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Subject: Ars Mysteriorum: Occult Scoring System rss

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Laura Appelbaum
United States
Maryland
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Last night at Open Game Night at the Family Game Store in Historic Savage Mill, Maryland, representatives from local game company Hangman Games were on hand teaching several of their games. Four of us sat down to play Ars Mysteriorum, in which the players take the role of magicians who must collect varying amounts of five different alchemical substances (represented by small poker chips in red, blue, green, yellow and purple) which are then used in different recipes that make precious metals, gemstones, semiprecious gemstones, aromatics, and colourants (my favorite being FD&C Red Dye #5) that go into their personal spell books. While the theme is pretty strong through most of the game, I had a problem in that the winner is the player who gets the most *money* bag at the end of the game, not necessarily the player with the best depth or breadth in her spell book. If ever there were a game that should be won by some kind of "Victory Points," 5vp rather than greenbacks (or "Florims" as the case may be) it seems to me it would be one about alchemy.

Alan, the game's creator, instructed us on how to play. Of course, since he was also teaching one or two other games to people at one or two other tables, he couldn't give us his full attention, which meant that there were several key rules he forgot to explain until he realized it was too late in play to bring them in. This goes to the major criticism my group as a whole had of the game, which is that the rules and scoring are probably too complex for what the game is. There are cards called "mysteries" which are purchased each round and these in particular were often well, mysterious, in meaning to us. Two of the four of us thought they understood what Alan termed the "three dimensional scoring system" and so we had them do the tallys for everyone at the end of each round, but when Alan came by at the end of the game for us to get our final scores, we found out that the players who thought they knew what they were doing didn't in fact know what they were doing.

The game also ran pretty long for what it was but I'm sure that was in part to our newness to the game and that it would play faster a second time around. Likewise, I think Ars Mysteriorum would be more fun if we played it again, but not all of my foursome agreed they'd sit down to it for another game.

My final criticism would be of the production values of Ars Mysteriorum. I'm an artist and am definitely attracted to things that look and feel beautiful, which of course I recognize isn't something that matters to everyone. Ars Mysteriorum is printed entirely on your basic cheap, smooth, single-ply cardstock -- both the playing mats and the tiny undersized cards. I realize that if the cards were bigger, the mats would also have to be twice the size and then wouldn't fit on a typical card table, but then I would have liked a cardboard-backed playing mat to give the game some heft.

A game like Carcassonne, for example, costs about the same amount at full retail, but comes with 72 linen-textured, glossy coated tiles, a matching scoring board, and all those wooden Meeples. meeple It's visually and physically appealing, as even geeks on this site who dislike the game will concede. In contrast, Ars Mysteriorum is just two different sets of little cardstock cards, five cardstock playing boards, miniature poker chips and five resin wizards. There's nothing about it that jumps out and says "buy me!" The use of standard flat-backed glass "gems" would also have complemented the theme and atmosphere of the game alot more than the little plastic ribbed poker chips and are still inexpensive. And there should have been some designated area on your game mat/spell book to keep your chips; if you kept them on the mat you covered up some of your spells and if you moved them off to the side it was too easy to lose them, at least on the busy surface we were playing on.

In conclusion, I would play Ars Mysteriorum at least one more time. I *wanted* to like the game, especially since it's made by local game designers, but before I could see myself buying it, the scoring rules would have to be simplified, the wording on the mystery cards clarified, and either the price lowered or the components upgraded.

 
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Jon
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Edmond
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AKARed wrote:
A game like Carcassonne, for example, costs about the same amount at full retail, but comes with 72 linen-textured, glossy coated tiles, a matching scoring board, and all those wooden Meeples. meeple It's visually and physically appealing, as even geeks on this site who dislike the game will concede. In contrast, Ars Mysteriorum is just two different sets of little cardstock cards, five cardstock playing boards, miniature poker chips and five resin wizards.


Economies of scale, my friend. It's a lot cheaper (per tile) to print 200,000 cardboard tiles, than it is to print 5,000. Independent game designer/publishers generally don't have the capital to print 10,000 copies of their games, so they can't pass those types of savings on to the end-purchaser of their games.
 
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