Mysterium - Better Off Dead?

Mysterium - Better Off Dead? Hot

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Egg ShenEgg Shen   October 12, 2017  
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Do you and your friends have what it takes to solve the ghostly riddles of…MYSTERIUM?

Premise

It’s Halloween night.  A small team of eccentric paranormal investigators has descended upon Warwick Manor in an attempt to put to rest a hundred year old murder case!  The current curator of the estate claims the ghost of the murdered person still haunts the premises.  Perhaps the investigators can commune with the spirit!?!  If so, maybe the mystery of Warwick Mansion can finally be solved.  The investigators are hoping the ghost can send them visions that will allow them to piece together clues and solve this ghastly crime once and for all.

“Hand me my crystal ball,” Conrad MacDowell barks at his assistant.  “Ah, Yes. The spirit…it SPEAKS to me!” 

He closes his eyes and begins to rhythmically rub his temples with his forefingers.  The rest of the investigators wait with baited breath to see if Conrad will, in fact, receive a vision from beyond the veil.  

“Yes!” shouts Conrad.  “I see…I see something blurry and gray.”  The temple rubbing has ceased and Conrad now sits at the table with both hands aimed at his forehead like twin six shooters.

“I see it!” he yelps with a haggard guffaw.  “It’s a…a…tiny rodent.  A mouse…NO a RAT!  A cartoon rat! I believe this vermin is perched on a delicious wedge of cheese.  Gruyere perhaps?”  

The room fall silent as Conrad opens his eyes for the first time in what seems like hours.  

“My vision was most definitely a rat, sitting on some cheese,” he calmly explains.  “And I think it was wearing a fancy headdress,” he exhales.

The chamber is completely silent. The rest of the investigators are just eyeballing one another.  Finally, the great Alma Salvador speaks up. “Are you fucking mad?” she exclaims.  “What on EARTH are you on about?”

Alphonse Belcour deadpans Conrad right in his bespectacled brown eyes and asks, “My friend, Conrad, have you been hitting the absinthe again?  Did a little green fairy tell you this?”

 image

Look at all these potential dreams!  What will they mean in your games?

How it Plays

Mysterium is itself a curiosity. It’s not quite a party game and it’s not quite a serious hobby game either. Like a lost soul it sort of floats in the area between. The game does lean more towards a silly party game, but labeling it as such is doing it a huge disservice. Let’s take a look at a typical round shall we?

As the investigators, you’re sitting on one end of the table. Splayed out before you are a menagerie of cards that make up suspects, locations, and murder weapons. Your job is to receive visions from the ghost player and try to deduce just where the hell they’re trying to guide you. Maybe the aforementioned “Rat and Cheese” dream card is the ghost trying to tell you to focus on the Chef. You’ll hem and haw and casually discuss with the other investigators on how to interpret the dream. Eventually, you’ll place your colored crystal ball on a single card. This goes on and on until all the investigators have received proper ghostly visions.

Playing as a paranormal investigator is a breezy, nonchalant affair. You casually sip at your drink and laugh at someone’s joke while taking their dream advice under consideration. It’s half trusting the ol’ gut and half trusting that someone else at the table might be better at interpreting the ghost’s messages. You’ll very much enjoy your time as a paranormal investigator.

mysterium_characters

One of these bastards MURDERED you!

Perched on the opposite end of the table is the player who is dead; the ghost. They just quietly sit there handing out cards all the while listening to the investigators prattle on about what the visions mean. The million dollar idea at play is that this person is DEAD. They can’t speak. They can’t react. They can’t laugh. Their tormented existence is singular and lonely. It’s also INFURIATING. Yes, of course the “Rat and Cheese” card means the Chef is the suspect, but dammit it all to hell, the yellow player has talked you into thinking it means the Magician. If you could reach over your ghostly DM screen and RING the fucking life out of that smug bastard’s neck with your incorporeal hands YOU WOULD! Curse this foul existence and curse these nincompoops investigating your death!

Final Thoughts

Mysterium is a riot from start to finish. The absolute best part is the minute it ends and the ghost player ERUPTS at all the players like a madman trying to rope you into his personal conspiracy theory. Suddenly, everything fits together and becomes crystal clear, but it’s too late because you’ve already failed. You see, Mysterium is a 100% cooperative experience. Either the investigators figure out the true culprit of the crime or the murder goes unsolved and NOBODY wins.

Now, there are tons of cooperative games out there, but few of them offer an experience quite like Mysterium. It’s a game that hinges its entire experience on communication. The investigators are speaking freely, trying to untangle the ghost’s incoherent and frankly, shitty dreams. Meanwhile, the ghost is trying to use these absurdly and abstractly drawn dream cards to skillfully guide you towards real life objects. If you think this is an easy task, next time you order a sandwich try handing the cashier abstracted pictures of art instead of talking. You might really be hankering for a mozzarella, tomato, basil, and pesto wrap. When they hand you a plate of spaghetti you can’t really be surprised at their ineptitude.

It’s the dream cards which are so damn sinister and evil that they make this game absolutely perfect.  Every single one is jam PACKED with never-ending details like a giant Dagwood sandwich. You might focus on the suit of armor prominently featured on the card, but some other bastard might point out a tiny little book in the background that sends you hilariously off course. Trust me, this always happens as an investigator has already properly and correctly interpreted the vision. Yet the ghost just sits there, literally SCREAMING on the inside. It’s a good thing they’re already dead.

Mysterium_Setup

Such a lavish looking game when it’s all set up!

Mysterium is an absolute MUST play with your friends around Halloween. It plays best with a crowd and people who really get into it. Put some cobwebs on the Ghost’s screen, uncork some red wine, light some candles, and have a silly, faux seance. Unlike many games with serious rulesets that cause furrowed brows and lead to skillful play, Mysterium has something more meaningful hidden under its box-lid. It’s made of magic…the stuff that stokes a fire of joyous, imaginative glee out of everyone at the table. Ever since the game cast its spell on me a few years ago I’ve become enamored with it. This is truly a one of kind, special game. Let it work its magic on you and your friends this Halloween season.

This article was originally published at The Wolfman's Lounge.  Please head on over there for plenty more horror and Halloween fun! 

https://wolfmanslounge.com

Posted: 13 Oct 2017 11:59 by Shellhead #255663
Shellhead's Avatar
I like the art in Mysterium, but the overall concept sounded like Clue for anarchists. I am going to a Halloween party next weekend, and the host is going to stage a live-action game of Mysterium, using household items and photos in place of the pretty cards. I will watch from the sidelines.
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 13:05 by MattDP #255668
MattDP's Avatar
Good review but the game didn't do much for me. It doesn't pass muster as a co-operative game because there's no actual co-operation. You're just guessing or even working at cross purposes.

The theme seems interesting but is thinly pasted and adds little to the game. Mechanically it's just a co-op version of Dixit with little innovation on display. The art is good and well designed for play, though.

Only played it once though and not a co-op fan generally so maybe don't listen to me.
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 14:03 by JEM #255676
JEM's Avatar
I really like Mysterium. As an insufferable hipster of course I play Tajemnicze Domostwo but with the original Ukrainian rules. The comparison to Dixit is as obvious as it is facile, because the two games play completely differently. Mysterium is very much a game that encourages group effort to solve clues, whereas Dixit calls for obfuscation vs all but one player (in a winning strategy). In that sense it's a shame that clues are assigned per player, as it conveys an unhelpful sense of ownership that detracts from the collaborative approach required to succeed.

My main gripe (I don't know if the Libellud edition fixed this) is that you can get into a situation where you clearly (as a group) can't win the game, even while on the first clue for a player. Structuring the game around some kind of score system (X+ score is good, Y+ score is better, Z+ score is best) might help with that, because it's deflating to experience failure in early/mid-game due to one sticky clue. I mean that by the strict mechanisms of the game you have not "failed" by that point, but the rounds remaining vs clues required absolutely confirm that success is no longer possible.
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 21:21 by cdennett #255699
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Mysterium is a family favorite, and I like it well enough in that category. When my rigid-thinking slightly-Asperger son after playing the ghost tells me "Dad, you were being too literal!" I consider that a big win. I find that even the co-op haters can find some enjoyment in that game in the social interaction department.

Regarding knowing you're going to lose because you don't have enough turns, that is certainly possible, though it has never happened to us in probably a dozen games. We have had quite a few come down to a guess on the final round. But it's obvious in the Libellud version that it's that case and you might as well just stop there (not familiar with the Ukrainian rules).
Posted: 15 Oct 2017 16:13 by Egg Shen #255742
Egg Shen's Avatar
MattDP wrote:
Good review but the game didn't do much for me. It doesn't pass muster as a co-operative game because there's no actual co-operation. You're just guessing or even working at cross purposes.

The theme seems interesting but is thinly pasted and adds little to the game. Mechanically it's just a co-op version of Dixit with little innovation on display. The art is good and well designed for play, though.

Only played it once though and not a co-op fan generally so maybe don't listen to me.

Curious, when you played...did you try it as the Ghost? I've found that some people don't care for the investigators side, but really love trying to guide everyone as the undead player.

Interesting that you feel it has no theme. I find it to be one of the more cleverly themed games that doesn't resort to things like flavor text, event cards etc...
Posted: 16 Oct 2017 09:18 by MattDP #255774
MattDP's Avatar
Egg Shen wrote:
Curious, when you played...did you try it as the Ghost? I've found that some people don't care for the investigators side, but really love trying to guide everyone as the undead player.

No, only played as an investigator. Perhaps I'll try it again sometime from the other side, as a medium might say.
Posted: 16 Oct 2017 09:39 by Josh Look #255776
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I absolutely love Mysterium. I’m not a co-op fan and as the years go on, I think largely is because I don’t like AI mechanics. Outside of games that feature app integration, there’s nothing an AI system can do that wouldn’t be better if controlled by a human. This might also be why I’m more forgiving of the often dreaded 1 vs All genre. That Mysterium takes the 1vA formula and made it co-operative really impressed me. And it’s a blast to boot. I can’t believe how many people are saying it isn’t really co-operative or that it isn’t unthematic. If your players are not helping each other puzzle out the cards they’ve been given or trying to read the ghost player or asking the occasional yes or no question with an answer given in one or two knocks, you’re going about the game all wrong.

It does live or die by your group, more so than most games.
Posted: 22 Oct 2017 22:14 by Shellhead #256184
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The Mysterium game at the party was just okay. The clues were 50/50 cards from the game and real world objects obtained from thrift shops and estate sales. In theory, that sounds cool, but in actual practice, the real world objects offered less flexibility in terms of offering clues, at least compared to the evocative cards that come with the game.
Posted: 24 Oct 2017 11:03 by Egg Shen #256248
Egg Shen's Avatar
Shellhead wrote:
The Mysterium game at the party was just okay. The clues were 50/50 cards from the game and real world objects obtained from thrift shops and estate sales. In theory, that sounds cool, but in actual practice, the real world objects offered less flexibility in terms of offering clues, at least compared to the evocative cards that come with the game.

Yeah after reading about the real life version I thought it sounded pretty damn cool. However, I think one of the things that people really don't understand about Mysterium is just how tightly interwoven the abstracted vision cards are with the locations/weapons/suspects. It's almost the work of a mad genius as each vision is capable of offering clues. I can imagine handing out real world objects would wreck havoc on the balance of the game.

Did you play or just kind of observe?
Posted: 24 Oct 2017 11:39 by Shellhead #256252
Shellhead's Avatar
I did play at the party. An old friend was The Ghost, so I picked up on his people and location clues fast, though I struggled with the weapon clues. The real world objects were represented behind the screen as a stack on index cards. He did a mixture of normal clue and object clues, because he said it was really difficult matching up an object to a concept for a clue. Apparently this difficulty also slowed down the game a lot.

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