Captain Peacock, in the Kitchen…
Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a “dangerous liaison” between Dixit and Cluedo? Mysterium of course!
Dixit is the well-known party game where players have to decide which of several cards of abstract imagery belonged to the story-teller player at the start of each round, after the story-teller gives them a verbal clue to help them decide. Mysterium is similar to a point, but has it’s own fantastic twist on this abstract imagery theme. One player has to play as the ghost, and the other players are paranormal investigators. Your role as the ghost is to get the investigators to work out who killed you, and how and where they did it, by giving them clues using the image cards you have in your hand. Similarly, your role as the investigator is to try and work out the clue you’re given and bring the killer to justice within 7 hours; as this is when you have all managed to pierce the veil to the other side and are communicating with the victim.
Check out my balls! (the crystal ones)
Mysterium was actually previously released in Poland as a game called Tajemnicze Domostwo, and this was the game I saw which got me excited enough to make Mysterium the only board game (so far) I have ever pre-ordered. The components of the original were OK looking, but nothing really special. The components for Mysterium however, are on another plane of existence…
The 2 biggest differences are that in Mysterium you get a game screen for the ghost (in the original you just had your cards face down on the table) to keep tabs on which person killed who, where and how, and instead of having small markers to signify your decisions, you get crystal ball tokens. It adds a nice touch to the theme of being Clairvoyants trying to solve a mystery. The rounds are also counted down on a broken clock which only shows 7 hours and is thematically creepy. All of the cards and the multitude of card components you receive are of a good quality and the game feels pretty sturdy because of it.
The biggest and most important part of Mysterium is the art. You have cards; lots of cards. 18 characters, 18 locations and 18 implements of death to choose from, and 84 vision cards which the ghost uses for hints. The art for the character cards is pretty standard fare, if a bit more gothic feeling than normal character cards. The characters are after all potential murderers which you’re waiting to uncover. It’s much the same thing for the object cards; after all it must be really difficult to make a knife look pretty.
However, the location cards and the vision cards are absolutely phenomenal. Below is a small selection of them, but they’re all so good that it’s hard to do them justice. It will also give you an idea of the challenge you will face during the game by trying to use the vision cards as hints as to what was the cause of your untimely demise.
How do you play Mysterium? Not easily! Luckily, there is a scaling of difficulty and you can start by playing on easy and ramp up the difficulty (and tension) as you go along. One thing which is worth a mention is that I have thus far only played the game with a maximum of 3 players and there are extra rules for playing Mysterium with more than 3 people. The changes in difficulty adjust the amount of suspects and locations which you have to guess from and also on occasion, the ghost player will get an entire hand of useless cards. These can be discarded and re-drawn once a turn on easy difficulty, 3 times per game on medium difficulty, and just once per game for hard.
Playing as the ghost in Mysterium can be immensely satisfying; especially if you can get the investigators on your wavelength. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be had when someone picks up the clues you’re giving quite quickly. That being said it can be exceptionally difficult to keep a straight face when someone just doesn’t get it. “No! It’s a knife! Not a bunch of flowers you plum!”. Be prepared to think a lot like that, and also struggle to be able to keep a straight face when people make bad decisions. I have spent a lot of time as the ghost doing a pretty epic style facepalm. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t any pressure on you and you had as much time as you needed, but you only have 7 hours (that’s game rounds, not actual hours before you worry) to get the investigators to work out what happened to you.
Playing as the psychic investigators can also be just as rewarding or full on frustrating. The artwork, despite being beautiful can also be ambiguous and easily misconstrued. For example, your friendly ghost could give you 3 vision cards which they think would signify a garden but through over analysis, guess work and on occasion sheer panic you could decide that it’s actually a bathroom, stake your claim on it and then feel completely inadequate when it’s wrong. Coupled with the fact that you only get a yes or no answer from the ghost and no other help, it can be soul destroying… but all part of the fun!
Post Mortem Analysis Paralysis
This brings me nicely to the only problem I have with Mysterium. It’s a game which needs to be played with different people as often as possible. If you play with the same people all of the time then you start to be able to guess what the ghost is trying to “say” all of the time thus making the game stale and a bit easy no matter how difficult you make it for yourself.
I think Libellud also realised that this could happen and that the game was being neglected on peoples shelves, and to combat this have made an expansion! Yaaaaaaaaaaay! The expansion is called Mysterium: Hidden Signs and is meant to include 6 new characters, 6 new weapons, 6 new locations and 42 new vision cards, however, since it’s the first print run of Hidden Signs they have included promo cards from the original game. So you get 7 characters, 7 locations and you should have 7 new weapons. The copy I received from Games Quest also had a 4th promo card and I am definitely going to try and use it as soon as possible. It’s a Meeple! How awesome would that be? Death by Meeple!
As with the base game, there is more of what anyone would come to expect from Mysterium: fantastic artwork. The new characters look suitably shifty;
The new locations look suitably creepy;
The new weapons look suitably… well, weapon-like;
And the vision cards look beautiful.
One observation I did make though, is that all of the new vision artwork seems a lot brighter and cheerier than the vision cards in the base game. I don’t usually play favourites in games (it makes the other ones jealous) but I do have 2 cards I instantly was in awe of from the picture below. One is the Pink Floyd-esque invisible man in the bottom left and the other is the “paint me like your French girls” SNOWMAN (yes snowman) in the top right:
Should Mysterium stay hidden?
I am a little less than impartial on this question. I have always been enamored by the theme and the idea of Mysterium and have had several great plays of it. It came close to making my top 10 gateway games but was left off as it can be a little thematically heavy compared to the games which did make it. That aside, I really like Mysterium and writing this review has made me realise that I wasn’t avoiding it, but had gotten a little bored playing with the same people and cards so Hidden Signs has become a breath of fresh air for me and my gaming group. I have scheduled in a play very soon to try out Hidden Signs and to see how much more versatility 42 less morose looking vision cards will make.
Mysterium is a fantastic game on it’s own and Hidden Signs is not something that would be an essential expansion, but is a definite purchase for someone who has played a lot of Mysterium and needs to shake things up a bit.
If you think either Mysterium or Hidden Signs could be for you then check them out at your friendly local game shop:
Hidden Signs: https://www.gamesquest.co.uk/new-releases/hidden-signs-expansion-mysterium-board-game/
For more information about either of them, then check out their website or the game on Board Game Geek:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.