Buzzworthiness: Mysterium

Today, a game that has been getting a massive amount of buzz, yet has not even been released yet in English:

image by BGG user W Eric Man
image by BGG user W Eric Man
image by BGG user e1deno
image by BGG user e1deno

Mysterium is a Ukrainian game from designers Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko.  It was originally published by IGAMES in Russia, with an English edition due out later this year from Libellud.  It has been hailed as a mashup of Dixit and Clue, and I’ve been hearing an incredible amount of positive talk about it since BGG.con last November.  A friend got a copy last week, and I got to play it several times this past weekend.

The idea behind Mysterium is that there was a murder.  However, this murder was committed 100 years ago, and the previous inhabitant of this manor was executed unjustly for the crime.  Now his spirit is trying to help us find the true culprit and bring some peace to his afterlife, speaking us through dreams.

I don’t have a list of the components from the Ukranian edition, nor do I know what Libellud is going to include in the box.  However, the Polish edition (published by Portal Games) contains 84 dream cards; 58 investigator cards (location, item, character); 58 matching ghost cards; a calendar board; a calendar marker; 6 investigator boards; 6 investigation progress tokens; and 12 investigator markers.  The Ukrainian edition had some cool little crystal balls for each player, but they aren’t in the Portal edition.

At the start of the game, a number of items, locations, and characters are drawn from the investigator cards and laid out in the middle of the table.  This number is different based on the number of players and the level of difficulty you wish to play.  The ghost finds the matching cards from the ghost deck, then draws an item, location, and character for each player in the game.  These are kept secret, but the ghost can refer to them at any time.

Mysterium takes the place over seven rounds.  In the first round, players will be trying to deduce their item.  If you get that, you will be guessing the location in the next round, and then the character.  Players will likely be moving at different paces, so someone may be still guessing a item while someone else is on their location.  All must be guessed by the end of the sixth round in order to move on to the final round.  This means that if you haven’t guessed your item by the end of round four, you lose.  You certainly can move to the final stage early, though that never happened in my games.

During a round, the ghost has a hand of six cards.  He picks one or more to give to a player, then draws back up to six.  The ghost does have the ability to discard their hand and draw a whole new one, but this can only be done three times per game.  This is a cooperative game, so players can look at what the others have been given and help them to figure out what the ghost was trying to tell them.  The ghost may not speak during this phase.  Once all players have their dreams, everyone must decide which card they think best matches it.  Once everyone is locked, the ghost reveals whether a player was correct or incorrect.  If incorrect, the player keeps their previous dream cards.  If correct, the player turns them in an moves a progress marker up to the next level.

If all players have correctly guessed their item, location, and character before the seventh round, the final stage is entered.  The character cards are shuffled up by the ghost, and one is chosen at random.  This is the actual culprit.  The ghost then gives everyone a common dream – a card or cards that point you to the culprit.  If you are correct, you win.  If not, you keep the common dream cards and move on to the next round.  If Day 7 is over without the true culprit, the game ends in defeat.

image by BGG user alexnev
image by BGG user alexnev

COMPONENTS: As I mentioned, we played the Ukrainian edition which has some different components than the Polish edition, and who knows what the English edition will have.  I’m pretty sure that the main component in the game, the cards, will remain unchanged.  Each of the dream cards is illustrated with some kind of surreal picture that doesn’t necessarily make any sense when looked at alone.  You know, like a dream.  The art on these cards is very unique and dreamlike, and are quite nice to look at.  The nearest comparison I can make is to Dixit, but I’ll talk more about comparisons between the two later.  The locations, items, and locations are more clearly illustrated, but with several details that may or may not relate to the dream cards.  The calendar board is simply a way to track the day, with the seven highlighted in red to remind you that you need to find the final culprit or lose.

image by BGG user alexnev
image by BGG user alexnev

I wanted to bring up the crystal balls that serve as player markers in the Ukrainian edition.  They are really nice plastic, and a cool unique component that really sets the game apart.  As far as I know, these are not in the Polish edition, but they are in the Italian edition.  Here’s to hoping they find their way into the English edition as well.

THEME: This is a supernatural murder mystery.  Think Cold Case with ghosts.  The theme is fairly unique as you have a ghost communicating with the investigators via dreams.  The theme falls apart a little bit in the end – as the game begins, the ghost apparently just has suspects, but suddenly gains some clarity once the players have found out all the suspects.  I guess it’s a little bit like the classic reveal in the parlor in a lot of classic murder mysteries – you identify all the possible suspects and motives, then reveal all in one fell swoop.  Overall, I think the theme works to give you a frame for what you’re doing.

MECHANICS: This is a cooperative deduction game.  Unlike many deduction games, the clues are not provided by the game but have to be given by one player.  Also, unlike a lot of one-vs-all cooperative games, the one here is on your side, though they are playing a different game.  The players are trying to deduce the meaning of clues, but the ghost has to manage their hand and choose the best card(s) for each dream.

Players are allowed and encouraged to discuss what they’re thinking, but you have to be careful.  A quick story from a game I observed last weekend.  It was day six, and three people still had to find their characters.  One player’s dream was a snake charmer, and someone made the suggestion that it was a holy man, so he should go for the nun.  Everyone else at the table disagreed with him, and they ended up putting the marker on another character.  Sure enough, the correct answer was the nun for the exact reason as was stated.  I saw the ghost on Monday, and he was still upset about it.  This brings up another point about the game – the ghost has to remain silent.  Even if the players are completely (COMPLETELY) wrong, the ghost has to stay silent.  I never played as the ghost, but I can imagine the mental anguish involved there.

There’s not a lot going on mechanically.  But what is there does create an engaging experience.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The decisions to be made in are mostly made by the ghost.  He has to decide what cards to give to whom, what cards to reserve for a later clue, and when to nuke their hand for a new set.  For the investigators, it’s pure deduction – you just have to try to make the best decision about what to pair the clues with.  I probably would not call this a strategy game, but there is some reading of the players that needs to be done.  The ghost needs to make a determination of what will make the most sense to the investigators, and the investigators have to try to get inside the mind of the ghost.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a difficult game to learn.  I think it probably fits more into the next step category, particularly if you use Dixit as the gateway.  I do think this is a game that people can understand without too much extra help, the difficulty comes in actually connecting the dots during play.

SCALABILITY: This game is for 2-7 players, and it plays really well with more people.  BGG says it’s best with 4-5, but I’ve only played with 6-7.  There’s a nice little chart in the rules that scales down the number of cards available with each number of players, as well as difficulty levels.  The two player game involves one player as a ghost and the other playing two investigators.  I want to try it with fewer, but I still really like it with 6-7.  This speaks well to its scalability.

REPLAYABILITY: There’s a lot of replayability in this game.  There are 84 dream cards, and 19-20 possible locations, characters, and items.  Dreams come out at different times, so even when you start seeing dreams multiple times, you may see it with a different category.  This makes the game extremely variable.  Also, if you have Dixit, I’m sure it would be incredibly easy to integrate those cards as an unofficial expansion to really increase the variability.

INTERACTION: If you’re a ghost, you can’t speak.  Your turns have to be completed in silence.  For the other players, however, there’s a ton of interaction because you need to discuss your dreams and figure out your best guess.  It’s definitely a social game, just not if you’re the ghost.

FOOTPRINT: This game does take up some space as you have to have the items, locations, and characters all laid out throughout the game.  We managed to play a seven-player game around a four foot circular table, and fewer players would probably take up less space than that.

LEGACY: I’ve compared this game to Dixit several times.  They really are not very similar, but both have the same style of surrealistic art.  They also share a deduction element, though there are words in Dixit to go with the pictures.  I mentioned that Mysterium is a combination of Dixit and Clue, and I think that’s very apt.  The murder mystery of Clue mixed with the art of Dixit.  And I have to say that I think Mysterium is a better game than either of them.  I think it’s pretty cool that Libellud is handling the English distribution of Mysterium – they are the publishers of Dixit, and I wonder if they will be making a connection in their editions.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  All the praise you’ve been hearing is justified.  This is an incredible game, and already on my list of best new-to-me games of the year.  On my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, this game gets a solid

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

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