“The spirit reached out, projecting a vision. Red.. a blur of red carpet. Someone being pursued by a dark figure holding a sword. A dark, rich fantasy. The investigator sat back and opened her eyes, looking at the images laid out in front of her. Red.. pointed metal. The spirit must have meant to tell the investigator that the weapon used in the crime was the gleaming syringe set in the red velvet box!”
Of course, it’s not quite as easy when you’re one of the team of investigators in Mysterium (or Tajemnicze Domostwo in Polish, the game’s original publication language – I have the Polish version with an English rules translation). The current owners of a spooky old mansion (like, really – who buys those things anyhow!) are being harassed by the tormented soul of the previous inhabitant who was wrongly accused of a horrible crime and sentenced to death. You, as a crack team of world-renowned investigators must work together and help to find out the truth of the crime and mystery, and release the spirit forever.
I’ve heard this pitched as “Clue meets Dixit” which is not a bad way to grab people’s attention. The thing I love about Mysterium that’s not present in Clue or Dixit is the social cooperation that takes place – the spirit must use clue/art cards to steer the investigators in the right direction so they can each correctly determine the “what”, “where” and “who” of the horrible crime that took place. Players can help each other ascertain what the spirit could have meant with their particular clues to move along to the big answer – whodunnit. And you do need the help, as you have just a week (i.e. 7 turns) to solve the mystery.
Components for the game are fairly simple and unassuming – player identifiers, wooden tokens, decks of cards- but they’re really nice quality, and the art is gorgeous! It really suits the tone of the game perfectly. Especially the cards – depending on the number of players and the level of difficulty you choose for the game, the tableau of “what”, “where” and “who” cards will vary. For instance, in a 4 player “easy” game, there will be 6 of each type of card on the table. The spirit player then takes these same cards from their deck, and deals one of each type out face down, one pile per investigator. In this way, each investigator has a unique set of “what”, “where” and “who” cards, which they have to try and guess based on the clues provided by the spirit’s cards, filled with beautiful, esoteric art.
The fact that there are always more options to choose from than there are investigators, ensures that the players will have their work cut out for them – which of the cards correspond to which investigators, and which are simply red herrings? In fact, the game allows you to vary the difficulty by adding more what, where and who cards, simply to obscure the correct answers. Regardless of the difficulty, the spirit must be steadfast in choosing clues that lead the investigators to success (here’s a clue: it can be a lot tougher than it sounds).
After each investigator has – on their own or with help from their colleagues/fellow players – correctly identified the what/where/who cards assigned to them, the final phase of the game begins: discovering the “true culprit”. Out of the combinations each investigator has, one of them will be the final, correct one that will free the spirit from the mansion. The spirit gives a round of clue cards that will identify the correct combination, and the team of investigators must work this out together. If they succeed before the week is over, they are able to leave the mansion with much healthier bank accounts, and the guests will no longer be bothered.
I’ve never played a cooperative game quite like this. And its thematic siblings… Well, unlike Clue, it’s a far more esoteric sort of mystery to unravel, rather than a strict process of elimination. And unlike Dixit, this truly feels like a team effort to unravel a tough mystery, rather than just a fun guessing game. It’s challenging, and so far I haven’t made it even to the final round to find the “real culprit”. I’ve played with 2, and with 5 players and I do definitely like it with more. I’d love to try it with the full 7! It can be a little fiddly with the initial card setup, but once the game starts, the turns flow very naturally and the game is very smooth to play. This could be something easily explained to casual gamers, but challenging enough to snag their interest and keep them engaged. So, who wants to visit this spooky mansion with me soon?
Mysterium is a cooperative game that plays from 2-7 people, taking between 30 – 60 minutes. Designed by Oleksandr Nevsky and Oleg Sidorenko. The artists responsible for the Polish edition are Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette, Mariusz Gander and Karolina Węcka. The current release in Polish is available from Portal Games, and Asmodee are working on an English language release for Gen Con this year, which looks to have some updates to art and rules.