Board Game Review: Mysterium – A Failure to Communicate? | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Mysterium – A Failure to Communicate?

Myst - Games

A murder remains unsolved. Desperate for leads, the police have hired a cadre of psychics to commune with the departed and learn what they can of the event leading to the victim’s death. In Mysterium, you play one of those psychics trying to learn the details of what occurred. But the ghost can speak only in flashes and visions.

The Basics. Mysterium is a cooperative game with one player taking on the role of the ghost and the others becoming the psychics. During setup, the ghost assigns a potential suspect to each psychic, as well as a location and murder weapon. Each psychic is therefore tied to one potential event.

But the ghost is not allowed to directly communicate with the psychics. Instead, he has a deck of cards that represent the visions he can send to them. Those cards are full artwork, without any stats or points. He draws a hand of them, and then gives a few to each psychic that he believes will lead them to the right culprit.

"What are you trying to tell me?"

“What are you trying to tell me?”

Once received, they psychic then looks over the cards and tries to determine what they mean. If the vision has a woman with a hat, does that mean the lady in the hat is the intended message? Or is there something more about the overall gestalt of the painting?

The psychics then each mark who they think their vision points to. The ghost then tells them if they were correct and the game recommends nonverbal communication. My preferred method is one knock for yes, two for no. If they got it right, they can progress to the locations. If not, they get another vision and try again. After locations, it’s murder weapons.

However, only one story is completely accurate. At the end, the psychics get a final vision and must determine which events are the true ones. If they get it right, they win. Otherwise, the murder remains unsolved.

They all look guilty

They all look guilty

The Feel. Mysterium has one of the most evocative settings in recent memory. All of the cards have a late Victorian feel. The suspects, in addition to having pictures, also have various items on the cards that bring about atmosphere and personality. The game’s timer looks like an old clock with a broken face. And having the ghost knock rather than simply saying the answers brings out a nice séance feel.

As a psychic, getting those vision cards starts the excitement. It’s not always easy to glean the references from the cards. Knowing that, the psychics also have the ability to guess whether their fellows got a particular guess right or wrong. Getting it right can make the end game a little easier. But determining whether someone else is right or wrong is usually just as difficult as determining it for yourself.

Where did the fateful events occur?

Where did the fateful events occur?

All of the vision cards are mere artwork. While there seems to be a bit of darkness in most (not all) of them, they are otherwise completely unrelated to the game elements. So it is not as though you can find the card that perfectly represents the Attic or the Magician.

And that’s where knowing the ghost can come in handy. Is he focusing in on particular details? The Bedroom has a bed draped in red sheets. And a particular vision card has a lot of red in it. Is that the connection? Or does that red card, which depicts a circus actually reference a Den where bric-a-brac and knickknacks adorn the shelves and walls?

If you’re the ghost, you have the most game-related job. There are rules for how many cards you can draw and when. Along with how they get passed out to the players. Those decisions need to be made quickly so that the game doesn’t bog down. In a larger setting, it can take several minutes for all of the visions to be passed out.

Myst - Weaopns

Weapons most foul

And that’s actually the game’s major negative. When the ghost is doing their best to get the right vision cards, they can take their time and use re-draw abilities. Meanwhile, the psychics aren’t getting any new information. And it’s easy for them to start talking about other things and get drawn out of Mysterium’s rich atmosphere. So the ghost should always be the player with the most experience with the game, and one who can operate quickly.  The ghost cannot be someone who suffers from AP.

Mysterium can support up to seven players (one ghost and six psychics). And it is better at the higher player counts – making this a title that can come off the shelf when more people show up at game night than expected. But that also means the ghost has to act quickly. The greater the number of players, the more obnoxious the downtime can be if the ghost takes his time.

Myst - Location Cards

Yes, yes. But what does it mean?

Components: 5 of 5. The bits are fabulous. The timer is evocative and the artwork on the cards is fantastic. It even comes with a screen for the ghost with pockets he can use to assign the various person/location/weapon cards to the psychics. The cardboard bits are on good stock as well, although a few of them are a little too small.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5. This is a hard one to score. If you are a psychic, there really is no luck to speak of. You get the cards and you make your choice. There are some minor strategic considerations but nothing huge. The real “game” belongs to the ghost who must determine which cards to provide to which players and when.

Mechanics: 3 of 5. At its core, the game is very simple. Cards are given and inferences are drawn. There are no tricky maneuvers and few strategic gambits. The game is almost like a high concept movie pitch – you can explain the entire thing during an elevator ride. But the mechanics that are there do enhance the game and make the narrative experience better.

Replayability: 3.5 of 5. If you are looking for card variety, Mysterium has it. There are 84 vision cards and tons of persons, locations, and weapons. In any given game, the psychics will be attempting to reveal all new plots. That said, variability isn’t replayability. Still, replay value is found in the interesting nature of the game, and as experienced players want to rotate through as the ghost.

Spite: 0 of 5. As a cooperative game, there is no spite.

Time is ticking...

Time is ticking…

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Mysterium is a fun time. It’s at least as much activity as game, but highly enjoyable nonetheless. It may not be a strong strategy game when you have three or four players. But it’s a fantastic experience for larger groups – especially those looking for a large cooperative game that won’t last all night.

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