Buzzworthiness: Mystery

Thanks to Van Ryder Games for providing a review copy of Mystery.

I grew up reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I really loved making my own choices and seeing where the story went. Although, I will admit that I occasionally kept one finger on my current page and looked ahead to my choices to make sure I wasn’t about to die a horrible death.

Van Ryder Games, in association with Makaka Games, has been releasing a series of Graphic Novel Adventures, which are a lot like the CYOA books, except attempting to make more of a game out of the system. I haven’t had a chance to play one before, but now I have, so let’s take a look at

image by BGG user Hsart

Mystery is a Graphic Novel Adventure by Cédric Asna with art by Stivo. It’s a superhero story where the superhero known as Mystery is recruiting new heroes to help patrol Chicago. The game is presented as a hardcover comic book. You begin at the beginning, which sets up the story, and then you’ll be able to set up your character. You can choose your appearance from a few options given to you, or you can make your own. My almost six-year-old daughter created our hero, and named her Rainbow Star.

Rainbow Star!

You’ll get to assign two points to powers – Flight, Strength, Super-Senses, or Super-Rich. These can be split, or all put in one. Then, you’re given a map and told to do what you want, with a few locations only accessible to players of higher levels. Each location gives you a number. You find that panel in the book, find out what happens, and usually need to make other choices from there that will send you to more spots. Your goal is to build up your hero, and you need 100 Hero Points (HP) to get to Level One.

Other goals will emerge as you play, but I’m not going to tell anymore to avoid spoilers. I will mention that every now and then, you’ll encounter QR codes that, when scanned, give you some background information as well as a hint. These hints aren’t game solving. For example, one location’s hint tells you that you should visit a certain section of the location, but the other two sections are closed off to you unless you are at least Level One, so you’d probably go there anyway.

Mystery comes in a hardcover book, illustrated to look like a superhero comic. And it looks very nice and fun, with a family friendly feel to the artwork. There is some blood-spattering violence in the book, but it’s nothing terribly gruesome. Like a CYOA book, you’ll have choices to make, but you’re directed to a panel. There could be a number of different panels from different storylines, and you’ll just have to try to avoid spoiling yourself for what’s coming. This proved to be a challenge for my daughter who was playing with me. She spied some monsters in a panel, and worried over them for the rest of the time she was playing with me, even though they were from a much later story.

Overall, I do really like the format. There’s a lot of page flipping, which can be annoying, but it’s interesting to have this sort of non-linear storytelling going on. Often, I’d get directed to a panel that showed me doing something brief (like flying to the next location) before leading me to another panel. It was a little irritating, but it also helps give a sense of atmosphere and helped cut back on the finger-where-I-was-peeking-ahead thing.

Each level had its own story, which was a cool thing. In the beginning, you’re just trying to complete short tasks to get stronger. Later levels have mysteries to solve, and these were interesting. I especially liked the ones where I had to solve puzzles in order to get through.

But that leads to a really big problem I had with Mystery – leveling up. You have to have 100 HP to get to Level One, and Level One is where the fun of the game really starts because it becomes more focused. Many of the tasks you can do at Level Zero only get you 10 HP, and any wrong choices you make could lose you HP. My first time playing, I got stuck at 90 and couldn’t figure out any possible way to make any more. I restarted and easily made it to Level One, but that was not as exciting because I knew what to avoid and I knew what was happening. I think Mystery makes it too hard to level up, especially at the beginning. All these places are only accessible if you’re Level One or higher, and you have to search around until you find the spots that help you get those HP. And it’s not fun to have to start over because you made one too many wrong turns.

As I said, the game gets interesting in Level One because you get a single mystery to solve. Level Two has a new challenge, and Level Three of course is the big final event. But still, you have this HP thing weighing you down, and though there’s a bigger reward for completion of a storyline, you can find yourself with not enough HP to move on. So, I wish it was easier to level up, or at least that the possibility of losing HP was not as severe.

I cannot speak for all Graphic Novel Adventures. As mentioned, this is the first one I’ve played. I don’t know what’s different in others. And maybe having to go back and try again is part of the point, but it didn’t sit well with me. I do still really like the format, and am interested to try another – there’s all kinds of themes and levels of intensity out there, and maybe I’d enjoy another one more.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? There’s a lot I do like about Mystery – the puzzles, the art, the cases I’m working on. In the end, the HP system really didn’t work for me. When I made the choice to ignore it, I had a better time playing. I still made some wrong choices, but I didn’t feel the drowning despair that I had wasted a whole game session on something I now had no chance of winning. I look forward to checking out other Graphic Novel Adventures to see if they work better for me.

Speaking of which, Van Ryder is running a Kickstarter for the next set of GNA books in July. Here’s the preview link (which will update to the real link when the project launches) – please do check it out if you’re interested.

Thanks again to Van Ryder Games for providing a review copy of Mystery, and thanks to you for reading!


  1. I have to agree on the “too hard to level up” part at the beginning. Someone else noted in the BGG forums that one of the locations was colored in such a way that you wouldn’t go there, but … if you happened to go there anyway, you saw that it was a “starter” location after all. I’m still wondering if the powers/skills you choose at the beginning can make it impossible to advance if you choose the wrong combination. That would definitely take some of the fun out of it if so.

    In any case – I need to retry this at some point. My youngest kept saying that she was having no trouble, but I also suspect she was just going wherever she wanted along the way, ignoring the “level” aspect. 🙂 (But she had fun doing it)

    • The levels aspect helps you organize the game as there are distinct stories at each level. It’s just annoying to have to start over because you didn’t choose the right combination of things.

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