Giant Fire Breathing Robot
I’ve been playing this game a lot recently and decided it was time for a full review. Whenever I introduce someone to Mystery of the Abbey, I always say, "It’s like Clue, if Clue were fun." And that sums MotA up nicely. A murder has been committed in the Abbey and it’s up to the players to figure it out.
MotA involves deduction, planning, secrets, and (at times) singing. MotA creates a fantastic blend of "gamer" elements that make each play challenging and unique, and "non-gamer" elements that not only make the game accessible, but really lighten the mood and put some old-fashioned "fun" into the board game medium.
The Basics. There are 24 potential suspect cards. One is randomly removed and placed under the board. Most of the remaining are dealt to the players with the rest forming a small pile the players can draw from. From there, the players try to deduce the identity of the murderer.
One of the key components that separates it from Clue is that there is no roll-and-move aspect. Your pawn can move two rooms per turn, so you are generally able to get where you want to go. And, most rooms have a special power of sorts. You can nab suspect cards from other players, make accusations about the culprit, and get helpful Scriptorium cards depending on which way your monk travels.
MotA also has a "Mass" aspect. After four turns, the monks must travel back to the Chapel for Mass. And, while there, they spread rumors about their investigation. In game turns, it requires you to pass a certain number of your suspect cards left. In this way, the game forces more and more information to be shared.
Finally, while at Mass, the game demands that an "Event" card be drawn. Sometimes, it’s as simple as mandating all players show a particular type of suspect. But sometimes, the events get downright funny. One requires the players to sing "Are you sleeping" in rounds, another requires all talking to be done in singing chants until the next mass.
The Feel. Mystery of the Abby successfully bridges the gap between family and the more dedicated board gamers. It provides a light/medium deduction experience that generally puts players in control. Players can utilize a number of different strategies - from drawing new suspects, stealing cards from opponents, or stocking up on Scriptorium cards for special powers.
The mechanic of asking a question when you land on a space occupied by another monk greatly increases interaction and suspicion. If you aren’t careful, even the question can give away essential information to the other players about what you know and don’t. In this way, the deduction element can be kicked into high gear with competitive players carefully crafting questions to their opponents.
Meanwhile, the game is straightforward enough to be grasped and enjoyed by nearly anybody. The events can keep the experience light-hearted and it’s a rare game that can make me laugh as heartily as I have in some of my MotA plays.
Components: 4.5 of 5. MotA is by Days of Wonder, so of course the components are top notch. All of the cards are full-sized and easy to shuffle. The artwork on the suspects is fantastic. Each pawn is detailed as a monk in robes. And the best part is that the game actually comes with a small bell that you can ring to call the players to Mass. Ringing that bell is more fun than it should be and I greatly look forward to my turn.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. The Scriptorium and Event cards do vary a bit in power and a lucky draw at the right time can be very helpful. However, they don’t have too much variation and the player that spent a turn or two grabbing a Scriptorium card deserves the leg up he receives in exchange.
On the other hand, the Biblioteca cards are more problematic. Designed to be extremely powerful, you can only use one per game, and only when you have the fewest cards (in the weakest position). Many of the cards are extremely powerful - in the right situation. Because of that, sometimes you get something that greatly helps you to catch up. Sometimes, it turns out to be only a small bonus in your particular game.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. The game is a blast to play. Movement and strategy are completely player-directed. The ability to question the other players promotes interaction and creativity. And the requirement to pass cards along each mass ensures that information is increasingly shared. While players often try to keep a "super secret" card that they avoid passing, it becomes increasingly difficult.
Replayability: 4 of 5. The event cards help to give this game a different feel each time. Not every game has singing and zany antics - but some will. Plus, the ability to question the other players provides an exercise in creative questioning each time. For a multiplayer deduction game, and one friendly in both the casual and gamer contexts, MotA will see a lot of table time.
Spite: 3.5 of 5. There is some good spite to be had in MotA. You can steal cards from other players and certain Scriptorium cards allow you to move pawns or keep other players from doing what they want. Still, it’s all done in the spirit of the game and it is easy for your victims to spite you back - especially if you go to the confessional. So, while prevalent, it remains an "equal opportunity" for all players.
Overall: 4.5 of 5. There are few games that my gaming group and my family enjoy. Mystery of the Abbey is one of them and that puts it in a special category of awesome. MotA is a fantastic deduction game that solves all the boring elements from Clue, while adding a lot of fun and interesting choices. I would highly recommend for both families and gamers looking for an entertaining and accessible diversion.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
Mr. Cat. Hold on I think I know my next move, just give me another minute....NO!!!!!!!
Awesome review, MotA doesn't get as much credit as it probably should.
Elaborating on your nab suspect cards from other players. There is the aspect of you can snoop in another monk's (players's) room and steal a card from that opposing player.
Depending on the turn before mass, you sometimes have to make the decision to guard your room or head to the Scriptorium or Biblioteca. Certain player colors will dictate where your room is in the abbey. This will limit when you can do certain actions with other players in the area, or with crypt cards before the mass bell rings.
Also we have seen where players naming the murderer's traits(revelation vs. accusation) will win the game more often than actually guessing the murderer. This happens just a little over half of the time. And I have used guessing an incorrect trait to give other players enough doubt to completely throw them off the trail.
Steve R Bullock
I for one like Clue, especially the Simpsons version. After all, you have to take the game rather lightly or you can pick it apart, and by introducing the Simpsons into the mix it really puts the proper perspective on the game.
As for Mystery of the Abbey, I picked it up a while back and have yet to play it. I suspect from your review I will enjoy it.
Thanks for sharing!
I agree with your review, including your assessment that the components are great.
I love the artwork on the board, and the depictions of the suspects on the game sheets. The illustrations are good, and the names are fun, too.