What better game to start off the Queen’s board game reviews than Mysterium, elected by our patrons to be the next addition to our collection?
As an illiterate French man, I can only hope that my enthusiasm for Mysterium will outbalance my poor writing style. I didn’t mention my origins just to ask for your forgiveness, but because they play an important part in that board game review. First because Mysterium won the “As d’or” in 2016, the French “Best Board Game of the Year” award, but also because Mysterium was one of the three board games I brought with me when I came to Australia, its content representing a big chunk of the meagre possessions that travelled with me.
Why would you commit so much space and energy to a game? Well that’s what this blog is all about: what makes games so great, and what makes them worthy of our ever so precious time.
Lore – Theme
Mysterium is an asymmetrical game where one of the players embodies a ghost, and one to six other players play as mediums who are sent to a mysterious manor to discover who murdered the ghost. The ghost will communicate with the mediums by the means of vision cards, highly detailed and dreamlike. Mediums will have to cooperate to decipher the visions before the séance ends and expose the culprit. The game has been described pretty much everywhere as a mix between Cluedo and Dixit, and if that description is almost unanimous it is because it fits the game like a glove.
The gameplay structure, discovering suspects, locations and murder weapons will remind you a lot of Cluedo (or Clue if you are American). On the other hand, the creativity and out-of-the-box mindset the game encourages will definitely recall you Dixit, which happens to be published by Libellud, the French (again!) publisher behind Mysterium.
Even if you don't own an ancient typewriter, the game still takes a little bit of space
Now Mysterium is not your everyday whodunit, and its clever mix of cooperation, witty competition (one always wants to be the best psychic in town) will leave its competitor Cluedo biting the dust while it reaches the pantheon of great board games.
Only the sharpest of minds will be able to solve the murder... will you?
The artwork of Mysterium is MA-GNI-FI-CENT. It won the “Golden Geek Best Board Game Artwork/Presentation Winner » award in 2015 and it bloody well deserves it. Each card is a gem of ingenuity and attention to detail, and every component of the game serves the theme perfectly.
Pretty, isn't it?
The 3D clock used to keep track of the turns and the secret panel used by the ghost give the immersive ambiance of an old manor, and even the player tokens are small translucent crystal balls. The art is impressive and just for the sake of recognition I will put the names of the incredible artists that crafted this beautiful masterpiece: Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette, Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko. There you go. Congrats guys.
At the beginning of the game, a number of suspects, locations and murders weapons will be dealt and displayed on the board depending on the number of players and the difficulty chosen. The ghost then assigns randomly to each psychic a suspect, a location and a weapon and hides these cards in a secret panel.
Each medium gets assigned by the ghost a set of suspect / location / weapon
During each of the seven "hours" of the séance (the seven turns of a game), the ghost will send to each medium one or several vision cards giving them hints on which displayed cards they have been assigned to. While I love the fact that the designers allowed the players to choose a level suiting their needs, I personally find that the easiest level defeats a little bit the purpose of creativity and imagination, by allowing the ghost to change his or her hand indefinitely.
The ravens loom over the board, allowing the ghost to change his or her hand
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of the hardcore gamers who believe the enjoyment of board games is measured by the amount of sweat beads on your forehead, but having to work with the cards you are dealt has that special flavour that makes Mysterium the great game it is.
A flying chimney sweeper and an evil gentle-rat, what does that mean?
It will take the wits of all the mediums present to decipher the visions sent by the mute ghost and cooperation will be essential to reach the final stage of the game. However, every psychic wants to be the best in town; if your interpretation of a vision differs from your teammates’ and you don’t agree with their final decision, you can bet against their judgement to get an edge at the end of the game.
And in the end...
Of course it was the Scottish bagpiper!
Try to imagine describing a Scottish bagpiper with cards representing a rat in a top hat and gentleman coat, and a man carrying brooms while riding a flying bike above a city, and you will understand the hilarity that ensues witnessing the appalled faces of your friends.
And that is why Mysterium is such a brilliant party game that will suit both newcomers to the board game world, and seasoned board gamers. The overall quality in design and artwork is outstanding, and the theme suits the gameplay perfectly. Mysterium is one of my favourite games and I’m hopeful it will also be one of yours soon. It gets a 9/10 and the golden Queen’s seal of approval!