Mysterium Cover

Review: Mysterium

Dillon Flaherty Board Game, Review 0 Comments

  • Connector.Connector.

    Players: 2-7

  • Connector.Connector.

    Play Time: 40+ Minutes

  • Connector.Connector.

    Ages: 10+

  • Connector.Connector.

    Released: 2015

Reviewed By

Dillon Flaherty

Do you have the wits to solve the murder of the Cooperative Mysterium Board Game? Put your investigator hats on and harness your psychic potential to decipher the clues given by your silent, ghostly friend.


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!

Another major difference in gameplay, when related to Clue, is that Myserium is a cooperative board game. If you’re interested in a competitive offering with similar weight, take a look at Love Letter: Batman instead

Is the murder-mystery genre better for the inclusion of this newcomer? Read on to find out what we think and hopefully help determine that 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 Mysterium 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.

Mysterium Screen

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.

Mysterium Investigator Pawns
Mysterium Investigators

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

Mysterium Suspects
Mysterium Places

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!

Mysterium Weapons

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.

Mysterium Dreams

…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 Insert
Mysterium Clock

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.

Mysterium Components

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:

Mysterium Suspects
Mysterium Dreams

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. Hover over the card below to see the answer!

Who's the Killer?

Answer:

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!

Ghostly Dress

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.

Mac Dowell

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: 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 over at BGG 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.

It has 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. This 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. That is a big plus for the Mysterium Board Game.

It’s 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

Great

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.