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Publisher Diary: Mysterium, or What's the Difference Between Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo?

Libellud Team
France
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This article covers the differences between Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo. It is aimed at inquiring readers and fans of the version published by Portal, who already know the game.

Some lucky players may have already had the opportunity to play Mysterium during conventions where Libellud or Asmodee were present, and others are already acquainted with its cousin, Tajemnicze Domostwo, which was first released in 2013 by Ukrainian publisher IGAMES, and subsequently from the Portal Games crew, where the game had already made for itself a reputation thanks to its rules, which were translated into English online.

And now, following a long wait — and lots of pressure — for the new Libellud release, Mysterium will be arriving on the shelves of your favorite hobby and specialty stores this coming October 2015 (with a pre-release at Gen Con 2015 in August). We've decided to clarify things for you by comparing Portal's Polish version, Tajemnicze Domostwo, with Mysterium, the Libellud version. Is Mysterium a translation, an adaptation, or a whole new edition?

Don't worry! Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo share common DNA, notably for their game mechanisms and that they are both investigation games that use cards. Players enter a mysterious manor in which a crime took place several years earlier. In this fantastic and supernatural ambiance, players have to reveal the truth about this tragic event, identifying the culprit, the location of the murder, and with which weapon the crime took place.

Mysterium is an asymmetric game, meaning that the players won't all play the same way. The player who takes on the role of the ghost is the unofficial game master and guides the other players, the psychics, who will use their gifts to advance in their investigation ... but there is only one way to win: together! Mysterium is also a cooperative game: All of the players, no matter what their role, have the same goal — free the ghost's soul. Everyone loses or wins together, and so everyone must help each other!

The ghost cannot speak and can communicate with the psychics only through illustrated cards. The psychics have to discuss the interpretation of these images between themselves, while hoping that their intuition is spot on!

An overview of the game: Many combinations to find, but only one will be the right one! In a first phase, each psychic has to guess one combination of three elements: a character, a location, and an object. The ghost already knows all of the combinations and has to guide each psychic by giving them illustrated cards in order to put them on the right track. When all of the combinations have been found (the number will be equal to the number of psychics), then the second phase begins. From all of the combinations, the psychics must determine which combination is the right one, meaning which one points at the one and only culprit.

At this point, it should be clear that we kept the elements which made Tajemnicze Domostwo a unique game which has already successfully enticed players! Following many playtests, the Libellud team felt that parts of the game could be changed to make the Mysterium experience even more immersive. Thanks to our gifts as psychics, we had the intuition that one element had to be preserved: the crystal ball tokens! While present in the IGAMES version, you will also be able to find some in the Libellud version. But that’s not all — you'll also be able to download from the Libellud website a soundtrack that will further immerse you in the dark and supernatural ambiance...



Tokens from the IGAMES version


Intuition tokens in Mysterium


Enter Warwick Manor

To develop Mysterium, we've also re-worked some of the gameplay elements, but took special care with the world. Tajemnicze Domostwo already offered a mysterious ambiance, but we wanted to go further. The story surrounding the game, as well as the artwork, has been redone in order to offer a more thrilling experience.

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the haunted manor is located in France and the ghost is its former owner. Wrongfully accused and executed for a crime he didn't commit, he enters the dreams of the manor's inhabitants to reveal what really happened to them. The psychics were called by the current owner of the manor to bring peace to the house. For seven nights they receive the ghost's dreams and use them to reveal to the world who the real culprit is.




In Mysterium, we chose to move the manor to Scotland, a land known for its many haunted castles! In addition to that, Libellud is a French publisher who loves to travel into mysterious realms. The ghost is a servant from Warwick Manor who was murdered in 1894 during the birthday evening organized for the owner's daughter. The facts were troubling, but none of the guests present caught the attention of the police. Following a hurried investigation, the authorities ruled it as an accident. The Warwick family moved, and the case was quickly forgotten...



Conrad MacDowell, new owner of Warwick manor


In the 1920s, the new owner, Conrad MacDowell, a brilliant astrologer, feels a supernatural presence and invites the greatest psychics of the time to solve this mystery. They choose to gather on the night of Samhain (which is the origin of Halloween) in which the border between the world of the living and the great beyond is thinner. As they are brilliant psychics with powerful gifts, they manage to make contact with the ghost haunting the manor. Very shocked by his death, he can communicate only through the use of visions. The psychics have to resolve the mystery in seven hours, that is, before sunrise and the end of the night of Samhain for otherwise they'll have to wait a full year before attempting it again.



Tick, tock, time is running short for Conrad and the other psychics


Two Game Phases, Revisited

Tajemnicze Domostwo contains two game phases. In the first one, the psychics must attempt to reconstruct the events using the dreams projected by the ghost. Each psychic attempts to discover their combination of three elements, starting with the item, then the location, and finally the character. Once all the players are successful, they get a more precise vision of the events and will, in a second phase, get new dreams which will tell them, from among the suspects, who is the true culprit.

Mysterium also has two phases of play, but they are different. The first phase is the reconstruction of events, in which the psychics each follow a lead and begin by identifying the suspect to then retrace their evening. (Where were they? What weapon did they have at hand?) The ghost guides each psychic with visions. The first step is to interpret the visions. The psychics express their opinions and debate on the significance of the images before indicating their intuition. In a second step, the ghost manifests to identify whether these choices were good or not. These two steps are repeated until either all psychics have recovered all three elements of their combination or seven hours have passed.

Once all of the combinations are assembled, the psychics have identified all of the potential suspects, but the night is well on. The second phase then begins, so it's time to reveal the true culprit. All of the combinations discovered by the psychics are reconstructed: it's the suspect line-up. The ghost remembers the identity of his killer, and with the last of its strength, sends a final vision during the shared vision step. The psychics have only a single chance to find the solution! The novelty is that this step (called the straw poll) is silent and the vote secret: After a full night of spiritism, each psychic must use all of their concentration to receive the last message from the ghost.




A New, More Harmonious World of Art

Many artists have worked on Tajemnicze Domostwo: Igor Burlakov did the dream cards, and Mariusz Gandzel and Karolina Węcka did the character, location, and item cards. Many talented artists were involved in the creation of these illustrations that contribute to the Tajemnicze Domostwo's distinctive ambiance. We created a new story, and as such we chose to rework the game's visual world. Stéphane Gantiez, art director at Libellud, searched at length to create a coherent whole. All of the game's elements had to anchor themselves in the story we wanted to tell: that of a séance in an old Scottish manor at the beginning of the twentieth century.



In addition to being useful to the game, the screen (described later) allows us to establish a supernatural ambiance


The 84 dream cards have become vision cards, but we kept all of the artwork; only the back of the cards has been changed. All created by the same artist, they are at the heart of the game and were not changed.



The artwork of the dream cards, now vision cards, hasn't changed...


...but the backs have, with Tajemnicze Domostwo on left and Mysterium on right


Those who have played Tajemnicze Domostwo are very attached to the artwork of that version, which creates a dark and anguished atmosphere. We wanted to keep a disquieting ambiance in Mysterium, but also give it its own identity while maintaining coherence with the storytelling and the Libellud's editorial line. The art style we were looking for in Mysterium had to be more accessible for a family audience, but it remains uncanny, supernatural, and fantastic. To put in place such a specific ambiance as this, we chose Xavier Collette, with whom we had previously worked on Dixit Journey and who is also known for his work on Abyss. He's the one who gave life to the characters, to the various rooms of the manor, and to the objects you will discover in Mysterium.



First sketches of the characters by Xavier Collette


For the character, location, and object cards, we attempted to get the most coherence possible. All of the characters, locations, and objects present in Mysterium must be able to find their place in a manor; this is why adjustments were made. Some elements were discarded for being too exotic or far-fetched for a Scottish manor! But they were replaced with others which better matched the storytelling.




The lighthouse and beach cards from Tajemnicze Domostwo have been discarded...



...in favor of the garden shed and the pantry, which were added in Mysterium


The shuriken from Tajemnicze Domostwo have given way to a small chest in Mysterium


These adjustments also broached the approach and the style of some cards. Many themes on cards in Tajemnicze Domostwo were kept, but the style and the ambiance were completely changed to add mystery.




On top, the attic in its Tajemnicze Domostwo version, and below, the Mysterium version;
some elements have been added or modified, and the atmosphere has become more disturbing


On many other cards, most of the elements were kept but were slightly adjusted by Xavier Collette's creative flair, such as a different angle or another way of looking at the same object, location, or starting character.




The point of view is angled differently, but it's the greenhouse in both cases



Gloves and magic wand are present for both versions of the magician


The reworked visuals for Mysterium help create an immersive ambiance colored by the supernatural. The changes made to the game's art bring a coherence to its ambiance and its world. All of these esthetic changes go in hand with work on the contents and on the adjustment of the game mechanisms.

Reworked Gameplay and Enhanced Player Experience

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the game's difficulty could be adapted by using four different game modes ranging from "easy" to "very difficult". It's possible to change difficulty by adjusting the number of discards allowed for the ghost, but also the number of cards present on the table. In the hardest difficulty and with seven players, the psychics could have up to twelve different cards of each type: characters, locations, and weapons.

In Mysterium, it's still possible to change the difficulty level but according to three modes. Even with seven players, the number of cards of the various types is never higher than nine, which allows for an easier set-up, limits the number of red-herrings, and makes the game area easier to read — but nothing keeps players from making the game harder by adding more than nine cards if they so wish.

The number of times the ghost is allowed to discard vision cards remains unchanged. In Tajemnicze Domostwo, when discarding, the ghost has to give up all his dream cards and draw seven new cards. In Mysterium, when the ghost discards vision cards, he chooses how many cards to discard and how many to keep, drawing the appropriate number of cards to make up his hand to seven. Crow tokens have been introduced to keep track of the ghost's discards. When the ghost discards his cards, he places a crow marker on the screen (which we'll tell you about shortly). This prevents the ghost from giving in to any temptation to cheat, but it's also a way for the psychics to know if he's having trouble with his vision cards or not.



Crows perch on the game screen, providing the ghost with another means of indirectly communicating with the psychics


The game's difficulty can be adapted depending on the number of players in Mysterium


An Easier Set-up

Tajemnicze Domostwo has two sets of character, location, and object cards: one for the ghost and one for the psychics, each differentiated by their backs. During set-up, the same cards must be sorted into each set.



The cards with blue backs are for the ghost, and those with brown backs are for the psychics;
in both cases, the character, location and object cards have different back designs


In Mysterium, the two sets of cards also have different backs (and different from Tajemnicze Domostwo's), but they also can be differentiated by their size and their numbers. The ghost's cards have all identical size in order to fit more easily into the screen. The character and location cards are larger for the psychics, while their objects are smaller. The colors (brown and blue) are still the same. The back of the cards are also numbered, which allow players to match the ghost cards and the psychic cards: the cards are identified more simply and set-up is facilitated.



To facilitate game set-up, ghost and psychic cards have numbered backs, enabling pairs to be formed at a glance


The Screen

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, during set-up, the ghost determines different combination of three elements (character, location, object), which each psychic has to find. To do this, he places in front of himself the three corresponding cards face down under a token of the color of the psychic; the ghost can then deal dream cards to each psychic. The ghost cannot see the cards of the combinations and must rely on his memory or manipulate them, which can cause the game to run longer (especially with seven players).



In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the ghost cards forming each psychic's combination
are placed face down under the player's marker


The addition of a screen in Mysterium is a real improvement for all players. The actions of the ghost are hidden, which adds more mystery, and he is more free with his movements. This disposition is more comfortable for the ghost, and reminds others of his position as game master.

During set-up, the ghost composes all of the combinations and sets them up in the screen. Therefore, he no longer has to remember the cards or needlessly handle them. He has a direct visual access to all the combinations the psychics must find. The ghost can focus on the dealing of adapted vision cards.



Set-up of the ghost cards in the screen in Mysterium


The combination of three elements that the purple psychic must identify is shown highlighted in purple on the play area;
the player must determine the character, the location and lastly the object, always in that order


In addition to the screen, we added ghost tokens, in the color of each psychic. When the ghost hands cards to the psychics, the ghost move the token towards the screen. When he manifests, after having validated (or refuted) a psychic's answer, he pulls it back towards him. The ghost knows at any time to whom he has dealt cards. When a psychic discovers an element of their combination, the ghost flips the matching card in the screen: He knows at all times at which point of their investigation each psychic is at.



When the ghost has given cards to a psychic, he moves the ghost token of the matching color towards the screen


Other than the ergonomic improvement it represents, the screen also allows for a considerable time savings. The games are more fluid for the ghost, even when the psychics are numerous. All manipulations are made during set-up, which allows us to reduce the average time of the games to 42 minutes for Mysterium while it was around 1h30 for Tajemnicze Domostwo. Players focus only on the investigation during the game!

Timed Rhythm

One of the central mechanisms of the game is the debate of the psychics around the interpretation of images given by the ghost. This can create endless discussions, as each psychic has their own subjectivity. In Tajemnicze Domostwo, discussion time is not limited, which can sometimes result in longer games and lulls in gameplay. This obviously depends on the type of players around the table.

We added a timer in Mysterium to give more rhythm to the discussion phases between psychics. The ghost deals vision cards to the psychics, one after the other, and as soon as they receive them they can freely debate about their interpretation. It's only when all psychics have received vision cards that the two-minute timer is started. It can seem restrictive to some, but it's when the timer is not there that it becomes vital to add dynamism and tension to the game.

Progress on the Boards

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the character, location, and objects cards of the psychics are sorted on the play by type, but don't have a clear area they must be in. For games with seven players, there can be up to 36 cards on the table (twelve per type), which is considerable, and can make the game complex visually.



Example set-up (with nine cards of each type) for Tajemnicze Domostwo (photo: BoardGameGeek)


In Tajemnicze Domostwo, each player has an individual progress board and uses a token to track the progress of his investigation.



Individual boards and tokens symbolically represent the players' progress (photo: BoardGameGeek)


Mysterium has no individual boards, but individual sleeves for the psychics, with the cards being separated by four progress boards.



The character progress board


The location progress board


The object progress board


The epilogue progress board


The purpose of the character, location and object progress boards is to define areas containing the various types of cards used during the first phase of play (i.e., the reconstruction of events, during which each psychic attempts to identify a combination of three elements). They also give players an overview of the group's overall progress. They allow to us to clearly limit the cards, but also show the advancement of players. When a player has completed a section, they place their token on the next progress board. The progress of the psychics is more visible, the play area clearer, and players have the feeling that they're really progressing in the investigation.



The play area is better delineated and easier to read


The three character, location, and object progress boards are set aside for the culprit revelation phase. The play area is totally modified to recreate the groups of suspects discovered during the reconstruction of events. Each group is identified thanks to the back of the ghost tokens (which we previously told you about). On his side, the ghost has culprit tokens (also numbered), which allow him to designate the group containing his murderer. The culprit token is placed face-down on the epilogue progress board and is flipped over only at the complete end of the game, guaranteeing suspense until the very last moment.



Reverse of the ghost tokens used to number the suspect groups


The suspect groups are formed, then numbered


The culprit token revealed at game's end shows the number of the group that the ghost has chosen as the culprit


Clairvoyancy Tokens to Balance the Roles and Phases

Mysterium, like its cousin Tajemnicze Domostwo, is an asymmetric game in which the players are either taking on the role of the ghost, or that of a psychic, and thus aren't performing the same actions. In Tajemnicze Domostwo the role of the ghost appears to us richer than that of the psychics. The latter had fewer actions to perform in the game and had to wait during the distribution of the vision cards. To rebalance it and make it more fun to play the psychics, we've put in place a system of clairvoyancy tokens.

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the players who were faster in finding their combination of three cards weren't rewarded for their efficiency. They could help, but had no real actions left to perform until the other psychics discovered their own combinations.

In Mysterium, the faster a psychic fulfills their task, the more clairvoyant they are, the more clairvoyancy points and moves on the track of the same name they get. Even after successfully discovering their three-card combination, psychics continue to play and score points. In particular, they can express their opinion on other psychics' choices by playing any remaining clairvoyance tokens.



The double-sided clairvoyance track, along which the psychics progress by scoring points;
the number of players determines which side is used


In Mysterium, each psychic has a limited number of clairvoyancy tokens which allow them to express their agreement or disagreement with another player’s intuition. A psychic has four or six tokens (depending on the number of players) to give their opinion.



A psychic has an equal number of agreement and disagreement clairvoyancy tokens


The tokens can earn points on the clairvoyancy track in both cases: agreeing with an intuition which turns out right, or disagreeing with an intuition which turns out false. Disagreeing in a cooperative game can finally earn you points! Moving up on the track allows us to measure the efficiency of a psychic, their level of clairvoyancy during the game. This progression is individual, but will help all psychics during the final phase.



Example of clairvoyancy point scoring


During the event reconstruction phase, the clairvoyancy tokens allow players to avoid one of the pitfalls of cooperative games: the leader or "alpha player" effect. Even if a player didn't express themselves orally during the debates, they can still make their opinion known using the tokens and their thoughts will have weight in the game. They also allow us to strengthen the cooperation between players. Psychics have a vested interest in the cards received by other players throughout the game, as they must express their opinion in order to score points and maximize the whole group's chances of finding the true culprit at the end of the game! The clairvoyancy tokens allow us to involve the psychics more deeply and each of them now takes an active role in the debates.

Psychic Sleeves for Smooth Transitions

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the psychics had individual boards to represent their progress in their investigation.



Each psychic has his own sleeve, in which the three cards forming the required combination will be stored


In Mysterium, the ghost cards are held behind the game screen and cannot be used for the final phase, leaving only the psychic cards arranged on the table. Each psychic has his own sleeve in which to store the psychic cards collected during the reconstruction of events. For the final phase of the game, the character, location and object progress boards are cleared to one side. The suspect groups are easier to form as the cards for each combination are held directly in each psychic's sleeve. The sleeves also serve another purpose, holding the clairvoyance tokens used for the straw poll during the final phase.



The cards collected by each psychic are arranged in groups during the suspect line-up


A New Final Phase

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the ghost cards that form the combinations are placed face down at the start of the game and are revealed as the investigation progresses. When all of these ghost cards have been revealed, they are re-used for the final phase. Psychic cards, on the other hand, are returned to the game box as they are played.

In Mysterium, once the suspect groups have been identified, the ghost will send a shared vision to the psychics. Made up of three cards — one being a reference to a character, one to the location, and the last one to the object, but be careful, the cards will have been shuffled! — the psychics will not have access to them the same way, depending on their clairvoyancy level.

The players with the fewest points on the clairvoyancy track will have access only to a single card, without knowing if it refers to the character, location, or object card. They will secretly, and without consulting each other, vote first by placing a clairvoyancy token, numbered on the back, in their personal sleeve. Then it'll be the turn of the moderately clairvoyant psychics to secretly vote while having access to two cards. Finally, the most effective psychics (who will therefore have access to all three cards) will also vote individually and in silence. Even though players vote individually, Mysterium remains a cooperative game as the culprit is designated by the majority. When revealing the culprit, the ghost's vision is formed, transmitted and voted on in total silence, adding extra tension to this special phase of the game.



The level of access to the final, shared vision may vary between players, based on their progress along the clairvoyance track


The more accurate a player's intuitions during the reconstruction of events, the more clues they see
before voting in the straw poll, potentially increasing their chances of voting for the true culprit


The clairvoyance tokens have numbered backs; psychics vote by placing the token bearing the number
that matches their chosen group of cards into their sleeve


In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the psychics had many chances to discover the culprit if they had enough rounds left. In Mysterium, the shared vision sent by the ghost is also the last, and the psychics have only a single chance to discover the true culprit. Therefore, the tension reaches its highest point for the psychics as well as the ghost. Unlike the rest of the game, he has only a single chance to get his message across and he can't afford to miss it! The occasion to check that the spiritual bond between psychics and ghost was truly clear!

Mysterium: Simple Adaptation or New Game?

The development has lasted for almost two years, with almost everything wll having been reworked, from artwork to game mechanisms, but the Portal game's identity has been kept. It's therefore not just a simple translation of Tajemnicze Domostwo or a new edition, but a whole new game. All of the changes within have been motivated by improving the ease of play and for a more intense immersion. The duration of the game has been reduced, which means less dead time and waiting, but no less action for the players. The changes in the Libellud version have been made to offer a more coherent, more balanced, and more exciting game experience to the players. Those who liked Tajemnicze Domostwo will not be bewildered by Mysterium, but they will be as surprised by this new edition as those who are discovering the game for the first time, at least, we hope they are!

For all the details, the rules for Mysterium are available on Libellud's website.

Léa Moinet

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