Cooperative, interpretation, hand management,
Designer: Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko
Artists: David Richards, Fernanda Suarez, Peter Wocken
Number of Players: 2-7
Playing time: 45-60 minutes
Mysterium is a cooperative game where one player acts as a ghost who can only communicate through bizarre dream-like visions. The other players must interpret these visions in order to find the ghost's killer. The game is a reimplementation of a 2013 Polish board game called Tajemnicze Domostwo, and shares a lot of similarities with the French game Dixit. Mysterium is easily one of my favorite games of the year, and quite possibly in my top 10 of all time. Even though it came out in 2015, I didn't get a chance to play it until Dice Tower Con 2016, and I instantly fell in love with it. I had the chance to introduce it to people at Dragon Con 2016, and we got to enjoy two games of it during Geekundspiel's Extra Life 2016 game day.
On December 13th, 1894, one of the manservants of the Count of Warwick was found murdered after a costume party for the Count's daughter. The death was ruled an accident, and no charges were made. The next Spring, the Count of Warwick and his family moved out of their mansion, which was quickly purchased by clan MacDowell, a wealthy Scottish noble family. Over twenty years later, Conrad MacDowell returned from the Great War to his family manor, only to pick up on a supernatural presence lurking in the home. As it turns out, the manservant wasn't killed in an accident... he was murdered! Conrad himself is a clairvoyant who specializes in crystal-gazing, but he soon realizes that his powers aren't strong enough to let him contact the ghost... at least not by himself. So on Halloween, 1922, Conrad asks his fellow psychic mediums to visit his home and help him commune with the spirit. His guests include Alphonse Belcour (French numerologist), Alma Salvador (Spanish pendulum diviner), Ardhashir (Ottoman talisman psychic), Madam Wang (Chinese bibliomancer), and Jessalyn Smith (American tarot reader).
Unfortunately, the ghost is not as strong as he once was, and can not send full messages to the psychics. Instead, he is limited to projecting visions that may contain clues as to the identity, location, and item used to murder him. The psychics must work together to interpret the ghost's images within seven hours, or else they will lose contact and have to wait another year to speak with the spirit.
In Mysterium, the ghost player sits behind a game screen that has three separate slots for up to six other players, or psychics. Each psychic has a subsequent person, place, and object that they need to discover separately from the others. The players see several options before them on the table, along with a few red herring cards that don't correspond to anyone (the number of these change depending on the difficulty). Each turn, the ghost hands out vision cards to each player by selecting one that he believes best matches the person/place/thing assigned to that psychic. For example, one vision card might have several keys on it, and so they'll give that card to the psychic whose person has a key in their artwork. However, none of the vision cards match up perfectly, and they're all open to interpretation. At no point can the ghost talk or do anything but hand out the cards and indicate whether or not a guess is correct.
The psychics start with the suspect cards, and cannot move on to the location cards until they've correctly identified their person. Likewise, they cannot move to the murder weapon until they've discovered the location. The players can discuss and suggest their thoughts, but once the last vision card is handed out, the ghost activates the timer and everyone must place their intuition tokens on their choices before the timer runs out. Afterwards, the ghost will indicate who was correct and who was wrong.
The psychics have a tool they can use to help them towards the end of the game, and that is a collection of "clairvoyancy tokens" with red X's and green check marks. The psychics can place as many of these as they want next to other player's tokens to indicate whether they agree with them or not. For each guess they get correct, they can move up on a clairvoyancy track, which will help them later by giving them more options during the special final round.
If any player is unable to guess their person, location, and object within seven turns, everyone loses the game. If they are successful however, the ghost picks one psychic's cards to be the true murderer, and a final round begins where players secretly vote for the identity of the culprit. The ghost will lay out three vision cards, but can only reveal a certain number based on where they are on the clairvoyancy track, which is why it's important to use them all and try to get as high on the track as possible. For example, if the red player has his marker on 2, he'll get to see two of the final ghost cards, whereas blue, who only has his marker on 1, can see only the first one.
This game pulls a lot of influence from one of my all-time favorite games, Dixit, another Asmodee classic. In fact, the Mysterium vision cards are the same size and style as Dixit cards and could easily be used in conjunction with the game, allowing for a wider variety of vision options. Like Dixit, this game rewards players who have an understanding of who they're playing with, and it requires a high level of empathy to be successful. Mysterium is not a game of numbers, conflict, or heavy mechanics, and is more at home with those who enjoy social deduction games and thinking creatively. That being said, it has found high accolades from all sorts of gamers.
The two types of roles in the game are both equally fun to play and challenging in their own ways. The ghost has to balance up to 6 different players, and even with a smaller number this can be difficult to manage. It gets even trickier when you're trying to match blue's object and yellow's location, yet red is still on their person. Meanwhile, playing as the psychics presents its own challenges, as you need to pay attention to your own clues as well as everyone else's. You need to listen, consider, suggest, and eventually decide whether to follow other's suggestions or stick to your gut choices. The tension on either side is palpable as the ghost hears every bit of discussion but cannot respond while the psychics argue amongst themselves. It's a fun kind of stressful, and creates gaming moments that players will remember for some time.
Below are two videos taken on Twitch and uploaded to YouTube of Team Geekundspiel playing Mysterium during the Extra Life 2016 Game Day on November 5th. Please note that these are not professional quality, but rather life-streamed and unedited.