In the foreword to the rulebook for Mice and Mystics, designer Jerry Hawthorne explains how he wishes to transport players to a place ”where being small does not mean you cannot change the world.” It's the heart-warming introduction to a wonderful story that just happens to come in the shape of a board game.
Mice and Mystics follows a band of six humans-now-turned-mice who brave their castle to foil the machinations of an evil witch. The adorable hero portraits and beautiful room tiles turn what could have been a bland fantasy dungeon crawl into a cute but deadly world where our heroes face capture at the hands of roaches, rats, and spiders.
The captivating fairy tale theme is present in every detail and is perhaps most apparent in the deck of equipment cards. Armor and weapons come in the form of re-purposed household items: a thimble becomes a makeshift helmet for the fledgling mouse warrior, while a sharpened toothpick can be deftly swung as a rapier to repel roaches and other creatures that inhabit the now enormous castle.
The refreshing fairy tale scenery is perfectly complemented by a generous book titled “Sorrow and Remembrance” where each chapter serves as both a piece of the story and one of the missions in the bigger campaign.
“Committing to Mice and Mystics means you suddenly find yourself
the caretaker of six adorable little mouse heroes”
Committing to Mice and Mystics means you suddenly find yourself the caretaker of six adorable little mouse heroes who desperately need your guidance. When discussing Mice and Mystics with friends, I find that I seldom explain the mechanics of it like I would an ordinary game – instead I tell them how important it is for me that Collin and his merry mice save the kingdom and make it out of the castle alive. Between games, Mice and Mystics has me actually discussing the characters themselves – not how the next scenario should be played.
Being a designer of board games is probably not Jerry Hawthorne's primary skill – at least not in the traditional sense that a hardcore board gamer would define it. A lot can be said about the ambiguous or contradicting rules in the Mice and Mystics rulebook, and Jerry Hawthorne – while extremely kind and helpful on forums – has taken an infamously lax stance on official rulings, often urging players to house rule to whatever ”favors the mice the mostest.”
It's an unusually relaxed stance that is arguably perplexing to many gamers. It is also a stance that reveals the designer's focus: to tell a gripping story. Mice and Mystics is the vessel of a fairy tale first; board game second. Jerry Hawthorne's primary skill lies not in designing water tight rules, but in providing the magical stuff that unforgettable stories are made of. The kind of stories that gently burrow their way into your heart and snugly make a permanent home there.
The emphasis on storytelling is underlined by the fact that the game doesn´t play very well as a stand-alone. The story is meant to be experienced as a whole – as you fight alongside the six endearing mice and get to know them, the stakes and the excitement get higher. But play one of the chapters at random with uninitiated friends and they are probably in for an underwhelming and slightly confusing experience.
Mice and Mystics is meant to be played from start to finish, like a book is meant to be read from cover to cover. And like an unputdownable page-turner, the tale in Mice and Mystics grabs hold of your imagination, urges you on, and never lets go. The story seems deceptively simple at face value – childish, if that is a pejorative – but I found it both deeply personal and intimate. No doubt it was made even more so because I shared the adventure with the woman I love.
Having recently cleared the eleventh and final chapter, we celebrated with a bottle of champagne in the first rays of spring sun on our balcony. I vividly remember that moment: savoring the sparkling wine, sharing memories of our journey together so far and of adventures yet to come. It is the magical stuff that unforgettable stories are made of.
Ash nazg durbatulûk
No doubt it was made even more so because I shared the adventure with the woman I love.
Almost the same here. We're at Chapter Six now, and haven't finished it yet, but still... It's a game we both instantly fell in love with.