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Unlock the Madness – A Mythos Tales Review

mythos-tales-board-game-boxDark Deeds are afoot in Arkham (as usual). Take on the role of Investigators under the tutelage of the Miskatonic University’s Professor Armitage, and see whether you can solve the mystery, and retain your sanity as you do, in Mythos Tales.

Mythos Tales builds on a very similar foundation to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and if you’re not familiar with that game, I’d recommend checking out our review of it first, as I’ll be drawing a lot of comparisons between the two games in this review.

Mythos Tales: what’s in the box?

mythos-tales-board-game-contentsMythos Tales has no dice, no player tokens, in fact very little of anything besides sheets of paper and books – it’s up to you to put those resources to good use in order to solve the mystery.

Before your first game, you’ll need to read through the rule-book, which also contains a handy quick-reference guide to some generic sources of information in Arkham – the hospital, police station, library, or speakeasy, for example. Once you have the basics clear, you turn to the case book.

mythos-tales-board-game-mapThe case book is the heart of a game of Mythos Tales, containing the stories that drive the game. Each of the 8(?) Mysteries are structured in broadly the same way: an introduction, a series of encounters, a list of questions/answer and scores, and finally the solution.

Aside from the case book, as investigators you also have at your disposal a map of Arkham, a copy of the day’s Newspaper, and a Directory of the town. There is also a board to keep track of time, which marks both how far you have got, and your deadline for returning to Professor Armitage.

Sounds good – what do we do?

mythos-tales-board-game-art2As mentioned above, each case in Mythos Tales begins with a short prose introduction, in which Professor Armitage outlines a mystery or unsolved crime to you: generally he’ll provide a narrative introduction, a broad assessment of how long he thinks that case will take to solve, and the invitation to go off and crack the case.

Players of Mythos Tales must then set out to solve the mystery. You decide which place you wish to visit, check from the map or directory what the reference number for that place is, then turn to that entry in the case book, and read what you find there.

Hopefully, the paragraphs you read in the first few leads you follow will lead you on to further leads, and gradually the mystery will unfold.

mythos-tales-board-game-papersEventually, you will either run out of time, or decide that you have accumulated enough evidence to understand what is going on – this is when you proceed to the question and answer part of the game.

In the final part of a game of Mythos Tales, the players will have to answer a series of questions: these are generally based on the information you will have accumulated, although a working knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos may well help you fill in some blanks. Once you have answered the questions you check the answers, scoring marks for correct answers – you will then compare the number of locations you visited to Professor Armitage, losing points if you have visited more spaces than him, and arriving at a final total: this will generally breakdown into “excellent” (possibly accompanied by a “how about we make it harder for you next time?”) “not bad” or “oh dear, maybe you need some more help next time.”

Arkham and London: Spot the difference

mythos-tales-board-game-time-tracker

The Time (Hourglass) Marker advances each time you change location – X marks your deadline for solving the case.

As I’ve already mentioned, the mechanics of Mythos Tales borrow very heavily from Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. That said, the two games are not without their differences. For one thing, Mythos Tales, has slightly more going on in the way of components: rather than simply noting how many entries you read, Mythos Tales uses a time marker to track your travels around the city: this allows them to simply leave certain places blank in a particular case, which means that it counts against you for time (you still spent the morning travelling there and back), but not for the total number of locations you are considered to have viewed when the game ends and are totalling up your score.

Part of the reason it’s necessary to distinguish between the number of locations visited in Mythos Tales and the amount of time spent visiting, is that you might want to revisit a particular Arkham locale. In Sherlock, locations are basically a 1-and-done: whatever point you arrive there, you will read the exact same thing, which can be somewhat confusing if you visit locations in a different order to what the designers have in their heads.

mythos-tales-board-game-requirementsIn Mythos Tales by contrast your visit to a particular location can change, depending on a number of different factors. Some locations, for example, will direct you to supplemental encounters if you arrive at a particular time of day: perhaps additional information (and additional perils) for those who arrive at night. Mythos Tales also introduces the concept of “Requirement Cards” – one encounter may say “Take Requirement Card 1” and another location will then say “if you have Requirement Card 1, turn to page X, and read supplemental encounter Y” Some people have found this slightly frustrating, or said that it breaks the spell of being immersed in the narrative, but I really liked it as an innovation, it added to the sense of realism in suggesting that a single place may offer different insights to different people, depending on what they already know: all things considered, I felt like it added far more than it took away.

What’s the Look? Strictly Gothic

mythos-tales-board-game-art1bSherlock puts a lot of effort into capturing the aesthetic of Victorian London, complete with a heavily stylised font that can be quite hard to read at times. Mythos Tales makes similar efforts to ingrain itself into the Cthulhu Mythos, with a few conscious nods to the pulp horror origins of the setting. There is generally a bit more colour to the illustrations and the fonts are cleaner and easier to read.

In the first few scenarios of Mythos Tales, the error-count in the text is pleasingly low, and I had a glowing review drafted after 3 games. Sadly once you hit scenario 4, things fall apart: the questions for this scenario are inexplicably on a separate card, not in the book (the card is particularly weird – it reads as if it somehow ties all the scenarios together, but in fact refers only to number 4 and isn’t supposed to be read ahead of playing that particular mystery).

mythos-tales-board-game-qs4

If you see this card, put it back in the box, and don’t look at it until the END of the 4th mystery!

The Book itself for this case is riddled with errors: mis-prints in the text, vital pieces of information missing entirely, and locations listed or shown incorrectly on the map or in the directory. Worst of all, the scenario introduces a new mechanic “dreaming” for which the rules are given incorrectly.

All of these things can be found in the Errata that has been uploaded to Board Game Geek page for Mythos Tales, but we didn’t look there until we got to the end and couldn’t find the questions, by which time we’d already done the whole scenario playing dreams wrong. If you’re reading this ahead of buying the game, and can send a relatively cautious scout to fetch the errata, it’s still playable, but for us, it really soured the experience.

Losing your Mind? It’s always a risk.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a real Lovecraftian Game if there isn’t at least a slight chance to go mad. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu has you roll dice to lose sanity, whilst most of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files range give you tiny cardboard brains which can be lost to game effects. Despite taking a much more word-based approach, Mythos Tales does not depart too far from these ideas, and you will find that visiting particular locations, possibly at specific times, will lead to encounters with things that man was not meant to see. This can lead to an end-of-game score penalty, reflecting that loss of sanity, or even a time penalty mid-game as you black out, or need rest/treatment.

Aside from feeling like a good thematic call, I really liked this element of Mythos Tales as it means that a poor choice of encounter can leave you suddenly short on time, rushing to find some final scraps of information before the clock runs out, and this helps give the game tension, and reduce any sense of complacency that might occur.

Compulsive Reading? Or things man was Not Meant To Know?

mythos-tales-board-game-art3All things Lovecraft are making lots of waves in our house right now (over the past 3 days we’ve played Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, Mythos Tales and Arkham Horror LCG), and this slotted right in, a welcome inclusion in the range. If you like the story-based, choose-your-own-adventure style of game, it seemed hard to find a reason not to.

As with Sherlock, Mythos Tales has very limited re-play value: once you’ve completed a story, there’s little chance of being able to play that one again without simply remembering most of the answers, but we knew that going in. The designers have indicated that they have expansions planned, both in terms of new cases, and in terms of extra mechanics incorporated within those cases (there are some tokens in the base box that don’t actually get used, and are just there to provide future-proofing).

Overall I think that Mythos Tales is easier than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and I think that’s a good thing – too often in Sherlock, it feels like Sherlock has just made giant intellectual leaps, rather than actually following a clear path through the encounters in the case book. The overall premise of Mythos Tales, where you are a sort of junior partner of Armitage’s, working to solve the same case together feels more coherent than the odd situation where you are sent to solve a case that Sherlock can’t be bothered to attend to right now – only to discover that he has solved the case anyway!

A working knowledge of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos generally will definitely help you at times in Mythos Tales – for example knowing the monster associated with a particular Ancient One, or the Ancient One associated with a particular place can make a mystery easier to solve – but you can play without this, and still enjoy the game.

As I noted before, until we reached the car-crash of scenario 4, I was all ready to give this a ringing endorsement. As it is, I think I have to go for a much more cautious recommendation: Mythos Tales has some great gameplay in it, but the errors feel sloppy, and verge on game-breaking without the errata.

Overall, I’d rate this one a 7 out of 10 – provided you find the errata before getting too far through it. It makes me a little sad that they couldn’t have caught these issues prior to print and given us a really excellent game, but there’s still a fair amount of potential enjoyment in the Mythos Tales box. 

5 (100%) 1 vote
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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