We Were Playing it Wrong: Mysterium

Myserium 2
Mysterium, by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko, 2015, Libellud, illustrated by Igor Burlakov and Xavier Collette, 2-7 Players

The Basics: Mysterium is a cooperative deduction and guessing game published by Libellud. It was one of the hottest games out of GenCon 2015. The game combines the whimsical artwork of Libellud’s smash-hit Dixit with nifty 1920s paranormal investigation aesthetic and cooperative gameplay. Mysterium was orginially published in 2013 by Portal Games under the name Tejemnicze Domostwo and had slightly different rules in that printing. The new version presents a high-quality artistic direction at the expense of adding new rules to the game, particularly the end, which are mostly kind of stupid and clunky. Mysterium succeeds despite these needless additions because it’s just that good of game…initially (see conclusion).

What We Did Wrong: Not a whole lot. One of the indicators of good design is that the rules aren’t complex enough for players to get many things wrong. In this, Mysterium is definitely a good design. That said, a couple of misread rules lead to two different mistakes. First, players receive their clairvoyancy tokens at the beginning of turn 4, not the end of turn 4. Second, the ghost may refill his hand between distributing clues to the psychics. Put another way, the ghost always has a hand of seven cards to distribute to the investigators.

As a side note, the second is an interesting mistake in that it makes the game harder. It’s far more common to make a mistake in a cooperative that makes the game easier (adding the wrong number of zombies in Dead of Winter, resolving an epidemic wrong in Pandemic, etc.) As another note, ghosts vary widely in size depending on what country you are in. Different international versions of the game allow the ghost to hold more or less cards in his or her hand, but in all versions that I am aware of the ghost refills his or her hand after distributing a clue to player.

Conclusion: Fine game. Strong game. Game of the year? Not even close. Heck, this isn’t even the best cooperative game that came out this year, let alone the best game overall. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t hold up all that well under repeated plays. A half-dozen or so plays in with the same group will see cards being continually recycled sometimes serving as an identical marker for the same suspect/location/weapon repeatedly or even consecutively. What this game needs is more cards and lots of them to assure repeat play, or for players to, as the publisher suggests, add even more red herrings to set-up to keep players guessing.

Some other aspects can’t be so easily controlled by buying additional game materials (which in any case isn’t an acceptable design strategy for a great game). Once players begin to catch on that weapons have a different colored back and that you can give, say, cards that are predominantly red then you are already pretty far down the road to perdition with this game. Players may also begin to realize that, hey there’s an awful lot of stone lions, boats, and red bobbins in these cards and plan their ghosting not around what they have but what they are likely to draw.

Like any good mystery, the first experience is the best experience. After that, it’s all downhill unless you keep introducing new players to the game. Still, it’s well worth playing.

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We Were Playing it Wrong: Mysterium