Last Sunday I was murdered. A murder most foul. I could not remember who killed me but I remembered some shards. People’s faces , items and some locations. But as I reached out to tell my close ones of my demise I could not utter a word. Luckily four mediums came along. Hopefully I could communicate with them. As I stretched my tentacles out to reach them from the afterlife in desperation I knew the clock was ticking.
The premise as described above is basically the setting in which we play Mysterium.
A game designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy & Oleg Sidorenko, thank the one horned god I get to type these names instead of pronouncing them.
One player takes on the role of a recently murdered ghost and the other players play mediums.
Working together they try to solve the crime. How this is done gameplay wise can be best described as Clue, or Cluedo for us European’s meets Dixit. The players have to find the correct murder weapon , identify the right suspect and the room it all happened in. The game is build out of two phases. In the first phase every medium has a different vision leading to a different suspect, a unique weapon and their own location.
Trough corresponding cards and a sort of dm screen the ghost player links suspects items and locations to each medium. This is done in three stages, first the medium identifies the suspect, then the location and finally he or she can address the issue of the murder weapon.
To do this they communicate with the ghost, but the ghost player can not talk or even make that much sense. He or she has to relay the message through fantastic imaginary cards. Each round of guessing moves a clock forward and if it reaches the end the murderer will get away. It is weird to combine something as down to earth as Clue with something abstract like Dixit yet somehow it works wonderfully well. The level of weird really contributes to the communicating with the supernatural feeling.
Spirit on Spirits
The artstyle of this game is very compelling, on there is the 20’s looking design on characters, weapons and locations and then there is the beautiful art on the cards, which for the most feel very fairytale like.
From Arabian Night to Alice in wonderland, we even have a rat with a hat and things that can not possibly be described. It all is beautiful and totally weird, as it adds to the mystery of it all. But the vision cards are also all quite light and cheerful, sure there are some gloomy cards but most of them are very happily themed. If I was an actual ghost, which I actually might be but that’s another story, I would not communicate my murder in the form of a ball of sunshine if I wanted to depict the sun I would use a fiery ball of hell or something, cause I would be upset that I died..hence I am trying to help with solving my murder. I am not trying to be nitpicky here, but I am usually quite the cheerful little octopus, I’d stick a unicorn sticker on my best friends wheelchair or cast to cheer it up, yet to communicate from beyond with a rainbow is even a bridge too far for me.
The whole flavor of the game seems to be Mysterium’s greatest weakness anyway. This game just begs to be screamed by candlelight with seancy music playing in the back. A poorly lit room, the scent of incense and possibly a crystal ball on the table would make this game so much more powerful. However in a poorly lit room the art of the vision cards really takes a tumble and it might be hard to focus on the tiny details the ghost meant as a main clue. On a more positive note there are a lot of vision cards to relay your message and a lot of suspects and the other stuff to choose from. Greatly contributing to replayability as the number of combinations is endless. Sometimes your vision cards are way to abstract for the right situation though, mainly because you are slightly dependent on RNG in the form of the 7 cards you draw. At one moment in the game I ended up with a bad hand and It seemed like the ghost suddenly found the bottle of whiskey hidden behind that wall she can now move through. Luckily the game introduces some mechanics to counter bad draws and the general RNG effect of the game. Other Mediums can help their fellows or gain power on gambling on the others success in a way.
These “extra” rules balance out the game and turn it into a very playable and likeable game even if the flavoring doesn’t fully meet expectations.
Mysterium is a great game to play, it’s about knowing your friends and them knowing you. I had a very literary educate friend in my game and I used that to guide his hand. For example his murder weapon was a pocketwatch. I played a hole full of Rabbits and he knew his murder weapon straight away, because earlier in the game he deduced that I played a card that referred to one of his favorite books, so he knew his location was the library. It felt totally felt great the way I was understood.I love playing these sorts of games where you have to look in each other’s mind, but this is a hard skill that doesn’t come to everyone.
For the less empathically skilled Mysterium can be quite obnoxious to play. If you live in your own world and your friends are similar I can easily see medium’s getting frustrated for not getting what their ghost means. I can easily imagine a salty player making more mistakes due to their lack of focus. An frustrated medium can’t concentrate.The tight timer on this game would not do them any good. So as solid as this game is this is definitely not a game for everyone. This is a party game where you also need at least a half decent brain to interpret your ghost, sure you can dumb it all down by referring to every card by colour or general shape but for me that would be missing the point. I have many friends who love board-games so I have been recently spending a lot of money on those. Yet Mysterium is a bit of a risky game to buy. I have about ten friends I can play boardgames with regularly, but I would only enjoy playing Mysterium with about four of them. I would deeply enjoy it in fact but if we play this game too often you get this synergy as a group that keeps getting this game easier. Again the game cleverly solves this partially by adding several levels of difficulty but like a single match itself, this game has a time limit. Then again I could just try and make some new friends. Just to see them getting murdered!