Boardgame Review: MYSTERIUM – Does this Halloween whodunit deliver?

If you’re anything like me, then, over the years, you’ve seen your fair share of scary horror movies. Now if you’re exactly like me, you’ve probably seen enough of them to know that, given a chance… no matter how bad it gets… it’s probably a terrible idea to accept help from the strange, creepy, and most probably demonic sources that keep on popping up in these movies! Seriously?! You end up either a) being possessed by angry spirits, b) having your soul consumed by a demon lord from Hell, or c) suffering eternal damnation.

“Strange? Check! Creepy? Check! I need your help!”

“Strange? Check! Creepy? Check! I need your help!”

But every once in a while, it actually works out pretty well! Christina Ricci for instance ended up finding a soulmate in the titular movie, Casper. Demi Moore got a free pottery lesson from Patrick Swayze in Ghost. And now, in the new boardgame Mysterium, you and up to 6 of your friends can get to play as badass psychic detectives, communicate with spirits through funky voodoo and cooperatively solve mysteries ala Scooby Doo!

Play that funky (voodoo) music.

Play that funky (voodoo) music.

 

Mysterium is a boardgame that brings players back to the 1930’s and puts them in the shoes of the best psychic investigators of their era. Together, they are trying to solve a grisly murder long thought to be unsolvable. But to do so, they’re going to get help from the most unlikely of sources – the unfortunate victim himself!

Mysterium is basically a deduction game – not too far from party games like Charades or Guesstures. At the start of the game, one of the players is assigned to be the ghost and his goal is to get the investigators to correctly guess the circumstances of his murder (the identity of the killer, the murder weapon, and the scene of the crime). However, he is not allowed to verbally communicate the clues with any of them! The ghost player sits behind a large screen that has all the answers but he cannot talk about them.

“Well this doesn’t feel like board game night.”

“Well this doesn’t feel like board game night.”

 

The ghost player sits behind a large screen that holds all the answers. And no, the hood does not come with the game.

The ghost player sits behind a large screen that holds all the answers. And no, the hood does not come with the game.

To get his message across, the ghost player instead communicates with the investigators through visions, or in the case of the game, through lavishly illustrated tarot-sized cards. The game comes with 84 of these vision cards and the pictures range from weird oddities to the downright bizarre. The pictures are beautiful in a way that speaks to the deepest recesses of one’s subconscious, as if the art themselves were pulled directly from your very own dreams.

“I think the ghost is trying to tell me something. Oops. Sorry that was just last night’s dinner.”

“I think the ghost is trying to tell me something. Oops. Sorry that was just last night’s dinner.”

 

Each round in Mysterium starts with the ghost player quietly handing each investigator a set of vision cards. The investigators then use the vision cards to deduce a set of suspects, murder weapons, and scenes of the crime. At the end of the round, the ghost player will confirm if the investigators guessed correctly. If they get it wrong, the investigators get another set of clues for another round.

Laid out in front of the table are the choice of suspects, murder weapons and locations.
image-3791

Laid out in front of the table are the choice of suspects, murder weapons and locations.

 

It sounds simple but in reality, it goes a little more like this:
Step 1: Ghost player hands an investigator a set of vision cards.
Step 2: Investigator looks at the hand of cards he just received. He’s looking at pictures of a mushroom, rain clouds and a bicycle. He gives the ghost player a puzzled expression.
Step 3: The ghost player is surprised. Gives the investigator a “Duh. Isn’t it obvious?” look.
Rinse and repeat.

“A masked porcupine, a lion on a ship, and a flying house. Obviously it was the butler.”

“A masked porcupine, a lion on a ship, and a flying house. Obviously it was the butler.”

 

And it is in these kinds of moments where the genius of Mysterium lies! The game is basically this constant challenge to communicate with the limited tools that you have, while expecting that the other players will understand you perfectly! It makes for a brilliantly maddening game that makes you want to flip the table every time the ghost hands you a vision card.

As one of the investigators, you’re constantly trying to piece together the hand of cards you’ve received. “Did he give me picture of the little girl to tell me the suspect is a woman? Did he give me a mouse and the forest to tell me it’s the hunter? He showed me a picture of the outside, was the crime done in the garden?”

As for the ghost player, it’s a constant game of resource management. Every round, you randomly draw 7 vision cards to work with. And how you divvy it up among the investigators determines their train of thought in the investigation process.

 

“Do I go all in and give one of the investigators the pictures of the iron lock, the steam locomotive, and steel bar to tell them the murder weapon is made of metal? Or can I afford to give them a single card and hope they make the connection on their own? And how can I best use the picture of the rabbit that you just drew?” You’re at the mercy of the random draw and there are scarce ways to refill your hand.

Nope. Nice try. You can’t communicate that way.
image-3792

Nope. Nice try. You can’t communicate that way.

At the last round of the game, assuming the investigators have played well enough, the whole team gets one last chance to correctly identify the circumstances of the murder. The game always ends with this final Hail Mary play. And then once done, it’s revealed whether the group guessed correctly. Since it is a cooperative game, everybody either wins or loses as a group.

 

BUT IS IT ANY GOOD?
Well in the right group, Mysterium can be brilliant. It’s dripping with theme and the fact that it’s a coop ensures constant engagement among the players. Its components are top-notch and you can tell that a lot of love went into the art of this game. Play it with costumes, with background music, the works! It’s very easy to get lost in its theme.

However, the quality of your play experience, will also be largely dependent on the skill of your ghost player. Mysterium, in some ways, almost feels like a tabletop roleplaying game. The ghost player is the dungeon master and the investigators are the adventurers waiting for the challenges that await them. Of course, there is plenty of room for light-hearted moments in Mysterium and even the most clueless of ghost players can still pull out the most memorable of games.

The best part of Mysterium for me is when it ends. Because the whole group just bursts into discussion! The noise level just goes from 5 to 20! It becomes apparent, at this point, just how much fun everybody had. Games of Mysterium always end with a good 15 minute discussion as players talk about the clues and guesses they made. It’s a good way to cap games as you end up understanding the thought process of you family and friends a little bit better.

I think Mysterium is a great buy for groups who can get behind its theme. It falls squarely under the family game genre, and that means it’s a safe bet to bring out when you’re playing with non-gamers. Just remember that, if that’s the case, you’ll be playing as the ghost more often than not. For groups that enjoy thematic games, this is a good light alternative when you’ve only got an hour to burn. And for the rest? Try before you buy. Some players may find the game’s ending a bit anti-climactic so it’s best you get to experience it first. Then you can decide whether it’s worth the purchase.

“BUY THE GAME OR ELSE YOUR SOUL IS MINE!”

“BUY THE GAME OR ELSE YOUR SOUL IS MINE!”

Have you played Mysterium? What did you think of it? Do you agree with our review? Hit up the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image source(s):
www.boardgamegeek.com

Author: Jake Fernandez

Board game connoisseur. Has a 213 board game collection. Yes I could have used all that money to buy myself burritos. But burritos don't let me experience the thrill of victory, the sting of defeat, and give me an excuse to berate my friends as I crush their armies with cold farming efficiency. Think about that the next time you want to buy a burrito.

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