Beautifully designed and an imagery goldmine, Mysterium is something special. Re-printed by a few publishers with a few variations since its original version. A good indication of the quality of a game is when they start life in relative obscurity and get picked up and backed by big distributors like Asmodee. Mysterium has had that journey and it is a classic.
40 Minute Play Time
Age 10+ (younger people can play with guidance from elders)
Megazone Price: $95
A fully co-operative, 2 – 7 player, murder mystery game from Libellud and designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko. One player is a spirit attempting to communicate with the other players, mediums, in an attempt to solve the mystery of the spirit’s death. However, the spirit can only talk in the form of images represented by a hand of randomly drawn art cards.
Interpret the images the spirit sends to you each hour (turn) as best you can to identify the correct person, location and item of interest in the mysterious death. Time is against you however and if each medium does not unravel their message before the night is done all is lost. Work together and solve the mystery to free the spirit.
Set-up is slightly different depending on the number of players and the difficulty you want to play at. Essentially it’s all the same though, you randomly select a number of character, location and item cards. Each one has a duplicate, identified by the number on the back, that the spirt uses to randomly determine each medium players' message. All in all set up takes a few minutes but if one of the decks is kept in order each time the game is put away then it is relatively quick.
One player is needed to take on the role of the spirit and the others are all spirit-mediums, those who claim to be able to commune with the dead. I’ll break down each role separately and how they come together to form the game!
The Spirit has a very nicely made screen to use in order to keep everything hidden from the mediums. The screen has a slot for character, location and item cards for each of up to 6 medium players.
For the most part the job of the Spirit is to communicate to the medium players using a hand of 7 random Vision cards drawn from a large deck. The vision cards are many and various but you have to use the cards you have been given and that can sometimes make the message a little unclear. Use shapes, imply meaning or maybe rely on the colours of the cards to pass the message on but you can’t use words or gestures, just the cards. On the bright side, depending on the difficulty level, the Spirit has the help of a number of Ravens. These can be used to draw a new hand of cards, hopefully resulting in more relevant visions to send to the mediums!
Everyone who is still among the living plays as a medium. Each game turn you will be given one or more vision cards by the spirit player. Use these cards to find the elements of your message, starting with the character then on to the location and finally the item cards. The role of a medium player is essentially interpretation and deduction, making connections between the vision cards and the possible choices on the table.
There is an additional mechanic for the medium and that is ‘clairvoyance’, essentially you use a set of tokens to bet on the interpretations of your fellow players. If you correctly anticipate their success or failure you gain a point. The points are very (VERY) important. The more you have the more cards you get to see in the finale!
The End Game
If each medium manages to correctly interpret all three stages of their message, then the final stage of the game can begin. However, if even one hasn’t unraveled their message in time then it’s a game loss for everyone!
Each of the medium’s messages is laid out on the table,
the spirit player chooses one of the messages to be the true version
of events. The Spirit player picks three vision cards from their hand, one relating
to each of the three card types (character, location and item). These cards are
shuffled and shown the medium players. It’s not quite that simple though, the amount
of clairvoyance points a medium player has gained during the game determines
how many of these final hints they get to see before casting their vote. So it
is possible that a player may only get to see a single vision card before
having to vote on what they think is correct!
If more than half of the Mediums vote correctly then the Spirit is calmed and released, any other result is a loss for all players.
Mysterium is not quite a game like no other but it is close, Dixit has some very similar concepts in having to interpret images and give hints to other players. It could be said that Mysterium is some kind of descendant of Dixit and Cluedo.
The game is a very different experience between the two roles. The spirit arguably has a lot more to do in the game and the game hinges directly on their decisions so it is best for the most experienced player to take that role. The fastest way to ruin the game is with a bad spirit player, if the mediums can’t understand a picture that the Spirit says (see what I did there?), the game grinds to a halt.
It’s a game of small margins at times and the pressure really starts to build when a few wrong guesses are made. For me that is where the game goes from being good to being great. The pained looks on the mediums faces when they are trying to decide the meaning of picture of a rat in a top hat. Does it mean the Magician or the Butler? Somehow completely missing the fact that there is a distinctive fork shape in the corner of the image that is trying to point them towards the Cook.
A special mention has to be made to the box, it is very well designed, everything fits nicely with a set space for each component or deck, better still they are quite interchangeable so you don't have to put it back in a specific way. It is the best box I've come across so far.
Is the game for me?
If you have enjoyed Dixit I would say with a high degree of certainty that you will love Mysterium. If you enjoy having to do a degree of abstract thinking you should like this game too. I have played this with many types of gamers and I have yet to have a particular type of person or gamer that categorically dislikes the game. If you don’t like games that depend on communication and interpretation, then it is probably not for you but even people who hate that normally enjoy the Mysterium experience.
Co-operative game lovers will enjoy it too. It plays well across age groups and mediums being able to help each other make their guesses creates a nice group atmosphere, if someone seems to be struggling the advice of some players who are doing well makes all the difference.
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is probably the closest game I've come across. However the loss of the co-operative core game and a less interesting communication method makes it an inferior game in my opinion.
Categorising some games can be a bit of a challenge at times. Some games just don’t fit conventional categories and when you finally pick one it just doesn’t seem correct to give it that title. Mysterium is one of those games!
I wouldn’t say this for many games but when it comes to Mysterium you simply have to try it. It’s a very different game experience to just about anything else around, even its forefather Dixit is a different overall experience. If I was asked for a game that just about anyone could play and enjoy then Mysterium would be my pick hands down.