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Mysterium - The excellent medium game

Steve @ Blue Herring Games Mysterium

Open the creaky box.
Blow away the cobwebby strands from the cardboard pieces.
Light some candles.
And whatever you do…

DON’T try and follow the logic of the theme!

The simple description of Mysterium sees players take on the role of psychics, trying to collaboratively solve a murder in an old mansion. (See note)

One player (taking the role of the poor victim’s ghost) will provide visions to the psychics, helping them each identify a potential suspect, room and weapon from the night of the murder. Once all possible suspects have been correctly identified, the psychics gather for one last hand-holding, lighting-striking, candle-flickering, murmur-murmuring finale, in which they attempt to divine the identity of the actual murderer.

And it is brilliant

Think ‘Dixit meets Cluedo’. Or more precisely: ‘Dixit-meets-anything-with-a-murder-mystery-theme-that-is-less-die-rolly-and-more-playable-than-Cluedo’. The Dixit comparisons are of course inevitable. In Dixit, players select beautifully illustrated cards that best match a word or phrase. The game is based entirely on this matching process, as are the points scored. Mysterium takes the same ideas, and similar dreamlike cards, and applies them to a purpose. A slightly morbid purpose perhaps, but a purpose nonetheless.

At any time the ghost will have a hand of seven random vision cards that he can choose from. Any or all of these cards can be given to a psychic, helping them determine their specific “suspect/place/weapon” combination.

Take the following example: Let’s assume there are three suspects on the table – the doctor, the old lady and the nun, as illustrated.

The doctor is Kevin’s suspect of interest. The ghost knows this; Kevin does not. The ghost has the following vision cards available to try and help Kevin…

One vision in particular, the apple on a column, jumps out. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, thinks the ghost, “Perfect!” None of the other cards seems to help too much, so the ghost silently passes the single vision card to Kevin.
Whoo-Ooo-Oooh.... ​

At this point the game seems so simple! But then the discussion around the table begins…

~ Note: Kevin is allowed to chat with the other players, Julia and Tony, but not the ghost. The ghost must remain silent throughout the game ~

Kevin: “Okay - I don’t think it is the nun; I’m not seeing anything nunnish at all in this apple card.”

  • [Ghost smiles inwardly]

Julia: “It is a very red card. That could suggest it is the old lady, to match the large red ball of wool? None of the other suspects have any red on them.

  • [Ghost scowls at Julia, again inwardly]

Tony: Oh yeah – and the apple has needles stuck into it, and the old lady card has needles on it as well!

  • [Ghost darts a glance at the apple card… ‘Needles? What Needles?!’]

Julia: Hey look – there is a photo behind the old lady of a building with big columns out the front. It has to be the old lady!

  • [Ghost sobs, ever so quietly]

Kevin: “So you don’t think it could be the doctor? You know ‘An apple a day and all that?”

  • [Ghost’s heart leaps, ‘oh you beautiful, clever man!’]

Julia: If anything it would be a sign NOT to choose the doctor. The apple ‘keeps the doctor away'. That would actually be pretty clever if the ghost thought about that, as well as the redness…” (smiling at the ghost in admiration).

Tony: “…and the needles! Don’t forget about the needles”

  • [Ghost’s mind ablaze: ‘WHAT NEEDLES??!’]

Kevin: “No you’re right. I think my suspect is the old lady!”

  • [Ghost quietly rolls over and dies. Again. Whoo-Ooo-Oooh...]
At around this time, the silent ghost may wish to listen to some music to distract from the emerging frustration. Blue Herring Games recommends PJ Harvey and Nick Cave’s haunting but beautiful rendition of Henry Lee, from the appropriately titled Murder Ballads album:


Or just go with the official 50-minute Mysterium soundtrack, downloadable from the publisher Libellud's website.

A similar scenario to that described above plays out every single round. Once the suspect is identified, play moves to selecting the place of the murder, then weapon. Tiny details tucked away in the stunning cards suddenly loom ever so large. And obvious features on the cards (“…The apple! Look at the apple!”) get overlooked and misinterpreted. And THAT is the spirit of the game (tick: cheap pun at last!).

Mysterium is a collaborative game, which may be a novelty for many who have not played board games of late. While it often feels like the ghost is being purposely obtuse, this is just a manifestation (…smaller tick...) of the random cards at the ghost’s disposal. All players must determine the final suspect, place and weapon card for everyone (including the ghost) to win. Like many collaborative games, a loss can be slightly anti-climactic, but the game structure will typically bring you close to a satisfying conclusion. For experienced players, simple rules changes are provided to ramp up the level of difficulty.

As a collaborative game, Mysterium also lends itself well to novice players. If you have an experienced ghost, and one other person that knows the rules, teaching new players is relatively easy. Round by round you simple need to remind each player that the ghost wants you to guess one of the cards on the table - “Which card best matches the ones that the ghost has given you?”. An incorrect choice doesn’t end the game; the player will have narrowed down options, and may receive additional cards in the following round to assist in their decision. Bonuses are also awarded if other players are correct in their backing of (or disagreement with) a player's choice.

The final round jars ever so slightly. The rules would see the players, who have been chatting all game, suddenly adopt a contemplative silence. Really? I say discuss away, even if it makes things easier, and enjoy trying to crack the final clue together. A vote can still be called for as per the rules.

So does Mysterium replace Dixit? I’d say not. Mysterium may be a bit more accessible than Dixit as the creative pressure placed on each player is somewhat reduced. And for me the purposeful decoding the Mysterium cards to reach a resolution makes it a better and more enjoyable game. But Mysterium is definitely fiddlier to set up and generally less portable. In Dixit, the deck is shuffled, cards are handed out, and you are off and running in a creative free-for-all. I can see both having a time and place.

There are a stack of cards in Mysterium that, coupled with gorgeous artwork and sumptuous game pieces, keeps replayability high. The combination of 18 different suspects, 18 places and 18 weapons, matched with 84 different vision cards (and inevitable expansions), will keep even regular players guessing at the ghostly intent. Mysterium is a compelling addition to any collection. Immerse yourself in this beautiful game!

>> Blue Herring Games is a proud retailer of Mysterium <<

 


NOTE

The actual thematic storyline presented for Mysterium goes something like this…

In a Scottish manor, a crystal gazing nobleman comes across a mute and forgetful ghost. A ghost, in shock, perhaps reflecting on the unprecedented level of Scottish unemployment in the 1920’s, but more likely due to the nature of his death. Too exhausted to speak, or write, or knock, or provide a flicker of candlelight when the culprit’s picture is held up, the ghost decides the best way to communicate his murderer to a group of visiting psychics is through a series of whimsical visions. The psychics interpret these images to the best of their abilities, helping the ghost to remember a few more details (but not quite enough to get him to a “That’s right, it was the butler” point of closure). Each psychic must identify a different suspect from the night of the murder, the room that the suspect was in, and their potential murder weapon. Because that would be easier than the ghost simply focussing on the person he had had a blue with. Once the ghost has shared many images, the psychic investigators will have hopefully narrowed the actual culprit down to a few likely candidates. At which point, energy efficient visions are once again shared (rather than a quick Ouija board session: Was it Stan? “No”. Was it Old Man Peterson? ”Yes. Yes I think it was”. Oh great, we’ll all be off then…), and an always spiritually reliable first-past-the-post voting system is used to cast aspersions on one of the dodgy-looking locals.

As mentioned in the review: don't try and follow the logic of the theme! (Back to top)

 



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