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Subject: Mysterium Review by BoardGameBuds rss

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Dillon Flaherty
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Mysterium was recently re-released for English audiences in 2015 from Designers Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko. It was published by Libellud.



This review was originally posted on BoardGameBuds:http://boardgamebuds.com/index.php/2015/11/04/review-mysteri... - take a look over there if you liked the content and wanted to check out our other Reviews.

Introduction

Mysterium tells the story of the murder at the Count of Warwick’s manor in 1894. The Count had thrown a huge costume party for his daughter Margaret’s birthday. Being such a popular fellow, close to a hundred guests attended. It was early the next morning where the body of one of his servants was found, lying dead. Police investigated, but were unable to put the clues together to determine who was responsible for the death.

After a few more months, it was concluded that the servant’s death was an accident. Following that the Count decided to move with his family, and sold the manor to the Mac Dowell family. The game takes place when Conrad Mac Dowell, who inherited the Count of Warwick’s manor, decides to investigate the ghostly presence of the servant that has made itself known after almost 30 years.

So after getting in touch with 5 other clairvoyants, Conrad has prepared a whole team to try and communicate with the ghost. The ghost has been unable to manifest itself to this point, but Conrad’s hope is that combining their forces will give the ghost enough avenues to tell enough of the story to solve the long-forgotten murder.

Boardgaming has a long history with murder-mystery games. Many gamers would have their first experience with one of them in the classic Clue (or Cluedo, outside of North America) which was originally published in 1949. Clue deserves its place as a classic as well, as it’s a great introduction to the concept of deduction to younger or new gamers. The process of narrowing down which suspects, places, and weapons were used is exciting. The mechanics of having to roll dice to move from room to room, however, is a complete disaster when viewed in a modern light. The game is almost 70 years old though, so I’m going to give it a pass on mechanics that haven’t stood the test of time.

Mysterium pays homage to the old classic in many ways, and has a sense of familiarity to it for doing so. They’ve taken an old favorite and put a unique spin on it with some concepts borrowed from other more recent games. The basic concept is that one player, as the ghost, will be communicating through dreams that the investigators have while sleeping in the manor. The difficulty is that dreams are CRAZY, and end up becoming very subjective and potentially complex clues!

Is the murder-mystery genre better for the inclusion of this newcomer? Read on to find out what we think and hopefully help figure out the answer for yourself!

Gateway Game - Great for Beginners
Mysterium is quite easy to play and to teach. The main concept of the game is each investigator trying to determine answers from visual clues. That said, the part of the ghost will initially be the person who is most familiar with the game and the rules. Given that the ghost is also supposed to remain quiet it may also be very helpful if one investigator knows them as well. None of the rules are very difficult, however, so we think it fits perfectly into the Gateway Game classification.


Components

The components to Mysterium have a lot going for them. The main positive that stands out across the entire package is the consistency that each component has when compared to all of the others in the game. Just looking at the pieces sets the tone for the game incredibly effectively, and that consistency between the artwork is a big part of that.

To start off, above is a Mysterium’s screen that the ghost player will be using to keep track of the individual investigator’s suspect/place/weapon. This component is FRIGGIN FANTASTIC. I have a hard time imagining a better way to manage everything that the ghost has to handle in every round. It’s big enough to easily hold the smaller versions of the cards that the ghost has access to and also very clearly indicates the color of the investigators along the way.

Boardgame designers who want to include a screen in their game take note: this is how to do it right.



The investigator cards are also functional, allowing the investigator players to place the collected correct suspect/room/weapon cards into a little sleeve. All of these will be needed during the last phase of the game when trying to determine the actual cards for the murder

Here are some of the suspect and places cards, and they really start to tell the story of the attention to detail that went into each and every card in Mysterium. The suspects each have very unique characteristics and lots of associated items along with their picture to help give them an identity. It also helps the ghost player by providing points of interest that can be indicated as clues through the dreams that the investigators have.




The cards for the places are similar in their beautiful artwork. They also typically seem to be a bit more challenging to determine which clue is correct given a certain dream. It can be very difficult to pick out what aspect of these cards relates to a dream, and whether that was the same thing that the ghost saw when they pass you a dream card!

The cards for weapons in Mysterium go a different direction, having only one of a few colors as backgrounds, and are much smaller. This gives a lot less noise around the card, but also seems to give far less to work with at the same time.



I’m sure that as I play more there may be different ways to lead the investigators to the right weapons, but in my early games I found these the most difficult just due to having so little to work with. I usually ended up just choosing dream cards with that primary color and lining them all up, hoping the investigator would pick that color.

…and then Mysterium throws these Dream cards at you – and things just get really, REALLY weird. In a great way.



The Dream cards are arguably the most important components in the game, and the designers delivered. They are the single method of communicating with the investigators that the ghost has – since the ghost player isn’t supposed to talk! (at all!)

Given just a hand of 7, you have to give out at least one, and as many more cards as you wish to an investigator. Those cards have to point them to a single suspect, or place, or weapon. It might sound easy, but seeing how crazy and goofy these dreams turn out makes it incredibly challenging sometimes – especially if there are more than a few cards the investigator can choose from.

Mysterium’s insert is another very high point. I once read that boardgame inserts (and boxes) are meant mostly to get the game shipped to you intact, with all of the pieces. They aren’t always designed with the ability to neatly store away afterwards in mind.



Mysterium’s designers have done both – packing everything in, and then having perfectly laid out compartments to put everything back in. No need for plastic baggies, don’t need to cut out foamcore. Just put it away. Granted, there is a relatively big box for the amount of components, but personally I found it refreshing when comparing it to try and store Descent 2e with multiple expansions recently.

Remember when I said that Mysterium’s consistency is a positive? Well that is also true of the turn counter which is that big clock on the right. We pulled this out and set it up (it has little foot pads to keep it standing but comes apart rather easily) and didn’t end up using it in our first game. Following that, we left it under the insert and haven’t pulled it out since. It does fit the theme and mood, but just seems excessive for a game that otherwise is pleasantly streamlined on components. It is one of my least favorite components through the last year of gaming. It just seems very wasteful.

Instructions

Mysterium’s rulebook is a bit more of a mixed bag. There is a lot to like in the early pages that tell the backstory of the Manor and the murder, as well as the investigators. It sets the tone for the theme, and tone is actually a very important aspect to the actual gameplay.

The visual representations are also copious, and this again is largely a good thing. For a game that is very much visually-oriented, keeping with that mode for instruction is a great choice.

On one or two pages, however, the visual instructions are all splashed together and the result is something that looks like Walt Disney threw up!

In some ways this rulebook reminds me of Sheriff of Nottingham’s rulebook, in that it takes the concept of a rather simple game, and puts so many pages and words into it that it comes off as much more complex than it is.

I likewise think that Mysterium could have done with a three-four page setup of a basic game that gets players started with the concept and then lets them refer back to the rulebook for an “advanced” game later on. For example, the clairvoyance tokens. These add a very clever and cool element to the game when playing in larger groups – but they also could easily be left out for an introductory game or round.

Gameplay

Mysterium’s gameplay is composed of a few key mechanics. Hand management is one that is very important to the Ghost player. For the ghost and the investigators, intuition and your ability to read other players is also critically important. Deduction also plays a part as the game goes on.

As the ghost player is the one with all the answers, and communicating those answers correctly is the objective, it is that ability to try and understand what an investigator will probably see in a dream card that becomes quite important. Likewise if you are an investigator, you will want to try and figure out what a particular ghost player was thinking when they selected one or more dreams to give to you.

For an example, let’s take a look at the dream cards used above, and a set of suspect cards to compare:




In this example, I’ll play the part of the ghost player. I’ve passed you one of the cards from the bottom picture – and selected the card that is the 5th one in. (the guy on the train/cart riding on smoke through… maybe the desert?)

Now you, as the investigator would take a look at the 6 suspect cards in the top picture and try to determine who I’m trying to tell you is the murderer. If you want, take a few moments to look them over, and try to figure out which one I’m trying to get you to choose. Check out the spoiler below to see the answer!



Spoiler (click to reveal)
The guy on the bottom right, with the whacked out hair and goatee. The 5th dream card's man on the train reminded me very much of the bottom right guy, wearing a similar black outfit and having a creepy face!

Did you pick the correct suspect? Who did you choose and why?


Hopefully you were able to pick the suspect I had in mind. Even if not, that simple example is what makes up the bulk of Mysterium’s gameplay. The amount of hilarity and surprise that can come from these moments is awesome, though. What seems like a simple task becomes a high pressure moment in some cases since the game only lasts 7 turns.

The other big mechanic of hand management happens for the ghost in each of these turns. They start with a hand of 7 cards, and can give out from 1-7 to each investigator. After each one they can draw back up to 7. The difficulty level of the game determines what the discard/draw rules are here. On the easy difficulty you can discard twice per round, while on the hardest, you only get a few discards for the whole game.

This means that as the ghost you want to look at the cards you have and determine if some of them are going to be good for the investigators coming up later in the turn! You can also get stuck with a set of cards that doesn’t help at all – and leading investigators down a confusing path isn’t a great option either.



The nice thing to help with this is that the investigators keep their dream cards from previous rounds they were given. So on round 1 if the two cards the ghost gives the investigator didn’t get the right suspect, on round 2 they can get another card to use WITH the first two cards. They also have eliminated one suspect as a possibility by being wrong in the first round. Still, there aren’t a lot of chances for errors!

In each of the 7 turns every investigator has to determine their suspect, place, and weapon. If any one of them fails, the team as a whole also fails and the game is lost. The clairvoyance tokens play their part during this phase as each investigator can also choose to agree or disagree with other investigator’s selections. This actually adds quite a bit of fun to the game during everyone’s turn as each player gets to “bet” a bit and place their own guesses on what the ghost meant for every other player. How well the investigator’s clairvoyance tokens are chosen also plays a part at the end of the game.

The end of the Mysterium happens after (if!) each investigator finds their combination, however, the game is not quite done. At that point, all of those investigators’ combinations of suspect/place/weapon are put into the middle of the table and the ghost chooses secretly which combination is the ACTUAL murderer, where they did it, and what they did it with.



With this information, now the ghost player chooses three dream cards. Those three cards are used to help the investigators choose which combination of suspect/place/weapon is the correct one.

Each investigator’s clairvoyance tokens determines HOW MANY of these cards they get to see. If a player didn’t collect a lot of clairvoyance tokens they only get to see one card, or two, and have to make their decisions at that point by voting. The players who collected more clairvoyance tokens can see all three cards and then decide.

The way this gameplay all builds to the final moment is a lot of fun. I do think that investigators guessing correctly and finishing their set early should be given some kind of additional advantages to help in the last round, however. Aside from that, the The experience all fits together quite well and the game ends at just the right point!

Edit: This was pointed out to me as a missed rule, there is a reward in place for investigators finishing early by giving them additional clairvoyance points on the track! Thanks to Dave Maynor for pointing it out!



Replay Value

Mysterium has quite a lot of value packed in the box.

To start with, there are quite a few suspects, places, and weapons to choose from when creating a game. There are also a TON of dream cards, which is critically important in creating replay value for a game like this. If you were to consistently see one dream card that everyone always associated with a particular S/P/W card, that would hurt the game quite a bit. It seems like it would be difficult to get all the way through the dream deck in a single game for this to ever become an issue.

I also love the included difficulty modifiers to the game, that are simple yet incredibly effective. Adding just one more S/P/W card to each of the sets to choose from makes the game quite a bit harder!

Also, almost everyone that I’ve played with so far immediately wants to play again and try the ghost role if they haven’t gotten to yet. It’s eye-opening to see just how challenging each side of the game can be and really adds to the enjoyment across the board recognizing the amount of dedication to the theme and teamwork that the game demands to come out with a win.

Feeling

Mysterium’s level of success really hinges on this category for most groups, I think.

It’s a very different pace than most other games that are brought on out the table. Even among cooperative games it separates itself purely by having one player act as the tour guide in a sense, but not being able to talk at all which forces them all to work together to try and figure out just where the ghost is leading them. It also completely removes the “Quarterbacking” problem that happens in many Cooperative games simply by not being a puzzle that is meant to be solved. The player who has played Mysterium the most could have as much idea about what the ghost means as someone’s Mom jumping in to play for her first time. I think that’s a big, big plus for this game.

Mysterium is also dripping from top to bottom with theme. It sets a tone very clearly early on and then sticks to it the whole way through, every card shares that consistent theme and it’s better for it. Setting it all up on the table creates a sense that you’re part of the story and starting to find a connection with the ghost player somehow to read their mind just a little bit is a lot of fun.

I also want to make special mention of just how effectively my favorite component of the game reinforces all of that: The Ghost Screen. I love that it’s big enough to put a physical separation between the ghost and the investigators. This very much mirrors the physical separation between investigators and an incorporeal presence. A key point in this game is the ghost being largely separated from the collective minds of the investigators, and even something as simple as a big board between them goes a long way to maintaining that aspect of the theme!

The flipside to all of this dripping-with-theme goodness is that if the group, or even one investigator, doesn’t get into it then the game is going to fall flat for almost everyone. This isn’t a problem limited to Mysterium, as all cooperative games share this pitfall. It is simply enhanced in Mysterium because of how much the game wants you to get into it.

That sounded a little dirty at the end there. No worries, though – Mysterium is the type of game you can take home to your Mother the morning after.



The Verdict

Rated: Great!

Summary

Mysterium takes some venerable concepts from the ghosts of classic boardgames, and slaps a slick modern veneer on them. Tracking down the suspect, place, and weapon in a murder is fun all over again.

What we Loved

-The consistency of the awesome theme with components.
-The ghost player screen.
-The challenge of expressing thoughts to others through abstract cards.

What we didn’t Love as much

-Requires the group to “buy in” on the theme and gameplay.
-Rulebook can make Mysterium seem more intimidating than it is.
-The huge Clock Timer that we never use.

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DoM Lauzon
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Love it, kids love it but I wonder if some of the cards are too inclined to specific characters/locations/weapons.

I did not feel that with the original Polish version artwork. Like the newer Dixit cards too, we prefer the older more abstract artwork.

I worry about replay value and how good our Dixit collection could be used to extend the experience and value over time.

Still, +1 in my game library :-)

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Dillon Flaherty
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Domostie wrote:
Love it, kids love it but I wonder if some of the cards are too inclined to specific characters/locations/weapons.

I did not feel that with the original Polish version artwork. Like the newer Dixit cards too, we prefer the older more abstract artwork.

I worry about replay value and how good our Dixit collection could be used to extend the experience and value over time.

Still, +1 in my game library :-)



That's a really good question, I didn't realize the artwork varied that much between the releases!

I'm curious about the long-term replay value as well, although for the cost of admission ($37.20 on Amazon atm) I could easily see this game being a lot of fun for 15+ plays, and potentially a lot more with a rotating group of players.

How do you like Mysterium when compared to Dixit? I haven't had the chance to play the latter.
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Dave Maynor
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"The way this gameplay all builds to the final moment is a lot of fun. I do think that investigators guessing correctly and finishing their set early should be given some kind of additional advantages to help in the last round, however. Aside from that, the experience all fits together quite well and the game ends at just the right point!"

I believe the rules give you clairvoyance points for number of rounds left after you solved your individual set of 3, so there is a mechanic in place to reward this.
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Dillon Flaherty
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i3ullseye wrote:
"The way this gameplay all builds to the final moment is a lot of fun. I do think that investigators guessing correctly and finishing their set early should be given some kind of additional advantages to help in the last round, however. Aside from that, the experience all fits together quite well and the game ends at just the right point!"

I believe the rules give you clairvoyance points for number of rounds left after you solved your individual set of 3, so there is a mechanic in place to reward this.


I checked that out after you mentioned it and you're absolutely correct - we missed that rule, and it's a solid reward method! Will go back and edit the review, thank you!
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Robert Stewart
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I'm not sure about requiring the ghost to be an experienced player - I'd definitely agree that they should have experience with a Dixit-like game, but there are advantages to the ghost not having preconceptions about what the various dream cards should represent.

Anyway, if there's just the one experienced player, and no suitable candidates for an inexperienced ghost, I'd have no problem with the ghost talking to explain rules and procedures so long as they don't talk about the cards and how to interpret them once the game starts (making it important to give any needed advice on dream interpretation before the game starts)
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Dillon Flaherty
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rmsgrey wrote:
I'm not sure about requiring the ghost to be an experienced player - I'd definitely agree that they should have experience with a Dixit-like game, but there are advantages to the ghost not having preconceptions about what the various dream cards should represent.

Anyway, if there's just the one experienced player, and no suitable candidates for an inexperienced ghost, I'd have no problem with the ghost talking to explain rules and procedures so long as they don't talk about the cards and how to interpret them once the game starts (making it important to give any needed advice on dream interpretation before the game starts)


That's a much better way of putting it, for sure. You're right in that there is only some basic points of having to stop the game for rules explanations along the way. A few more plays for us has made this more apparent!
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Ben Baker
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Loved the review. Btw, I chose the cop in your example due to his outfit and hat, but the magician was my second choice. I got this for Christmas and just played it and loved it. I do have to disagree with the clock round counter. I really love it and thinks it helps bring the pressure of getting everything in just 7 turns to the focus - while staying very dark and mysterious. Loved it! I feel we need more 3D cardboard components in all games.
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Owais Aziz
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I like the game an its components - but I didn't think the game was as amazing as the hype it got from Essen. Nevertheless I still bought a copy - and I can see it being a gateway/family game easily but a regular gaming group wont play it more than once per session...
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BenjoBaker wrote:
Loved the review. Btw, I chose the cop in your example due to his outfit and hat, but the magician was my second choice. I got this for Christmas and just played it and loved it. I do have to disagree with the clock round counter. I really love it and thinks it helps bring the pressure of getting everything in just 7 turns to the focus - while staying very dark and mysterious. Loved it! I feel we need more 3D cardboard components in all games.


Didn't even put that connection together, but it totally makes sense!

Glad you enjoyed the game, and thanks! It's funny you mention it, because we started using the clock and I dislike it a good bit less now! I still wish it would hold together a bit better though!! Good luck with the solving of murders!!
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Ovaldo wrote:
I like the game an its components - but I didn't think the game was as amazing as the hype it got from Essen. Nevertheless I still bought a copy - and I can see it being a gateway/family game easily but a regular gaming group wont play it more than once per session...


I feel about the same way about it, although I do think that it's amazing (or close to it) in the gateway sense - it's an incredibly light game so it doesn't come out in our gaming group as much, but an awesome gateway game for almost everyone outside of my regular group!

Any game my wife actually asks to play on her own accord definitely stands out!
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Erwin Anciano
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I found this game pretty boring and way overrated. Which is unusual because I love Dixit to death.

The game looks amazing, the components are simply top notch. But the gameplay felt flat and the two groups I played it with didn't feel particularly ezcited, and never asked to play it again. I have a few other game group's and they don't ask to bring it out either.

Deception is strictly speaking a far better game while keeping similar elements, in a theme that makes much more sense than the wonky progression of unrelated visions this game has, and it does it in a much faster time frame.

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Dillon Flaherty
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It's funny you mention it, Erwin - since writing this review I've had a few more opportunities to play Mysterium with two more groups and one of them had a similar experience where it fell flat.

Overall, I think it's a game that doesn't have much of a middle-ground for whether someone enjoys it or not. It is a hit or miss!

I do find it to have a really high success rate for non-gamers, however, and still think that it's a great gateway experience!

As for Deception - I really wanted to try that out too, but saw that it required 4+ to play it... would you recommend it at 4 or does it really need more people?
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