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Mysterium | Review

December 17, 2015
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Designers: Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko | Artists: Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette| Publisher: Asmodee, 2015
Players: 2-7 | Playing time: 45 mins

Your presence has been requested on this night, Samhain, at the Count of Warwick’s manor. However, the Count no longer lives here; he couldn’t bear the unpleasantness after the horrible tragedy of his servant’s murder — and the haunting that followed. Now, you and your spirit-seeking friends must seek to contact the ghost, and interpret the hazy imagery in hopes of discovering his murderer and putting his soul to rest. Grab your Ouija board and channel your best Clue skills because you’ve got to solve this case before the clock strikes eight!

What a Captivating Vision!

Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko have brought us a stunning update on the genre of deduction games. Mysterium pushes players to use their sleuthing skills to interpret hidden meanings in Dixit-style cards, beautifully designed by Igor Burlakov and Xavier Collette, who, as luck would have it, did the art on both Dixit and Abyss — man, talk about some beautiful creations.

The art in this game is striking, but that doesn’t mean it’s always helpful. With a deck of 84 vision cards, the player marked as the ghost of Count Warwick’s departed help must try to guide their companions in a journey to discover the murderer in just seven rounds.

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What… Does That Even Mean?

As a psychic, you will choose an identity to begin your journey of discovery; each is given a lovely back-story in the rule book in case you’re trying to go beyond just your favorite color in choosing a persona. The ghost will have — in secret, hidden by a crafty player screen — a suspect, location and weapon card selected for each of the psychics (nope, it wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the observatory with the lead pipe, but nice try). These combinations of circumstances represent possible scenarios in which the ghost, the beloved servant of the Count of Warwick, was murdered (I wish they’d given this guy a name so I could stop calling him servant). Your job as a psychic is to correctly identify the suspect, location and weapon that the exhausted ghost is trying to show you.

The ghost player hands out vision cards to each of the psychics, one at a time, trying to get you to guess possible settings for his murder. These vision cards display gorgeous depictions of… well, everything. They also pretty much have nothing concrete to do with anything you’re trying to guess. The problem is that your ghost has been tethered to this manor for years since his dreadful murder and he’s tired and just trying to move beyond the veil already; so can’t you just figure out what he’s trying to tell you and help him solve the case?! The cards are difficult to decipher and there are almost endless possibilities of what your ghost could be trying to tell you: maybe the card is mostly red so you should choose that weapon. Oh! Or maybe there’s a blue circle that matches that fountain and, yeah, that’s definitely it! In each round, after all of the psychics have received their visions, you take a guess as to what the ghost is trying to tell you. If you get it right, you move on to the next aspect of the crime scene; if not, you keep on trying. Hopefully, some of your options have been eliminated by your associates or your own wrong guesses.

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What She Said

The 2015 printing of Mysterium, which is not the first experience The League has had with the game, introduced a new mechanic that lets you vote on whether you think your clairvoyant companions are seeing things with crystal clarity, or if you think they’re simply seeing things. During each round, you may apply a “+” or “-” token to other players’ guesses to try to earn points on the clairvoyancy track. When you guess your card correctly, or you correctly identify whether a fellow fortune teller guessed theirs, you earn points. You will also earn points for each hour that you deduce your entire combination prior to the seventh and final hour.

At the end of that seventh hour (or even earlier, if you’re really connecting with the ghost), if you and your teammates have correctly identified your respective murder scenes, one combination out of the lot will be secretly selected by the ghost to represent the actual scene of the poor manservant’s grisly murder. Now, the ghost must once again present corresponding vision cards for this final combination (one vision card to represent each component). For the psychics, the more clairvoyancy points that they have earned, the more of these cards they get to glimpse from this final vision. As the cards are played, they must vote on whodunnit, where, and with what. This voting is top secret, though, which differs from the other rounds of the game in which players may converse with one another and provide counsel to their peers. Once the voting is complete, the results are revealed and it’s now time to finger that ghastly murderer. If there is a correct majority vote, you all win! If, on the other hand, you fail… the ghost stomps off into the depths of the astral plane to sulk and all present must wait until Samhain is once again upon them to try again (and to do better, a man’s soul is at stake)! If there’s a tie in the vote, whoever made it furthest along the clairvoyancy track gets to influence the collective decision.

What a Night!

Mysterium is a wonderful cooperative deduction game for almost any player count. Even with two players, the game offers a great puzzle in trying to identify the circumstances of the servant’s murder. The voting aspect is lost, obviously, but you play multiple psychics and extra combinations are added in the endgame to keep everything interesting.

As I said before, the components of this game are excellent. The new player screen for the ghost is one of my favorites, specifically, because it allows your ghost to keep everyone’s cards straight without having to repeatedly flip them over and peek while trying to dish out the visions.

Further, the new voting mechanic is a great way to add a little competitive edge to gameplay, while still cooperating with your playmates. You want to bet on and/or against each other to earn points on the clairvoyancy track in order to have a well-informed vote at the end of the game. However, the fact that it’s still technically a group victory based on the final vote kind of evens it out. All-in-all, though, this aspect of the game could be left out. You might want to if you are new to the game, or even if you just don’t feel like doing it. Having played both with and without this mechanic, I feel like both options make for a great game.

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We’ve brought this one to the table many times, and I anticipate many more. Each game is different, thanks to the many combinations of suspect, location and weapon cards, in addition to the randomization of the vision deck. There have even been times when we didn’t make it to the final round – sometimes that ghost is just not a very good communicator – but even in those instances, the game is still enjoyable.

At the end of the day, Mysterium is sure to entertain, especially in mixed groups of people who can appreciate the Clue-like throwback and the social aspect of helping one another figure out what in the world the ghost player means.

League Ruling

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Matt

Dan originally acquired the Ukrainian version almost a year before its North American debut and we broke it out several times. We had a great time with the cooperative challenge of interpreting a silent ghost with the beautifully bizarre dream cards. The variety in ghost player and different murder clues made no two games the same. Unfortunately, it fell off the map for a while and, though many of us begged Dan to bring it around again, it just never hit the table. Fast forward many months later to when I dropped the money for the shiny new version; we’ve been playing consistently ever since. The introduction of the ghost player screen is wonderful, making the play faster and more streamlined. The new bidding/clairvoyance track is a take-it-or-leave it element – it’s a fun twist, but one that you can easily leave in the box if desired. Outside of those additions, the game is largely the same, but that isn’t a bad thing.

 

This take on cooperatively gameplay is unique and with its successful scaling between two and seven players, it easily slots into a lot of collections. The truth with most games rings true here, more so than other games I’ve played: the success of Mysterium will be dependent on the composition of your group. An out-of-sync ghost can provide undue challenge, and given the group win-loss aspect, an apathetic psychic could bring down the atmosphere or even single-handedly cause a loss. Those standard precautions aside, Mysterium is a stand-out in the cooperative genre and one that is definitely worth your time.

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Ben

I was able to play both the new and Ukrainian version of Mysterium. While only playing the Ukrainian version once, after playing the new one several times I will say that the player screen feels like a must have. I watched Dan as he tried to look at each player’s cards and give us clues accordingly by constantly peaking at face down cards and after playing my own new copy with 6 players, I wouldn’t want to play it without the player screen. I found playing as the ghost at that player count difficult enough, especially in terms of just keeping the game moving and entertaining for everyone. I would definitely suggest an experienced and skilled Mysterium player act as the ghost during games with a full house. I enjoyed the game the most, from both sides, at 3-4 players. The pace of the game flows well, the chances of making it to the final round and winning are well balanced, and overall it was a fun experience; win or lose. This is also a great game to play with the family; mine loved it, which is why I own a copy. Mysterium is well worth playing and is a great cooperative game that I’ll always want to play.

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Smee’s Two Pence

Mysterium is a slightly frustrating beast for me. While I’ll always enjoy the weird and surreal Dixit-style artwork, matching up the idiosyncrasies between the visions that the ghost provides and the available prospects on the board tends to escape my rather literal mind. It doesn’t help that the perceived difficulty increases with the number of players, as while there may be more psychics to make guesses, there’s also that many more additional possibilities on the board! As the other League members have noted, the upgrades and tweaks made to the US version of the game are quite outstanding, including the various bits that make up the game ‘board’ and the ghosts’ screen … all, that is, except for the unadorned slivers of cardboard used to mark your place on the clairvoyancy track, which don’t really fit in at all. One thumb up for whimsy.

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Steve

I had the opportunity to play the Ukrainian version of Mysterium and it was great. The theme and easy co-op gameplay was fantastic. When the US version was released, Asmodee really gave you an even bigger bang for your buck. With the addition of the ghost screen and the clairvoyancy track, it really knocked this one even further out of the park. Playing as the ghost is REALLY hard. Giving clues with what the deck offers is no easy task. The game can get a little stale after repeated plays so just be sure to space out your time with this. You could even shuffle in a deck or two from Dixit if you wanted to add some more variety in clues and artwork for the ghost player to use.

Kelly B!

CONTRIBUTOR: Pediatric Nurse. Shameless fangirl. Fierce competitor. Light gamer.