Mysterium Review – Far From Dead
Mysterium is one of those games that really makes an impression. We first played it in the Thirsty Meeples café in Oxford back in 2016, and immediately it was one we added to the list. Since then it has been a firm favourite and one we break out fairly regularly.
Since buying it we have played it with friends, parents, colleagues, grandparents, cousins siblings, bosses, and whole swathes of other groups who all seem to have enjoyed it. It seems to appeal to most.
Today, I thought we would look at a Mysterium review. What is more, keeping in mind the constantly changing gaming landscape, I thought we would look at whether it stands up today the same it did a couple of years ago. Let’s do this.
The Premise of Mysterium
Mysterium has a really interesting premise as a board game. You, the players, each play the part of occult specialists attending a seance in a haunted Scottish mansion. The mansion is haunted by the ghost of a murdered soul – one who is wanting to help the psychics, mystics, and mediums around the table find out who it was who murdered them. This done through the use of dreams and dream analysis.
To people unfamiliar with the game, we often describe it as:
Like Cluedo…if Cluedo was good.
Where I realise that isn’t the most descriptive affiliation of the game, it also kind of encapsulates this gaming gem. To describe it in a more mechanical sense – Mysterium is a semi-cooperative pattern recognition game, with hand management and a lot of “no, you’re wrong, that one is mine, that other one is yours” moments.
How To Play Mysterium
During the game, one player will be playing the ghost, with up to six other players playing mediums. The game takes part over seven rounds.
Each person will be allocated one murderer, one location, and one murder weapon that only the ghost knows, placed behind one of the coolest DM-esque screens in history. The ghost then receives a hand full of dream cards and must guide each player to their murderer/location/weapon through dealing them one card each (like the above). It is up to the player to interpret that card how he or she deems fit.
So, how is this done?
The board is set up with six murderers, six locations, and six murder weapons (although this can vary depending on the number of players). The players each take control of a small crystal ball, representing their medium, and place it above the murderers. The ghost takes a hand of cards, and deals them out one after the other to the players, with each picture representing a murderer. A timer is flipped, and the players then work together to figure out who is who.
Once a medium thinks they know who their murderer is (there’s a strange sentence) they place their crystal ball on the character card. Other players get the chance to vote on whether they think it is right or wrong using small arrows (as pictured below), and if they are right they get a point towards the end of the game.
Those votes are then taken away from them until round four, when they get them back. No, players cannot vote on their own crystal ball.
Once the time has run out, the ghost announces who is correct (the only thing the ghost can say, leaving aside the occasional atmospheric “woOoOo”), and the players either pick up their card/murderer, moving on to the locations (followed by the weapons) and discarding their dream card, or they keep their dream card and remain on that round. Their next card will build on their previous one to give a more holistic image.
By the end of the seven rounds, all players need to have recognised their person, location, and murder weapon.
The Role of the Ghost
It is the role of the ghost to guide the players towards their associated clues using a hand of dream cards.
If, at any point, the ghost wants to burn their hand because they have no decent dream cards, then they put a crow on the top of their screen. They can only do this a maximum of three times in a medium difficulty game (there are various rules as to how difficult you want to play the game).
The ghost has to be silent (bar the occasional “woOoOo” and groan), and guide the best they possibly can through the cards. It is in their interest to help the players identify their pictures. They need to be as astute as possible, thinking how the players think and working with them to expose the villains behind the crime.
You may be sat there thinking “yes, but there is only one ghost – how can one person be murdered six times”? In which case, you would then be interested in phase two.
Remember that I mentioned points earlier on? Every time a player votes (and gets it correct) they get a point. The points each player earns through voting comes in handy towards the end of the game.
At the end of the game, the players each line their murder cards up in order. The ghost selects one set at random to be the official murder, and deals up to three cards into the centre of the table one at a time. The points determine after which card the players vote on the murder they think is the official one.
- 0-4 points – The player votes after one card.
- 5-6 points – The player votes after two cards.
- 7< – The players vote after three cards.
Those cards are generic dreams for the whole murder, and so could reference the murderer, location, or weapon (or all three for the particularly ambitious) making it one heck of a challenge.
Needless to say, come the voting the players are no longer working together. After everyone has voted the votes are revealed and the winners are crowned victorious.
What Is It Like Playing Mysterium?
Mysterium is a deceptive game. On one side, it looks almost childish with its pattern recognition, and yet, on the other side of things, it is a dark and difficult puzzle for up to seven players.
Mysterium is, at its heart, simply superb. It has formed the basis of a cooperative social deduction game and is utterly unique in how it approaches the gameplay. There is nothing more satisfying than working together to figure out who your murderer/location/weapon are only to have the ghost confirm your suspicion at the end. Due to the symbolism, due to the level of difficulty in the artwork, due to the millions upon millions of ways of approaching each picture, Mysterium is a great bonding exercise. It helps bring people together, ensuring they are on the same wavelength, in order to complete the game.
And, I think, that is Mysterium’s greatest strength. Mysterium is a community game – granted it has a dark theme – but as a game it bonds people, it helps unite them, and this is something so few games do without also alienating another player. It straddles the line between being a social deduction game and a collective experience.
There are so many strengths to Mysterium that it is almost futile to even try to name them all – but I shall try to name a few more. It is a beautiful and atmospheric game. The artwork (by Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette, Oleksandr Nevskiy, and Oleg Sidorenko) is simply stunning, so much so we actually wish we could get prints for our walls. The game components are of incredible quality, and even the box insert has been well thought through. From a user experience perspective, Mysterium is something to be rivaled. It is perfect for new gamers as an entry-level game, as well as perfect for families as well (although young kids may be put off the theme).
Of course, it is also really easy to underestimate the role of the ghost in Mysterium. It is too easy to review the game and say that the role of the ghost is a simple one. Yes, in some ways it is – their actions are limited, either dealing out cards or burning hands each turn. That being said, it is also incredibly complex. The ghost has their screen, and behind the screen every card and murder combo – however, they need to stay on the ball. They need to analyse and really think about the cards they are giving out. That can be difficult.
What is more – Mysterium is not really one of those games that gets easier the more you play it. Yes, you may find your group starting to think on the same wavelength after a few games, but the challenge is always a real one. This is because it is not really a game about analysing cards, but rather about analysing how another human being thinks.
As a gaming experience, Mysterium is, I have to say, near perfect. It is rare that someone suggests it and we don’t think it is a great idea to play. What is more, there are a couple of expansions now, and they do add more variety. If you do ever feel like you’ve had enough then put it down for a couple of months – due to the sheer variety of the cards, the game will feel brand new when you pick it up again.
Of course, as with all things, there are similar games out there. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is one such game that I bundle with Mysterium. This isn’t because they are hugely alike, but rather because they have a similar feel. That being said, there is no reason not to have both on your gaming table. Mysterium is a classic and deserves to be played and owned by everyone.
On Mysterium: Review and TL;DR
I’m going to keep this conclusion really short and sweet. Mysterium is one of my favourite games of all time. I adore it because I really enjoy quirky games. It is easy to see the love that went into crafting the game, and easy to love what they do with a few very simple mechanics.
For me, Mysterium is a classic.
So, what do you think? Do you enjoy Mysterium? Have you played it? Do you want to play it? What are your thought? Let me know in the comments below.