Playing Mice and Mystics is like opening a storybook and jumping right in. Our Mice and Mystics review should be treated in the same fashion. Without further ado…
Living in the walls
Lurk things that aren’t nice,
That nobody knows of
Except for the mice.
The King has been usurped in a coup by the vile sorceress Vanestra. The Prince and those still loyal to the King have all been imprisoned and are trapped within the dungeons of their own castle.
How will they escape and reclaim the kingdom?
By turning into mice…?
The evil sorceress Vanestra foolishly imprisoned all of the remaining loyalists in the dungeon together, including the court wizard Maginos. To escape the dungeon and their only chance at stopping Vanestra, Maginos transforms the Prince and the remaining loyalists into mice to escape the dungeons. From there as mice, you’ll embark on an epic/adorable quest to restore the kingdom to its rightful place.
Now that your comfy and we’ve started the story, let’s dive into our Mice and Mystics review.
A Brief Overview of Mice and Mystics
The designers made the entire game feel like a bedtime story for children. The thematic elements of the game all revolve around this concept. The in-game timer is pages of a storybook, and before and after every mission you’ll actually be reading from a storybook that gives all of the fun backstories of the world and goals of each mission.
It’s like playing a Brian Jacques’ Redwall novel as a board game and it’s amazing fun.
Versions & Expansions
The Lost Chapters
The story continues! The Lost Chapters include three additional missions that can be played within the world of Mice and Mystics. Plaid Hat Games put out several extra goodies. You can wait around and try and find official printed copies, but Plaid Hat Games made them available for free online. You don’t necessarily need them to finish the storyline, but they’re a quick fun addition, especially if you’ve completed the main campaign and need your cheese-fix for the afternoon.
Listen close: an eerie sort of tune can be heard, softly emanating from a mysterious source somewhere in the castle. Join our mouse heroes as they investigate the spooky music while keeping Crumbles out of trouble.
- Download the Cat’s Cradle Expansion here.
The Ghost of Castle Andon:
Did you catch that apparition in the corner of your eye? Blink and it’s gone! Either I’m going crazy or the castle has a real life ghost! Between the presence of raiding pirates in the castle and this potential poltergeist, another adventure awaits for Collin and his companions!
- Download The Ghost of Castle Andon Expansion here.
Portals of Importance:
“King, you say?” asked Zure, and his ears pricked up. “I must see this King Collin at once.” Mr. Redfern’s whiskers drooped, and he said, “He’s clear over in Oakhaven! Dangerous journey at best.” Zure replied, “Danger draws near, borne aloft by a dark wind.”
- This expansion requires the Downwood Tales expansion to play.
- Download the Portals of Importance Expansion here.
Heart of Glorm
Heart of Glorm is the first big expansion to Mice and Mystics. It picks up immediately after the events in the base game and adds a ton of new content to go adventuring. Along with a full new campaign, you’ll get more monsters to fight, and a brand new hero, Nere the alchemist mystic.
If you’ve been dying for more mousey adventures after completing the original campaign, this is going to be your next stop.
- This is an expansion to Mice & Mystics
- Not a standalone game
- Adds depth and complexity
- 2014 Golden Geek Best Board Game Expansion Nominee
Downwood Tales is labeled as a big box expansion and it delivers. The box is the same size as the base game and is packed with goodies to expand the world of Mice and Mystics. The only downside to all of this is that Plaid Hat has jammed so many goodies into the box that it suffers from storage space and lack of adequate packaging. Some of the minis come pre-squished (they can be easily fixed).
Downwood Tales introduces a full new campaign with a host of new enemies and 3 new playable characters. That’s a lot of stories to get lost in. To go along with all of these new enemies and characters, you’ll get the minis and cards to make sense of the whole thing.
My personal favorite thing in this box is Ditty the shrew. It’s a shrew bard… she’s adorable.
- New playable characters
- New outdoor tiles and search cards
- New gigantic storybook
Unboxing Mice and Mystics
Plaid Hat Games put out an incredible game with Mice and Mystics. The board pieces are all very clean and thick cardboard, which is necessary when you are flipping tiles throughout a game. The rulebooks and storybooks are high-quality with artwork interspersed between and the miniatures look very cool. The monsters are all instantly recognizable on the board and they come unpainted.
The unpainted part could be a pro or a con depending on whether you like to paint miniatures or not, but if you decide not to, you’ll still be able to quickly identify who’s who on the board. The enemy miniatures are all thematically linked which makes a unique experience. You won’t find a hydra or a chimera in the box, but what you find are cockroaches, spiders, and the dreaded centipede, Skitter Clack.
If you choose to paint your minis, Plaid Hat’s website has a very nice tutorial for how to do so.
How to Play Mice and Mystics
Our Mice and Mystics review is meant to help you get started, not give away spoilers. The game plays by means of episodes in which the story slowly unfolds around the characters. If you’re a monster, you could potentially play any mission out of order, but that would completely ruin the story. Don’t do that.
Timer Track & Monster Surges
There’s no time to be sitting around in Mice and Mystics. The entire game has a built-in timer that counts up the number of turns until the next group of monsters pop out. At the top of the storyboard, you’ll see a clock face. If there are no minions on the board and the last mouse in the initiative track ends their turn you place a cheese counter on the clock.
When the clock face is completely full, a monster surge is triggered and new monsters come on the board. This mechanism prevents players from sitting around and searching until they’re loaded up with equipment and fully healed.
On the left of the storyboard, you’ll see a page tracker. In keeping with the storybook theme, the in-game timer is tracked using “pages” of a story. When the game begins you’ll start on page 1 and after each monster surge, the page counter goes up one.
If you reach the final page without completing the mission objectives, that’s game over. Another fun bonus is that every time you go up a page the monsters you encounter become stronger or they’ll just be a lot more of them.
There are lot of different symbols on the dice, and not all of them are used each turn. Use the numbers to indicate the movement of your characters, and in combat, each symbol is used for a different action.
Bow: Hit for ranged attacks.
Shield: Blocks for attacks.
Sword: Hit for melee.
Sword & Shield: Block or Hit for melee.
Cheese: Get some cheese?
You’ll also notice a star/asterisk symbol on some sides of the dice. These are used for special abilities like equipment. If you have a particularly awesome weapon they might give you bonus hits if you roll a sword with a star symbol.
Let’s talk about cheese here for a minute. Why would you need cheese? Well, you are playing as mice, so…
Cheese is the equivalent of mana in this game. They’ll fuel special abilities and magical attacks. Each mouse starts with a special ability based on their class. It could help with healing, attacking, searching, or any other number of things but they’ll all be useful.
Each turn players can take a movement action and 1 of these actions:
Scurry: an additional movement action.
Search: roll a dice and if a star/asterisk symbol is rolled, draw a card.
Combat: make a ranged or melee attack.
Recover: attempt to remove stunned or webbed status.
Explore: move from 1 board section to the next.
Each mouse has a different speed indicated on their character card. The little paw print will show a number, their base speed. Each turn they’ll roll 1 dice and add the number (ignore all other symbols on the dice) to their base speed. I actually like this mechanic better than if it were pure dice movement. It adds tension and keeps the game moving.
The spaces aren’t set up in normal grid shapes. All spaces on the map tiles are randomly shaped flagstones. It’s just another example of thematic flair that Plaid Hat Games has jammed into the game. Each map tile is double-sided. You are mice after all, and mice can reach places unseen by human eyes. Each tile has an above and below ground level. While traveling and exploring the castle, you’ll sometimes have to move above and below ground to progress. It’s a pretty ingenious way to keep track of a board on split levels.
While traveling as a mouse, there will be new dangers that the average human-sized person won’t notice. This, again, all ties in with the adorable mouse theme. In the very first mission, you’ll need to cross some pipes and a drain. A simple leak to humans becomes a torrential river that threatens to sweep your poor mice off the board. If that happens, the bad guys will capture them.
Every time new monsters come onto the board you’ll need to determine your initiative order. All players and enemies have an initiative card that you should place to the right of the storyboard. Each time the story adds new monsters to the board, take all of the initiative cards, shuffle them, and place them in a row. This determines the turn order for combat and movement.
There are some bosses that have several initiative cards that let them go multiple times in a round. Bosses are supposed to be stronger and faster, after all.
Most of the monsters you’ll fight are pretty standard. You’ll fight them and if you hit, they’ll die. The bosses are stronger than your average beasty. The centipede has a normal variant that you may encounter in any mission, but then there’s also the boss variant called Skitter Clack. Each variant is going to have different stats and sometimes multiple turns in a round. The other difference is that bosses usually have multiple health points. It’s going to be much harder to kill them and you can’t one-shot them like the regular minions.
Objectives & Campaign
Each mission has a different objective. Some ask you to hunt a specific enemy, reach a certain location, or even save someone. Some missions also have bonus objectives as well. In the first mission, as you are escaping, you can attempt to make a detour to alert the cook to Vanestra’s treachery. If you manage to succeed you’ll get a token that changes how the cook will react to the characters in future missions.
There is a leveling mechanic that players can perform. When players gain enough cheese, they can level-up by turning in their cheese and gaining another skill or ability. Players can only use one skill at any given time but it does give you some options mid-fight.
Death (or lack thereof)
In keeping with the children’s storybook theme, the characters are all protected with Disney-esque plot armor. There are no deaths in the game and when one of the player characters runs out of health, instead of dying, they’re considered captured. They’re removed from the board and immediately after the current encounter is over and players move to the next section of the board, the characters return to fight again.
Your First Game of Mice and Mystics
The first mission begins right where the prologue ends (and after you’re finished reading our Mice and Mystics review). Prince Collin and his cohort, Maginos the wizard, Tilda the cleric, Nez the blacksmith, and Filch the plucky scamp are locked up together in the dungeons (Filch may have already been there).
To escape, Maginos turns everyone into mice to escape the dungeons through the sewer system underneath the castle. They have no idea how to change back or how they’re going to stop Vanestra, but they’re out of options.
Escape the Sewers
Your first objective is to escape the dungeons through the sewer lines. It seems as though Vanestra has caught on to your escape plan because she has transformed some of her guardsmen into rats and sent them into the sewers after you.
The goal of this mission is to escape the castle and find somewhere safe to regroup (and possibly some new allies).
During my first game, I played this completely wrong. I wasn’t spawning monsters every time I explored a new area. Instead, I only spawned monsters when the cheese clock was filled. So it was much much easier than it was supposed to be on my first game. The second chapter we played was much, much harder because of it.
So keep that in mind, every time you open a new section of the board, you’ll spawn a set of monsters based on the encounter card.
Always keep an eye on the cheese wheel. It fills up quickly and before you know it, you’ll go from being neck-deep in cockroaches to staring down a centipede in just a few minutes. It’s constantly going to be growing, and true to Murphy’s Law, it’ll flood the board at the worst possible moment.
While playing through, you’ll be tempted to use abilities left and right but if you want to survive, it might be a better idea to horde cheese. I can’t tell you how many times I used abilities to squash some random enemy only to be stuck in a worse situation on the very next tile. Gaining cheese over taking hits may definitely be worth your while.
The Pros & Cons of Mice and Mystics
- Highly-thematic dungeon-crawler
- Fantastic artwork
- Excellent production value
- Surprisingly little downtime in between turns
- Geared towards everyone
- An impressively complex rulebook for a simple game
- Low replay without expansions
- Not a one-shot game.
Mice and Mystics Review FAQ
If you still have questions or get lost anywhere, Plaid Hat Games provides an in-depth FAQ for the game here.
Mice and Mystics Review (TL;DR)
Mice and Mystics is an adorable game. It’s very cute, highly-thematic, and fun to play.
There are a lot of moving parts, which can make it difficult to understand at first, but after a few playthroughs, it’s not so bad.
Compared to other dungeon-crawlers the mechanics are light. Roll some dice to attack, don’t die. After you complete the Sorrow and Remembrance campaign, there’s not a lot to do and it’s a bit of a grind to try and replay it again. You’ll need to get an expansion afterward, which does give it a fairly limited life span.
This is a really gorgeous game. As mentioned above in our Mice and Mystics review, Plaid Hat really did an amazing job with the production value. The miniatures are highly-detailed and whimsical, added to that awesome thematic flair.
They all come a greyish green color but Plaid Hat has a painting guide on their website that does make it easier to DIY. Even an amateur painter can do it and it really adds to the game. Miniatures aside, all of the cardboard pieces are high-quality and adorable. You’ll find yourself making little cheese wheels in between turns and playing with all of the fun-looking components during every game.
The game is very dice-heavy. Abilities use dice, movement uses dice, and combat uses dice. That’s a lot of randomness and dice thrown into one game.
The thematic and story elements more than make-up for the less than stellar mechanics. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll come away with a great story.
I really enjoy this game. Thematically-sound games and games that can tell a story well are some of my favorites. Our Mice and Mystics review shows that it checks all of those boxes.
If you’ve read any of the other articles I’ve written, you may have noticed that I rambled a bit during the rules section here. I’ve jumped around and tried to explain random bits as I went. That’s kind of how the rulebook for Mice and Mystics works, though. It’s a bit all over the place. For a game with simple mechanics, combat, and movement there’s still a lot of moving parts and things you need to keep track of, and that can be very confusing for everyone involved.
The game is supposedly designed for children but if you gave this box to a bunch of kids and said, “Have fun!”, it would be difficult for them to figure out all of the rules. If you gave this box to a bunch of hardcore gamers, they might be intrigued by the story, but most would be turned off by the simple mechanics and bountiful rules. It’s a conundrum that I haven’t quite figured out. It’s too light for super gamers but too heavy for younger kids on their own.
Which begs the question…
“Who did they design this game for?”
The best answer I can come up with is families. For a family game where the parents are running the rules and the kids are running their imaginations, this game runs beautifully.
Let’s talk about replayability.
Because the combat is so standard, there’s really no incentive to go back and play a second complete playthrough. Some games you can play and use different strategies and tactics but the majority of tactics are very straightforward in Mice and Mystics. You’ll attack, maybe heal yourself, and use abilities to add bonuses to your dice. There’s not much to it. Don’t die is probably the best tactic you can really use here. I’m trying not to be too critical but once you’ve completed the awesome story, the game itself is dry.
One of the things I say a lot about board games is that it’s about managing expectations and going into a game with the right mindset. Players looking for a deep leveling system and an intricate dungeon-crawler, you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s the case, you may want to check out one of the Zombicide games.
If your goal is to find an introductory game for younger kids and don’t mind hand-holding them through the rules, you’re going to have a fun time and it could be an interesting way to get children into other fantasy games.
I am completely torn when I talk about Mice and Mystics. I had a lot of fun playing it. The story was incredible. The game looks gorgeous. I like the minis. I like the characters. But…
I sold my copy.
For a game where I can point to so many things I like about it, there’s also a lot of things that just couldn’t get me excited. I don’t have kids, I don’t have younger nieces/nephews or friends with kids, so there’s limited use for me.
The shared story of board games is one of my favorite aspects of gaming but once you’ve played through a complete campaign, you’ve experienced everything. I could forgive the single storyline if the gameplay was interesting enough to play it again, but the story is what drives the whole game. I never pulled the game down to go dungeon-crawling, I pulled the game down and suffered through the tedious gameplay to get the next part of the amazing story.
So it’s a conundrum for me. I loved the story, enjoyed the game, and sold it when I was done.
It’s fun, but there’s not enough for me to justify keeping it on the shelf.
What do you think about our Mice and Mystics review? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the game too – let us know in the comments below.