Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The mystery of the mysterious mysts of Mysterium (does not contain actual mists)

(Title plagiarised from Dan).

Back on blog duty for December, I had some ideas for what to write, but the way the evening panned out last Wednesday got me thinking along different lines, so I’ll reserve those thought for another week in December and follow an indulgent diversion.

The overriding flavour of the evening was one new and highly original game: Mysterium, which probably broke records for the number of plays on it’s first outing as it was brought to the table four times during the evening and one of our number seemed to enjoy it so much that he played it every time. The feedback from around the room was overwhelmingly positive with claims that it’d go down as the hit of the year.

I was on the other side of the the room whilst the first two plays happened and although I was very much enjoying my games, it was impossible not to get the buzz of excitement from the Mysterium table and did indeed manage to get a game in before being thrown out of the pub.

So what was it that caused such a stir?

James, the games owner had posted earlier on our on-line forum with the claim that his new game was supposed to be like a cross between Dixit and Cluedo. Genius. Which board game player could fail to be intrigued by such a thing. Dixit when it was released, was extremely popular at IBG, not to mention winning the Spiel des Jahres and receiving some high plaudits for both the gameplay and the artwork, and maybe more importantly the way the artwork was such a crucial part of the game - without it, Dixit just would’t be. And Cluedo is a game that I don’t think has ever made it onto a London Apprentice table, but that everyone knows and most remember fondly from their childhood. There can’t be many board gamers that don’t get turned on by the idea of solving a murder, even if the mechanisms of Cluedo are very dated.

So a combination of the two? Such completely different games, both with their own level of popularity. Bringing them together is a hugely original idea and the game gets a massive tick in the originality box. And in these halcyon days of board game design where there are so many new titles (I heard that over new 700 games were released at Essen this year), anything original is more and more difficult to come across, so Mysterium is set apart.

So, okay, it’s original, but what else is there to it?

Well, the theme is super strong and really well woven into the play. It’s difficult to not imagine oneself in a mansion, with a murder having taken place and with images flashing into your head of possible suspects. See Dan’s writeup below to get a better flavour.

And this is partly due to the artwork. Dixit had superb art, which not only looked good but was rich in the themes each picture combined. At first look, Mysterium has equally high quality artwork, which supports the theme fully and creates an atmosphere for the game to be played.

The gameplay is original too. Narrowing down your guess on the guilty party, place and weapon by looking at these cards.

And by the end of the evening, all ten attendees had played the game, most of whom were raving about it, probably more than any title I’ve seen unveiled.

So it’s created a splash on week one, let’s see if it also passes the test of time over the next few weeks by being played week after week in the same way that Agricola and Trains are.

Personally, whilst I enjoyed the game, I have doubts over it’s sustainability as I’m not sure the gameplay has enough to it, but I think that it’s a cracking theme with awesome artwork, so I hope I’m wrong.

Players fr the evening: James, Dan, Chris, Jon, Noel. Tom II, Jim, Arturo, Tonio, Paul

Mysterium (who else could have written this but Dan - many thanks)

Look there, high up on that hill by the stream that winds its way down into the village proper, the creepy looking house that has fallen into disrepair? The one that is almost falling to pieces, it has remained empty for many years as nobody is prepared to stay for more than a handful of days. They say that there was once a horrible murder in that house and that the murderer was never identified. A ghost walks the halls of that house, they say, and gives terrible and confusing dreams to any who will brave the night. Nobody has lived in that house for long and, eventually, nobody lived there at all.

Although benign in nature, the ghost will never rest easy until the truth about the murder has been revealed. The current owner of the land has humoured you, a group of self-declared psychic investigators, with just one week to amuse yourselves in that creepy old place. While you are there you hear doors slam shut in distant rooms, unusual smells assault your senses, and a prickly, crawling sensation floods over your skin when you enter certain parts of the building. At night, you hear the wind whisper half-heard snatches of words, or is it just your imagination? Knowing what you know about the other side there is clearly more to this than the cold weather whistling through the rickety broken patches in the walls; something – someone – is trying to break through the veil, to tell you things that are important, vital things that only you are able to successfully articulate.

You have no fear, and sleep soundly, experiencing strange and vivid dreams. When you wake, you discover that your fellow investigators have also had a similarly unusual night. As you walk around the building discussing how best to interpret your dreams, the things that you see remind you of half remembered moments from your night time visions. Was the ghostly presence trying to tell you something about this or that particular room? Is it the colours that are important to interpret, or the shapes, maybe a recurring object is the key?

The group of you congregate in the drawing room and spread out the case notes of the murder on a big table. There are suspects, fingered by the police who initially investigated the terrible crime, all of whom were cleared on various technicalities but had both the motive and the opportunity to be the killer. Something tugs at the back of your mind, an unconscious and ethereal finger pointing toward the files in one corner of the table. But who exactly is the finger of blame pointing at? None of you can be totally sure at this stage, so you each make your choice of who you believe the ghost is trying to identify as the murderer before retiring for the evening.

Tonight, you will have another dream.

Maybe it will be so vivid that you will be sure of who you think the murderer was, and can begin to focus on the where and the how.

Maybe it will simply involve more confusion, leading you to change your mind on your initial choice.

This pattern will continue until all of you start to share the same dream, and can all agree decisively on what happened on that fateful night long ago, allowing the tortured spirit to finally be at rest.

Or maybe your time will run out, the hauntings will continue, and you will all return to your normal lives, ridiculed, dejected, and exposed as frauds.

Seven days is all you have to solve the case, ending the mystery, and once again bringing peace to this house.


Our investigators tried four times in a row, haunted by a different ghost each time. The first time around we were haunted by James and unable to complete any of our initial investigations and were sent packing with a sneer and cries of being a bunch of psychic conmen.

The second attempt was better, with all the investigators succeeding in completing their initial predictions despite my best attempts to confuse the heck out of them, however time ran out on formally identifying the true circumstances of the murder. All we managed to do was to stir the pot of conspiracies surrounding the crime. Noel was particularly good at guessing correctly the first time on each of his cards.

Third chance was better still, and we even had our first shared dream delivered by Tom Too. However, we were unable to successfully determine the murderer on our last night in the house, so close and yet so far, but at least we headed home with our reputations mostly intact.

On the fourth attempt, ghostly Jim rushed things along as closing time at the bar was imminent. It seemed to help as we had our first success of the evening, correctly closing the case on Day 6. I guess we just sat in the garden and drank beer all day Sunday then.

Players: erm, just about everybody at one point I think? James, Daniel, Paul, Jon, Noel, Tom Too, Jim, Chris, Tonio, forgive me if I missed anyone out. Our ghosts with the mosts were James (Rentaghost), Daniel (Ghost in the Shell), Tom Too (The ghost of badly wrapped Christmas presents), and Jim (Ghostrider, but not from the first film which was a bit rubbish. Actually, come to think of it, the second one wasn't much good either)

Machi Koro (thank you Jon for the writeup)

Paul and Jon were looking for a quick 2-player game, and as Jon had recently bought an English copy of the game, it seemed like a good choice. This was played with the 10 card variant, which basically means that the entire deck is shuffled together, and then cards are revealed until 10 unique piles are created. This means that not all the types of cards will be out at the same time, making players adjust their strategies accordingly.

Paul picked up an early lead, looking good for the win by rolling several 4's on the trot to make good use of his convenience stores, whilst Jon appeared to be resigned to rolling useless 6's, which wasn't making the best use of his myriad bakeries. However, when Paul moved to 2 dice to try to benefit from his Cheese Factories, Jon picked up a couple of Family Restaurants which let him steal some of Paul's wealth on a roll of 9 or 10. This allowed him to build the Shopping Mall which gave him a big bonus for his bakeries which finally started to pay off.

As always, the game rushes to a finale once the players have some big-scoring buildings, and it was Jon who rolled in the most cash and built his 4th building first.

This game definitely works better with the 10-card variant, and with the Harbour expansion coming out soon (which apparently includes this variant as standard), Machi Koro may be due an IBG resurgence.

Scores: Jon won, Paul 2 buildings

Trains: Rising Sun (thanks to Tom II for his first session report)

Second game and already writing a session report! I don't even know what I was doing! I thought I could escape doing these reports for a while longer, but since I won, I was given the "privilege" of writing it. I will try to do my best!

Me (Tom II), Jon, Paul and Noel sat down and we set up the board and cards and were ready to go!

It started with me and Paul very close together with Noel in the corner and Jon at the top of the map.

Most of us started in a familiar fashion. Me and Paul ended up sharing a lot of land with Noel completely safe in the corner, amassing points no one could take from him. Jon however, started in the mountains, building up his deck with cards, refusing to build tracks.

As the game progressed on from starting tactic of collecting the trains for coins to buy other trains, I could see Jon gathering the yellow (point) cards and Noel was gathering his station army in the corner. Me and Paul were playing quite similarly and still taking each others land with tracks, which usually this would of caused a lot of waste, but due to some card that negated the extra waste (Ed: The Viaduct - no extra cost for building on cities), we were both safe... for now.

After doing this for a while I managed to pull ahead and gather the two completed train paths for extra points! Jon had also moved from the mountains and started moving into Cities for points. It was a different tactic that I hadn't seen, (apparently similar to Noel’s usual) which was not to play on the board much at all. It was all about hoarding the Yellow point cards, and with skyscrapers on the table, Thats a lot of points to be hoarding!

Mid way through, Paul decided it was time to buy a politician, a card that makes every player pass a card to their right, which didn't work most of the time and people were mainly passing waste to one another, however me and Noel managed to ONCE, get a card each that wasn't waste. Maybe it isn't a card you should buy. But what do I know after two plays.

This all continued with us passing waste to one another, Paul building up tracks in the corner and building on cities for points, Noel building stations and stations, Jon collecting cards and points from cities, and me, also building the skyscrapers and building tracks to Noels station land to get some final points, as we all knew the game would end soon.

Noel then decided that he wanted to complete his station army and the game ended. Noel, also having completed a station to station track, looked like he would be way ahead being in several cities all worth 5 points and his millions of stations spread about. It was tense..!

However after calculating the final scores we all ended up very close.

Scores: Tom II 58, Noel 55, Paul 50, Jon 50

I didn't think I would enjoy a game about trains, but after seeing the game out on the table for many weeks beforehand I gave it a go, thinking I was missing something. And I am glad I did. I have to say I really enjoy this game, which surprised me. I really like the combination of a deckbuilder and a board.


Another outing for the dinosaur themed game of guiding your species through the perils of scarce food and completing carnivores.

This week it was our resident vegetarian, who no doubt could’t resist the irony of becoming the main meat eater in the pack. The flavour of the game was that James was the main carnivorous species and therefore he attempted to minimise the communal feeding pool to press hem his competitive advantage. A few attempts were made to take him on, but they largely failed, so other players scavenged off his scraps, hid up trees, down burrows, warned their fellow players that James was on the prowl, or they got eaten. And this time round, the meat eater won the day. Next time it’ll be interesting to note how evolution works again as I suspect that the other players will learn and meat will be on the menu for more next time too. Just like what happened in the real world all those millennia ago.

Scores: James won, Paul, Tom III, Chris all lost

Also played during the evening were Council of Verona and Agricola.

Image from creative commons:

Haunted Mansion II © Andreas Overland