Murder mystery games are always popular, especially on dark and stormy nights when the atmosphere is just right. After all, who doesn’t like a good murder mystery? Well, the victim, obviously, but no one’s asking them, right?
This is one of the most popular pop culture genres out there. From books to movies, the genre has captivated its audience due to its atmosphere, and it’s no different in the board game community. In this Mysterium review, I’ll try to convey the game’s atmosphere while explaining the core mechanics and why you may enjoy it.
|Playing time:||less than an hour|
|Number of players:||2 to 7|
- Fantastic art style
- Party game
- Simple and fast
- Dull for experienced board gamers
Mysterious or Mysterium Atmosphere
Mysterium starts building on the ambiance from the moment you lay your eyes on the box art. Dark and foggy night, a lonely mansion on the top of the hill, and a single car going to it without a soul in sight. What can go wrong? Luckily for our characters, this is not betrayal at House on the Hill. After all, Mysterium is a cooperative deduction game.
Just like most books, Mysterium also has a couple of elements each mystery book should have:
- The whole story starts with an incident.
- It has a great “What if?” hook.
- Interesting investigators with rich backstories.
The rulebook, which also has incredible art design, begins with two pages of lore organized like news articles and letters.
These tell us that a man-servant was found dead on December 13th during the birthday party of the Count of Warwick’s daughter, but after police failed to find any leads, it was ruled an accident. If I were the ghost, I would be haunting the police station, not the mansion.
While there were no live witnesses or clues to help solve the murder, there is someone who can help – the ghost of the murdered man-servant. Thus, the mystery can still be solved if only we could get the answers from the spirit. But even when the psychics arrive, they are unable to get a straight answer. Not because the ghost is trying to be a pain but because they are unable to speak.
The whole premise of a Mysterium game having psychic investigators instead of regular ones is what really got me to try it out in the first place. Each investigator has their own backstory and specialty. While they don’t influence the game, they enrich the atmosphere and allow for some roleplay. For example, one of the investigators, Ardhashir, specializes in talismans. In one of the games, I decided to use crystal necklaces whenever I had to guess what the ghost was trying to tell me.
Don’t worry: Mysterium won’t ask you to take out an ouija board, perform a blood ritual, or anything like that. The entire thing is a game of association played with cards.
Mysterium transports you to the not-so-roaring 20s in Scotland to an old mansion where a team of psychic investigators is trying to solve a ghost’s murder mystery on a day when the barrier between the netherworld and our plane is particularly thin—Samhain.
Instead of gathering physical clues, you and the other psychics must rely on the ghost to provide hints so you can piece everything together and solve the mystery. You have until morning to solve it, or you’ll have to wait another year to try again.
While most players will play as the psychic investigators, one player takes on the role of the mute ghost. Mysterium is a board game that isn’t just a simple co-op – it’s an asymmetrical cooperative game. You technically have two teams of players working together to achieve the same goal using different means. Except that, of course, one team only has one player – the one playing the ghost.
The goal is to solve the murder. Simple, right? Not so. Not only is the ghost mute, but their memory isn’t as good as it used to be. This means that each investigator will get different dreams and will have to work out who is the potential suspect, where the murder happened, and the murder weapon before the game moves to the final round. The game will only progress if all the players correctly guess all of their clues. If even one of the investigators fails, the game ends.
In the final round, the ghost player finally knows who the true culprit is. It uses all of its remaining strength to send one last vision in an attempt to steer the players in the right direction.
There is one noteworthy curiosity here. In all of the rounds leading up to the final one, the psychic players can discuss their dream cards, but the final guess is made in silence and secrecy. Did the game try to create some kind of big twist at the end? I’m not quite sure why secrecy is needed at the end of the game since you all win or lose together, but that’s just how the game does it.
How To Play Mysterium
Mysterium is very easy to learn and play if someone shows you how. If you try to read the rulebook, the game will look more complicated than it actually is. For some reason, the rulebook is all over the place. It’s trying to teach you how to run without telling you how to walk. It constantly references tokens the rulebook hasn’t explained yet, and you are left searching through the page to find out what the rule is trying to refer to. There are only six pages of rules, and even that seems like too many for such a simple game.
The game lasts seven rounds, trackable using a cardboard counter which looks like an old clock. Once the clock strikes, err … seven, the game moves into the final round.
Once the board is assembled, the players will see all the suspects, locations, and object cards in the game. Each investigator has a unique set of cards they need to find in that exact order. All investigators begin by guessing their suspect and then work their way up. Two investigators will never share the same suspect, location, or object card.
In each round, the ghost player deals the player one or multiple dream cards, also known as vision cards. Dream cards are the core of the whole game. They represent abstract visions or nightmares that the ghost sends to the psychics, who then have to figure out what the spirit is trying to say to them. Fortunately, you can ask other investigators for assistance if needed.
Mysterium cards will make you scratch your head, sometimes laugh, and, more often than not, scream in frustration while trying to figure them out. Don’t get me wrong. Not because they are ugly or anything like that. They are wonderfully done, as is everything else in the box. However, it can be difficult to make a connection at times, or the ghost hand will be full of cards that don’t make much sense to begin with.
To limit those moments, the ghost players receive a little assistance from the game in the form of ravens because they aren’t an all-powerful entity that can conjure dreams out of thin air. The ravens in question aren’t Huginn and Muninn, but they still provide the ghost players with a way to discard unwanted vision cards and fill their hands up to seven cards so they can give the investigators more relevant dreams.
There is also a small hourglass in the game, which the ghost turns when the last vision card is dealt. All investigators have to mark their guesses before the time runs out, and they also have the option to vote on other players’ guesses with clairvoyance tokens.
Each psychic player gets a set amount of these cardboard tokens to use during a Mysterium game. In the fourth round, all the used tokens are refunded to the psychic players. For each correct guess, the player gets an additional point.
Players who correctly deduce what the ghost is trying to tell them will move on to the next clue and discard all of their cards. Those who don’t will keep their cards, and the spirit will provide them with additional cards to aid them. With that, the game progresses to the next round.
In the final round, the investigators line up the suspects, locations, and object cards they have collected. Only one of these sets shows who the true culprit is. The ghost deals the final set of dream cards for the investigators to guess. Depending on the points collected during the game, the investigator will be able to see one, two, or three of these cards. After all of the investigators have voted, the ghost reveals who the real culprit is and whether they have guessed correctly.
Don’t be surprised if all the cards in Mysterium remind you of Dixit because both games are published by the same company – Libellud. However, you should know that Mysterium isn’t a 100% original Libellud creation.
In fact, it is a Libellud re-design based on the English version of the Tajemnicze Domostwo board game, which is itself a Polish translation of the original Mysterium made by the Ukrainian publisher IGAMES (the minds behind Detective Club).
Libellud kept the basic card mechanics of the original game and most of the art. All the dream cards from Tajemnicze Domostwo were kept but renamed to vision cards. Libellud brought in Xavier Collette, who previously worked for Libellud on Dixit Journey, to enhance the atmosphere of the game by re-designing characters, rooms, and murder weapon cards. All Mysterium cards got a new, fresh background that aligns with the topic of the game and the box art.
Another thing Libellud brought from the original games was the crystal ball tokens, called the intuition tokens. Each crystal ball represents a psychic investigator and is used to track the player’s progress on the board. But just like the cards, Libellud gave them a fresh makeover since the original crystal balls looked more like disco balls. Maybe ghosts like to dance? That would explain all the racket in the attic.
In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the haunted mansion is located in France, a land more famous for its wines than haunted mansions, so Libellud decided to move the story to Scotland and shake it up a bit. They didn’t introduce any major changes to the game mechanics, though. Everything still revolves around the vision cards, but Libellud did introduce two new components: an hourglass timer and the so-called clairvoyancy tokens.
Mysterium Board Game Design
If I had to pick one thing Libellud did spectacularly well with Mysterium, it would be the game’s aesthetics. Everything from the box design to each dream card and ghost’s game screen is beautifully done and enhances the game’s atmosphere further. The fantastic art style is carried over to Mysterium’s expansions, too.
Expansions, Spinoffs, and More
While you can add Dixit cards to the game without a problem, you can also get one of the official expansions for Mysterium. The game has two official expansions, two spinoffs, and a couple of limited-edition promo cards.
Mysterium: Hidden Signs adds 42 vision cards and six cards for both the ghost and the psychics in each of the base game’s card categories (character, location, and object cards).
Mysterium: Secrets & Lies adds the same number of the cards mentioned above and 18 new story cards for both ghost and psychic players. The story cards are meant to be used instead of the object cards, but nothing stops you from using them as an additional guessing step. You’ll have to adjust the rules a bit and play eight turns instead of seven.
Both expansions require the base Mysterium game, unlike its spinoffs.
Mysterium Kids: Captain Echo’s Treasure is a kid-friendly version of Mysterium. At least, it says so on the box and the Libellud website, but the truth is that it has nothing to do with Mysterium. Everything has been altered, starting with the game’s core mechanics.
In place of using cards, the ghost attempts to direct the players to the appropriate card using a tambourine. While it’s not necessarily a bad game, it’s just not really Mysterium, so keep that in mind.
Mysterium Park is a compact version of Mysterium but with a different setting. Instead of investigating a mansion murder mystery, you are now investigating what happened with the director of a fair.
The box is less than half the size of the original, but that meant some sacrifices, too. Don’t worry; the quality of the card design and intuition tokens is still top-notch. The biggest problem I have with it is that you can’t use characters and locations from the Park with the original game. The good news is that you can use the vision cards from both games without any problems.
Who Is Mysterium For?
While I adore the design and how much Libellud invested in the atmosphere-building of the entire game, I can’t really recommend Mysterium to experienced board gamers, especially those who prefer more complex titles. After a couple of rounds, I was bored with it and wanted something that required more strategic thinking.
This doesn’t mean that the game cannot be fun nor that it doesn’t have excellent replay value. You can mix and match the Mysterium cards and have a different suspect every time, but to me, it all boils down to a glorified guessing game in the end, and if you’re not a fan of that type of gameplay, you likely won’t find much fun, either.
While Mysterium might not be the best fit for veterans, it’s a perfect co-op game for casual board gamers and works great as a gateway to the hobby for newer players. For this same reason, I still keep it on my shelf, though it’s probably the game I lend out the most.
Even though I don’t have a very high opinion of it, I still consider Mysterium a staple of co-op board games, and the art style and fun factor for people who are fans of the genre make it a worthwhile addition to many people’s board game collection. It’s no Anno 18000, for sure, but it’s not trying to be, nor does it need to be.
If you’re buying your first modern board game, then absolutely. It’s a great game for casual players and newcomers to the board game world.
Less than an hour per session. Once you get the hang of it and have become familiar with all the mechanics, you can cut the time down to under 40 minutes.
As you can see in my Mysterium review, the number of cards you get even with the base game gives it excellent replay value, and if you get bored playing the investigator, you can switch out and play as the ghost. Adding in the expansions increases the already good replay value significantly.
It depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a fully fleshed-out game with a rich atmosphere, then Mysterium is the way to go. If you want a compact version you can carry around (and one with a slightly different theme), try Mysterium Park.