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Subject: Games for the Newbs: A Review of Mystery of the Abbey rss

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Greg H.
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Beachwood
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...is a set of steak knives. Third place is you're fired.
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As a relatively new gamer without a local game club, I find myself frequently in the position of learning games on my own and introducing these games to other relative non-gamers. I'm intending to add reviews for others in similar circumstances. Please share any improvements you'd like to see with this approach!

The (Incomplete and Brief) Game Summary
Mystery of the Abbey is a deduction game with a card-based system for determining the murderer. There are 24 suspect cards, each card with different attributes, including a specific order, a specific "rank," and physical traits such as fat/thin, bearded/unbearded, and hooded/unhooded. Players hands consist of these suspect cards. Each player also has a small monk token that is moved around the board to different rooms.Each room provides a different function, allowing players to steal cards from other players, gain information, draw powerful library cards, etc. Players also have suspect sheets that allow them to track the characters they eliminate, and they keep these sheets hidden from other players. Lastly, players interact heavily with one another by asking questions of each other to gather information. The questions can be anything, as long as the question does not demand a specific suspect's name as an answer. Examples of questions could be: "How many bearded suspects are in your hand?" "Was the suspect you just took from Bob a Franciscan?"

The Components
The components are wonderful. All the information is incredibly well organized, and every suspect sheet is contained within a foldable player aid that summarizes the rules for easy reference. New players can rely on these aids within the game to keep refreshed regarding the different functions of the various rooms. New players especially enjoy the "little touches," right down to the miniature bell that is rung to "call mass" and return players to the Chapel after a full turn.

The Rulebook
The rulebook is a treat of concise information. Everything is explained in logical detail, and an appropriate number of examples are provided, especially regarding the types of questioning allowed. It is possible to learn this game exclusively from the rulebook and still be able to teach new players with relative ease.

The Teachability Factor
The game is relatively easy to teach for new people. I won't go so far as to say this is a "gateway" game, but this borders on an entry-level game for new players. This is especially true for people who have previously played Clue (aka Cluedo), as the mechanic of "deduce the missing card" is instinctive. The primary stumbling block for new players is keeping straight the various rooms and their functions, but the player aids assist in this regard.

The Gameplay Experience
First, this game is NOT a pure deduction game! Each turn ends with players returning to "mass," and trading an increasing number of cards to the left-hand player. This creates an air of chaos in an otherwise deductive game. While this may frustrate the player totally focused on pure deduction, it instead tilts the game toward a more social experience. The game provides a heavy degree of interation, with constant questioning, second guessing, and even racing toward the different rooms. Movement of each player's token actually forces each player to choose between two desirable options, and this leads to a nice degree of tension. In almost every game, everyone felt they "had a shot" at winning, and players narrowed their suspect lists within a relatively close progression. Luck does play a significant role, especially if you include the powerful cards contained within the library. This allows a player that is noticeably behind to catch up in dramatic fashion.

The Profile for Enjoyment
People that have enjoyed this game like it for the level of interaction. There is no direct conflict and "take that" gameplay, but there is plenty of second-guessing and even laughter at some of the outlandish questioning. This is not a game for people who are phobic to luck. And, people totally focused on the deductive aspects may experience frustration when players trade 4 or 5 cards at once, completely foiling their best-laid-deductive plans. This game has been moderately to very well-received by everyone that I've taught, and it's a worthy addition to any collection for "newbies" because of its unique deductive gameplay.


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Ryan
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Nice job with your review. I have similar thoughts about this game, and enjoy it for the theme and how it plays differently from my other games. I had a couple things I wanted to add:

1) While trading cards during each mass may take away part of the deduction element of this game, it adds a different element of strategy to the game. Because you want to offer as little help as possible to your opponents, a good player will keep track of which player has seen each card so he can pass back a card to a player who has already seen it.

2) Effectively questioning other players can be a difficult art to master. My first game or two played much slower than the third as it seemed to take a long time to gather useful information from questioning. By the third game the players seemed to tailor their questions better which resulted in better information gained earlier and a quicker end to the game. Sorry, not a concise explanation, but I think new players should keep in mind that the game will play faster and seem less frustrating as you learn how to question more effectively.

Anyway, looking forward to some other reviews!
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Greg H.
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Beachwood
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I completely agree! There is strategy in passing cards, for sure. And, it was really interesting watching the "questioning tactics" evolve with my group over the course of 3 or 4 games. By the fourth game, people had much more insightful methods for gaining information.

There was also the phenomenon where one person's questioning tactics were quickly adapted by others. As a group, it took us less time, each time, to find the murderer.
 
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