RogerBW's Blog

Mysterium 23 August 2017

Mysterium, designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko, is a co-operative game of deduction for 2-7 players.

OK, not really. You need at least four players to use the full mechanics, though it works well with more; the 2-3 player version is more of an introduction to the game, and I think not really worth playing once you know how it works.

One player is the ghost; this usually ends up being me. There's an unduly prolonged setup phase during which the ghost has to sort out matching cards from three decks and tuck them into the screen, because there are multiple separate murder mysteries being investigated, so each player will be trying to identify their own specific person, place and thing, and a few dummies are included too. (I'm hoping that having some deck boxes may make this step a bit easier to share among the players and do in parallel.) Once that's done, the game can begin.

For each player, the ghost silently gives a clue consisting of one or more vision cards drawn from a hand of seven, aiming to identify the specific person, place or thing that they're trying to guess. These are done in order, so as a player you know which thing you're trying to identify, and you have the possible answers in front of you. That doesn't necessarily make it easy, because the cards will always contain multiple colours and images: what the ghost thought was the really important thing (the tree indicates the gardener) may be completely different from what the player picks up (the toy train coming out of it indicates the toymaker).

Once everyone's made their guesses, the ghost indicates who was right (and they advance to the next stage); those who were wrong must try again next time. There's a limit of seven rounds, during which you have to get all three of person, place and thing; the sooner you do it, the more psychic points you get, which are useful in the endgame.

The main source of psychic points, though, is betting on other players' guesses: you have a supply of markers, and if you correctly bet on whether a specific players guess is right or wrong you get a psychic point. Markers don't come back to you until after round 4, so you'll run short of them. This part of the rules isn't used at all in the sub-four-player game, and I think the game is much poorer without it.

Players who are getting left behind benefit by having a smaller selection of cards to choose from: they shouldn't repeat their own incorrect guesses, and other players take their own correct guesses out of the tableau.

If everyone's got all three questions right by the end of the seventh round, the endgame happens (in practice, I usually play this phase anyway). Each player lays out their person-place-thing combination on the table, and the ghost chooses one of them to be the "correct" answer. Three individual cards make up the final clues, one to each of person, place and thing, but their order is randomised… and players who haven't got enough psychic points during the main game may only see one or two of them before they have to make their choice. If a majority of players gets the right answer, everyone wins.

There are some unfortunate possible game states: a player who's got to the end, and reached enough psychic points to see all three endgame cards, can't benefit any further, though they can assist other players. A player who's got comprehensively left behind may simply not have much fun knowing that he's causing everyone to lose.

But mostly it holds together. I prefer these vision cards to the Dixit ones that they somewhat resemble, and I am prone to describe this game as "like Dixit only with actual rules": there's more game here than there is in Dixit, and in particular with a limited set of possible answers I find it much more satisfying to play.

The box inlay is all right, I suppose, but doesn't do a great job of stopping components and especially card decks from drifting into each other, especially if the box has been stored vertically. I need to work on a new design for this, but I'm waiting for the next expansion before I commit anything to plastic.

One expansion, Hidden Signs, adds more cards but doesn't change gameplay. A new expansion, Secrets and Lies, is expected in October.

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  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 01:36pm on 23 August 2017

    I've played this with you twice, and enjoyed it both times. However, the time the players did it cooperatively and extensively discussed all options was much more fun than the time two of the players never uttered a word about their deductive processes. I have no idea which of those is the 'correct' way to play.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:42pm on 23 August 2017

    As far as I'm concerned, discussion is more fun for the players (and can be informative to the ghost too) and that's how I now encourage people to play. This also gives the really good player, who's already solved all their clues and got enough psychic points to see all the final-round cards, something to do.

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