Board Game Night: Mysterium

Apologies in advance for the length of this post. Mysterium is a very fun and simple game that actually takes some difficulty explaining. I tried to keep it as brief as possible, but it’s a hard game to explain without copying directly from the rule book.

My fiancee and I enjoy supernatural thrillers. Depending on the mood, we often find ourselves turning off the lights and watching movies like The Conjuring 1 & 2, Insidious and its following sequels, Paranormal Activity, The Exorcist, and so forth. Our love of them stems from the spine-tingling anxiety and fear that accompanies movies with tones of supernatural entities.

Now imagine that you are a medium that has been hired to contact a spirit and find out why it is haunting a mansion. Mysterium puts you directly in that role.

Mysterium is for 2-7 players, takes around 45 minutes to play, and is recommended for ages ten or older. In my opinion, Mysterium blends different qualities and quirks from other board games. It is a mix of Clue and Pictionary, but has a lot more depth and strategy. In tandem with my previous post on Fantastic Beasts Perilous Pursuits, this is another cooperative game where all of the players win or lose together.

The game is set in the 1920’s. In your role as psychics you have been invited to a night-time seance on Samhain (Halloween), when the visible and invisible words meet. This is the day of the year when the living are most easily able to contact the “other side.” You will have only seven hours before the spiritual connection with the ghost is lost.

Mysterium Rule Book

In Mysterium, one of the players takes on the role of a ghost that has been brutally murdered within the mansion. The remaining players become mediums that attempt to divine psychic readings from the ghost to help discover the identity of the victim, where the victim was killed, and the item used to enact the murder.

It turns out that the murder has put the spirit in severe shock, and the ghost is only able to recall hazy memories. The spirit is also unable to speak as it has spent so long on a different dimensional plane and has become weakened. Thus, the ghost is not allowed to speak at all during the game. Only the psychics may speak once setup is complete.

The beginning of the game requires quite the setup process. There are six decks in the game, three for the psychics and three for the ghost. The psychics draw a number of suspect cards from the appropriate deck based on the level of difficulty all of the players agree to play. As an example, if there are three people playing (One ghost and two psychics), and the players all agree to play on the easy level, the psychics draw four random suspect cards. They find the numbers on the backs of those cards and then pass the corresponding numbered cards from the ghost’s deck to the ghost. To give you further clarification, the four cards chosen by the psychics have suspects on them, and the four cards given to the ghost have the same four suspects on them.

The ghost then shuffles those four cards together and randomly chooses one card for every psychic in the game. The ghost sits behind a screen where only he or she can see behind it. The ghost slides the random chosen cards into the slots on the screen that represent the chosen character that each ghost is playing. The cards not chosen are discarded. The psychics then flip over the four cards in the appropriate place on the table.

Rinse and repeat those exact steps for the locations and the murder weapons. Once all of those steps are complete, the game begins.

There are two different ways to play the game. The first way is when there are two or three players playing in total. The other format follows a different playstyle for four or more players. I will only be discussing the style for two to three players, as I have never played it with more than that.

The general gameplay regardless of the number of players is as follows:

The ghost draws seven cards from a stack of “abstract flashbacks” that are used to communicate with the psychics. These cards contain abstract artwork with a myriad of differing colors, objects, and so forth. The cards put on the table (the suspects, locations, and murder weapons) all have objects on them, different colors, etc. The ghost’s job on each turn is mentally finding a way to match a card in their hand to the corresponding cards on the table. Since the psychics start by trying to identify the subject first, the ghost looks at the cards in his or her screen, chooses a card that might match one of those suspects, and then passes the card face down to each psychic.

Once all cards are passed out, the psychics must now look at their cards and only have a finite amount of time to make a guess at which suspect they think the ghost was trying to indicate. Once all psychics have made their guess, the ghost reaches over and either moves each psychic forward, indicating he or she guessed correctly, or moves each each psychic backward, indicating an incorrect guess. It is entirely possible for one psychic to move forward and another to move back.

Once all psychics have guessed, the clocks moves up one hour (remember, the psychics only have seven hours to complete their investigation or all players lose), and the process is repeated. Those that guessed correctly will now try to guess the location while those that guessed incorrectly need another clue for the suspect.

The ghost is not allowed to speak at all, but he or she can put a crow on the top of their screen to let everybody know that a discard and redraw is about to happen. If the ghost can’t find any good matching cards, a redraw can take place, but depending on the difficulty level chosen by the players, only a certain number of redraws is allowed per round or game.

If the psychics have guessed all three of their criteria on or before the seventh hour is over, they move on to the final part of the game. If even one psychic has not guessed all three by the end of the seventh hour, everybody loses the game.

Assuming each of the psychics have guessed all three before time ran out, it is then time for the final guesses. The psychics grab a numbered token for each psychic and place it in the middle of the table. The psychics then grab the cards that matched their suspect, location, and weapon. They lay those cards out, each set of cards next to a different numbered token.

For example, Psychic A has Mr. Green, the Gardens, and an Iron. Psychic A places those three cards next to token number one on the table. Psychic B has Mr. Blue, the Study, and a Statue Head. Psychic B places those three cards next to token number two on the table.

The ghost secretly chooses one of the tokens and looks at the cards next to that token. Those three cards are now officially the murderer, the location, and the weapon used to kill the ghost. The ghost chooses three more art cards, one for each of the three cards next to the numbered token and passes them to the psychics. The psychics must now use those “visions” given to them by the ghost to determine who killed the ghost. The psychics secretly vote on which group they think is the killer’s group. Once all votes are placed, the ghost reveals which group it is. If the majority of psychics voted correctly, everybody wins, and the spirit is laid to rest. If psychics voted incorrectly, everybody loses, and they must wait until the next Halloween to try and solve the mystery again.

This is the very base rule set for the game. When you have four or more players, the game becomes much more complicated with clairvoyance mechanics that include voting on the guesses of the psychics. As psychics guess correctly, their clairvoyancy levels rise, meaning they get special privileges throughout the game that gives a better chance of solving the mystery. I have personally never played with those rules, so I will not be able to describe them well enough for this post.

We have learned throughout our time playing this game that I’m not the best at it. While I may not be good at the abstract guessing game of trying to match the artwork cards to one of the cards on the table, it’s still tons of fun to play. The psychics can all work together, discuss things, help each other, and more while the ghost sits there silently observing. You actually learn a lot about how people think when you play this game. You start to see how their minds work and how they think one way but not the other. My fiancee is actually really good at the game, and given her creative and intelligent prowess, along with her love of art, I’m not surprised she’s a strong player.

I urge you all to look into the four or more players rule, as they are fascinating. I want to play with four or more some day, as I feel like it’ll help me enjoy the game more given how bad I am at it. Either way, Mysterium is a good bit of fun for those seeking the playstyle of the classic Clue while adding in more adult themes, a more difficult gameplay, and a penchant for helping you realize how bad you are deciphering abstract principles.

Board Game Geek: Mysterium

In this episode of TableTop, they play Mysterium using the rules for four or more players. Give it a watch so you can see how the gameplay differs greatly from two to three players. I also do not own the rights to this video. I am using it for the sole purpose of educating those interested in playing Mysterium. All rights reserved to Geek & Sundry.

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