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.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Mysterium

Session Report: November 4th, 2015

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Last night was a regularly scheduled board game night at a friend’s house. The X-Men, comprised of Colossus, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, Prof. X, Wolverine, Bishop, and Gambit gathered round for some gaming.

We started with Justin Gary’s latest design, Bad Beets.

bad beets
Bad Beets by Justin Gary, Stoneblade Entertainment.

Gary, along with Stoneblade Entertainment, are justifiably famous for creating Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, which is one of the great deckbuilding games alongside Dominion, Star Realms (designed by Gary’s old magic buds Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle), and Eminent Domain.

Bad Beets, which will be the subject of a future We Were Playing It Wrong article, is a quick little party game that feels like it was designed to be played in between rounds at a magic GP or before your server brings out your burger. Colossus, Prof. X, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Bishop managed to get three games in while waiting for the rest of the team to get back from their mission to Genosha.

Game one went to Bishop and Nightcrawler simultaneously as one of them fed three beets to a poor dog and the other responded by immediately feeding two beets to the equally-pitiful cat. Game two went to Colossus following a well-timed Tattletale, and in game three Prof. X followed up a telepathic tattletale with a timely dog feeding.

The X-Men, now joined by Jean Grey and Gambit, turned their attention to one of GenCon’s biggest hits, Mysterium by Libellud. Mysterium was so hyped it even got a movie poster

Mysterium by Oleg Sidorenko and Oleksandr Nevskiy, Libellud

Originally published in 2013 under the name Tejemnicze Domostwo by the Polish company Portal Games, it’s now being released by the Poitiers-based Dixit juggernaut Libellud and the results are fantastic. Combining the strong production values Libellud is known for with the clever mechanics of the game itself, this game was enough to turn a circumspect team of mutants into a team of enthusiastic ghost-hunters. Unfortunately, however, Mysterium will also be the subject of a future We Were Playing It Wrong post. 

Mysterium is an asymmetrical co-op; one player plays the ghost dropping clues as to the details of a heinous crime and the rest are paranormal investigators trying to interpret the clues to figure out the whodunit. Colossus Continue reading “Session Report: November 4th, 2015”

Session Report: November 4th, 2015