Game Review: Mysterium

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In the weeks leading up to Halloween, there’s nothing better than finding a game that encompasses everything about this spooky holiday. Ghosts, mystery, and solving a gruesome crime – these are all things offered in the game Mysterium. 

Designer: Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko
Publisher: 
Asmodee
Genre: Deduction and Cooperative
Players: 2-7 Players
Play Time: 40-60 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

img_2029Mysterium is a cooperative game where players work together as psychics conducting a seance with only seven hours to communicate with a ghost. The goal is to investigate any clues that can provide an answer to an old mystery – how did this ghost die? Unable to talk, the ghost communicates with the psychics through visions, which are represented in the game by illustrated cards. Each psychic deciphers the images and determines how he/she was murdered: Who did the crime? Where did it take place? And with what weapon?

The game consists of seven hours, each hour representing a turn. One player takes the role of the ghost and all others play together as the psychics. You’re all working toward the same goal of solving the crime. Each psychic has their own theory though and only one of them will be correct. The ghost player is given a big screen and assigns a suspect, location, and weapon card to each psychic player. The ghost will give the psychics the visions that will help them put together their theory.

Game Play

The game plays in two phases:

img_2030Phase 1: Reconstruction Of Events

1. Vision Interpretation
The ghost has a hand of vision cards that he/she hands to each psychic every turn. You can hand as many cards as you want to each psychic, but the idea is to provide them clues to guess their assigned theory. The ghost player can only communicate with players via the vision cards and cannot aid the players in any other way.

Once all vision cards are received, the psychics will discuss with each other what they think their visions mean. Each psychic starts by guessing the suspect. Once they correctly guess that, they move to guess the location then the weapon. Everyone will place their intuition token on the suspect/location/weapon they think the ghost is guiding them to. If a player has completed their theory they can help assist other psychics decipher their vision cards. img_2034It’s also during this time that the psychics can utilize clairvoyance tokens which will help them progress up the clairvoyancy track. The track is important because the psychic’s position on the track will determine how many of the final three vision cards they can see. Psychics are able to climb this track by guessing if an intuition token placed by another psychic is correct or incorrect.

2. Spectral Manifestation
Once the sand timer runs out or all the psychics have given their final guesses, the ghost will confirm if they are right or not. If the psychic is correct they’ll move onto the next step of their investigation and will discard their vision cards. If they are incorrect they keep their vision cards and continue working on that same stage of their investigation. The clock is then advanced by one hour and the next round will begin.

Phase 2: Reveal The Culprit

img_2045Once all psychics have their theories complete, the ghost will give three final clues on which theory is correct. If the psychics guess the correct solution then they win, but if they’re incorrect the ghost will be cursed to haunt the mansion forever. The psychics also lose if all theories aren’t fully assembled by the end of the seventh hour.

He Said

Back in 2015, Mysterium was the belle of the ball at Gen Con. It was announced that there would only be a limited number of copies for sale every day and it seemed like they instantly sold out every morning. After telling Mandee about the game, she was pretty ecstatic to get her hands on a copy, but we were unable to get one since we weren’t in line at the break of dawn. We had to wait a couple months after Gen Con to finally get it and it gave me some mixed feelings. The game is like a mix of Dixit and Clue, which is a pretty great combination on paper, but not necessarily in reality.

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Spoooooooky
The best thing about Mysterium is the components. From the neat looking investigation tokens to the clock-shaped round tracker, everything just oozed theme. All the components of the game really do a great job conveying that you’re investigating a murder in a creepy haunted mansion. Even the rule book helps set up the theme with the letter from the Duchy of Warwick Scotland and the newspaper cutouts that give players the background.

The artwork on all of the cards is highly detailed with little clues throughout them that can be tied back to a wide array of vision cards. This is important because it gives the ghost a lot more options on how they want the psychic to interpret the vision they’re giving them. There have been a lot of games where the ghost and some of the psychics are just not on the same wavelength with clues. The game is like Dixit with a Clue theme on top, which gives players a goal to work towards. All you need to do now is to turn on some spooky background music and you have yourself an immersive game night, especially around Halloween.

img_2050Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better
The one thing that really bugged me about the game was that it felt like it should be a fully cooperative game and it is, until the last phase of the game. During the “Revealing the Culprit” phase, psychics aren’t allowed to discuss with each other about which solution is correct. This could lead to the players losing the game if the majority of them don’t interpret the final three cards the way the ghost wants them to. It’s strange that the players are allowed to assist each other during the game when putting together their theories, but aren’t supposed to discuss the final decision that determines whether they win or lose.

There’s also a possibility that not all players are even able to see all three of the final vision cards either depending on where they are on the clairvoyance track. At first, I thought the clairvoyance track was a pretty cool idea, but after playing the game five times, I don’t think it’s really necessary. We haven’t had a game yet where a player wasn’t in the high portion of the track that allows them to see all three cards. The main reason for this is because the clairvoyancy tokens can move players up that track really quick if they are correct with all the tokens they place. This is especially true with more players in the game because you can assign one token to each intuition marker. It’s also a pain to keep track of all the tokens too.

Overall, the voting at the end of the game and the clairvoyance track seems counter intuitive to a game that seems like it should be a pure cooperative experience. We’ve tried playing it by the rules a couple times, but decided to house rule out these portions and it’s lead to a much more enjoyable experience from beginning to end.img_2038

I Would Have Gotten Away With It Too If It Weren’t For You Meddling Kids!
Playing as the ghost is a pretty stressful and fun at the same time. You might need to stretch the meaning of some vision cards in hopes that the psychics understand your thinking. Similar to Codenames, it feels pretty good when you and the psychic get on the same page and everything just clicks. On the other hand, it can get pretty frustrating to have to sit with a blank expression on your face as they interpret your card wrong. There have been many games where Mandee starts heading down the right path, but then veers off the beaten path and says, “There’s no way Calvin could be using that vision for this card.”

With that said, the ghost isn’t a role that everyone will enjoy since everything hinges on your decisions. It also feels like you need to hurry with your decisions as you have to get through all the psychics in a timely manner. It’s in this instance as a psychic that it feels like there’s a good amount of downtime in higher player count games too. The group is usually able to interpret and help make the decision of what the vision represents quicker than the ghost can place them. It’s not really the ghost’s fault either if it takes a while since they have to work with what vision cards they have.

Upping the difficulty would lead to more discussion since there are more options, but it would also increase the amount of time the ghost has to spend figuring out which cards they should give out. I’m not really sure what you can do to reduce the downtime, but there are times where it can take you out of the game for a while if you’re the last psychic to receive their clues.

Final Thoughts
I enjoyed Mysterium the first couple times I played it, but the more we played, the more it felt like it kind of dragged on for me. I’m still willing to play it whenever anyone wants to, but I probably wouldn’t be the one to suggest it myself. I kind of feel the same way about Dixit, which plays similarlyI’d recommend that you play the game as a fully cooperative game since it feels a lot more satisfying to win as a team at the end. If you enjoy Dixit and wish it had more of a theme, or you if you like Clue and want a different twist on it, then I think you’ll really enjoy Mysterium.

She Said

I’ve always loved anything related to ghosts and murder mystery, so when I heard about the game Mysterium, I told Calvin we had to get it. Unfortunately, we were not quick enough to get it at last year’s Gen Con and had to wait a few months, but it was worth the wait. The components, the theme, using cards with great artwork as clues – everything about this game comes together to make a great cooperative game. It’s especially relevant around Halloween.

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost
As I’ve said before, a strong theme in a game is essential for me. If I don’t have a connection or interest with the theme, it is unlikely I will enjoy playing the game. Mysterium delivers on that front. In this game, one player is the ghost who was murdered at an old mansion. Other players are the psychics trying to communicate with the ghost to figure out how he/she was murdered: Who committed the crime? With what weapon? In what room?

It’s a lot like the Game of Clue, only WAY better because there’s a story behind everything you’re doing. Games that can weave a story are another favorite of mine. They add an interesting element to the game, and as a writer by profession, it really hits into all of my personal interests.

This is one of our favorite games to play during Halloween-themed board game nights. The theme ties easily to the holiday, but the game play makes it worthwhile.

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Dixit on Steroids
In addition to being like the Game of Clue, this game is also very similar to Dixit. You use cards with great artwork on them to give clues to the psychics about the details of how you died. Now, I love Dixit – the artwork and the simplicity of the game make it an easy one to play with some of our family and friends. However, I’ve always found it a bit lacking. Like it needed just a little bit more to really make it an excellent game. Mysterium adds that little extra.

Mysterium gives the cards meaning and context – you’re working toward solving a puzzle. Although I do agree with Calvin’s assessment that it is a little strange that the game suddenly turns non-cooperative in the last phase. But you’re still working together as a team. In Dixit you are just working clue by clue, so there isn’t as much purpose behind your actions.

Solving Crimes
I love puzzles. In Mysterium, you’re trying to solve the puzzle of a murder-mystery that took place in a mansion. In addition, this game is also cooperative. You’re all working together to solve this crime. And seeing as I’ve always wanted to do a murder-mystery dinner, this game is about as close as I can get to that without having to actually use my lackluster acting skills.

The great thing about this game is that it provides great replayability and variety by allowing a player to be a psychic or the ghost. Every game we’ve played has been different and never feels the same. You can also play at different difficulty levels.img_2041

Many people we play with do not enjoy playing as the ghost, but I love it. I think it’s interesting to try to get into the mind of other players and give them a card that you think they’ll be able to guess correctly. Sometimes it is frustrating because you can’t really react at all, even if they are way off track. There will almost always be that one player that just can’t guess correctly, or that always ends up getting bad clues that are hard to interpret.

For example, we once played this game with a group of six and one person lagged behind pretty heavily, causing us to lose because they just could not get what the clues were referencing. But this isn’t always the fault of the psychic. This can be the fault of the ghost just not getting good cards.

Final Thoughts
Mysterium is one of my favorite games. I recommend it to so many people. In addition to having a great theme, it’s just a great cooperative game. The only downside is that the rules are a little hard to grasp at first. But once you get it, it plays fantastically. I’ve never had a bad experience playing this game, and have found that there are very few things that need to be improved. It’s a near perfect game, in my eyes.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Strong theme
  • Cooperative play works well
  • Quick game
  • Great artwork
  • Great components
  • Unique experience playing as the ghost or psychic
  • Great replayability

Cons:

  • Rules can be a little overwhelming
  • Downtime can be a problem for psychics
  • Clairvoyance tokens, clairvoyance track, and secret voting feel counter-intuitive to cooperative experience
  • Playing the ghost can be a stressful experience

The Verdict

He gives this game 5.5 vials of poison out of 10.

She gives this game 9 ravens out of 10.

Board Game Geek Page

Buy it Here

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