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Subject: Board Meetings Review: Mysterium rss

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A wealthy individual has recently purchased a fabulous mansion, but they never looked into why their new, luxurious home was far, far cheaper than it had any reason to be. Until that is; they spent their first night under that roof, where they came face to face with the ghost of the previous owner. Who was, of course, murdered. Not wanting to lose out on the bargain real estate, psychics, mediums and all manner of communicators-to-the-other-side are hired to help the ghost find peace and leave. That’s where you come in, except one of you, no, one of you will be playing as the ghost in this asymmetric co-op game of abstract deduction.

The ghost player will not be able to talk for the duration of the game, it is their task to try and lead the other players; the psychics, to identifying the murderer, the murder location and, of course, the murder weapon.

So far this is spooky-Cluedo, right? Wrong! Oh, so very wrong; for a start, this is a good game. No: this is a great game.

Being murdered has left the ghost with a memory like Swiss cheese (Oh, boy), which means the ghost has a number of suspects it could be, - the true killer will be identified in the final stage of the game. Each suspect, location and weapon series is assigned to one of the playing psychics which the ghost keeps track of from behind their specifically designed screen. Essentially, each player is following their own mini-mystery as part of a greater narrative.

The game will last seven turns (that you keep track of on a brilliantly fractured clock) in each these the psychics will receive visions/dreams from the ghost that will in some way or other denote or indicate what they are truly looking for and this is where the Gigimeter will go nuts with spectral activity.

The dream cards, oh the glorious – slightly disturbing - dream cards. You’ll get at least one of these from the ghost each turn, and from it, you must uncover the clue. These are very surreal images depicting…well, dreams, they range from ostriches walking out of a picture frame to a lamp post with a cold! The ghost could be hoping you’ll go with all the colours and so you’ll choose the Baker with her decorated cakes, or perhaps the black and white feathers are representative of the typical dusting brush the Maid would use. If that wasn’t difficult enough, you only have until the sand timer runs out to place your pawn on the suspect AND you should really try and help your fellow psychics out. You can even piggyback on the successes and failures of the other psychics by adding your voting chit to their choice, if they are right and you think so too, you’ll improve your score on the Clairvoyance Track (more on this later).

When your time is up, you all hold hands (optional), and begin humming and chanting (optional) to summon the ghost, to whom you will ask a question on the lines of: “Am I right?” to this the still mute ghost will dramatically knock on the table (one for ‘no’, and two for ‘yes’) and you’ll either rejoice feeling smug that you are on the same page as the ghost player or you’ll be utterly confused and will marvel at how anyone could see any different connection.

This is a very easy game to get into and play, suitable for a very wide range of ages and skill levels – when I play I tend to not use the sand timer, opting for more discussion and fuller cooperative gameplay, which makes playing with younger children especially entertaining (that being said if you if you want to hear a funny boardgame story, ask me about the time I got my sisters to play Mysterium). This game does draw you in, each player is crafting a story, albeit the ghost’s story, but they are creating it piece by piece in their own way. The asymmetry in Mysterium is brilliant, and very unusual for a co-op, as the ghost you are playing a completely different way, facing your own choices and frustrations.

Each choice in this game feels important, as every incorrect “deduction” is an hour of in-game time lost, and for the ghost, this means that every too cryptic or too tenuous dream card that is given, stalls the other player’s progress. Social interaction is something this game does incredibly well, psychics will discuss their reasoning and understandings with each other, debating over this location or that, all of which is needed for the ghost to understand just how the players are reading the cards. Discussion and debate are very actively encouraged in Mysterium, and at the same time, the game deals with the common “problem” that arises in co-op games of quarterbacking. This is managed by the voting chits system – these allow players to show their support or disagreement with a player’s choice with a simple tick or cross. When you agree a player has made the right choice and it is revealed that they have you are rewarded with Clairvoyance points (the measure of how good a psychic you are), if that player was wrong and you thought they were, again, you are rewarded. Yet, at no point do you ever lose these Clairvoyance points – every agreement/disagreement discussion and conversation leads the group closer to a great goal.

With a very large deck of dream cards, and many, many possible combinations of who/where/how cards there is plenty of replayability in this game. The only thing that really hampers this otherwise very high scoring area of the game, is the players. As the game is based upon deduction and communication players that know each other very well may “get too good at this game”, and certain dream cards and become indicative of specific things between a group of people.

Mysterium is a brilliant modern gateway game, it is a fantastic social game and wouldn’t be out of place as an after dinner party game yet it equally works well when played by people who have only recently met. The game creates a powerful and driving narrative to spur players on, and in the final in-game hour's things can and do get pretty tense, but overall this really is a very supportive, cooperative game arguably more so than other co-op games such as Pandemic or Sub Terra. And, on top of all of that, it looks and feels glorious.

The Good
Second-to-none player interaction
Quick and easy to pick-up and play rules
Glorious art and components
Engrossing player interaction
Wonderful asymmetric cooperative gameplay

The Bad

Colour blind and visually impaired players are likely to struggle
Although the art is gorgeous, it is all very dark and shaded
Ghosts, murder and death may not be appropriate themes for all players
Spending the whole game in silence (the ghost player) might not be for everyone

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