couldn’t tell, I’m very glad I didn’t take that guy’s offer of 200 dollars.  Sure, I could have got it when it was released 2 months later, but I’ve played it about a dozen times now and I can honestly say that it was worth my 45 dollars (which you can get for cheaper at Coolstuffinc and Cardhausgames).

I highly recommend Mysterium!!!

* all images were taken from boardgamegeek.com

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