Stats at a glance
Ages: 10 +
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Wouldn’t murder mysteries be easier if you could speak to the victim?
Well, thanks to your team of crime-solving psychics in the board game Mysterium, now you can. Let’s just hope this ghost remembers what happened… Read the full Mysterium board game review below.
Brief Overview of Mysterium
Mysterium is a cooperative murder mystery game for two-to-seven players set in an ominous 1920s mansion in rural Scotland. One player takes on the role of an unsettled ghost that was inexplicably murdered thirty years before. The others are a team of misfit psychics from all corners of the globe who have banded together to work out whodunnit.
The ghost, unable to speak, communicates with the psychics through a series of visual clues as to the identity of the killer, what the murder weapon was, and where it took place.
You must use your powers of deduction and lateral thinking to crack the mystery that has laid unsolved for three decades, finally allowing the ghost to rest.
Versions & Expansions
Secrets & Lies
Alongside a host of new suspects and location cards, Secrets & Lies also mixes up the gameplay by introducing ‘story’ cards to replace the objects. This means that, alongside the murderer and location, psychics must now identify the motive for the killing, too. This proves to be a little more tricky.
A straightforward expansion, Hidden Signs adds in new suspects, locations, and objects into the base game. With a total of 78 new cards, it’s a great way to increase the replayability of the original and is well worth investing in if you’re a regular player.
Mysterium’s dark, ghoulish box is a clue in itself as to the cryptic mystery to be found on the inside. You’ll get:
- 6 intuition tokens
- 6 sleeves
- 6 clairvoyancy level markers
- 36 clairvoyancy tokens
- 1 clock board
- 4 progress boards
- 1 character progress board
- 1 location progress board
- 1 object progress board
- 1 epilogue progress board
- 54 psychic cards
- 54 ghost cards
- 1 game screen
- 6 ghost tokens
- 84 vision cards
- 6 culprit tokens
- 3 crow markers
As a Brit, a slight peeve I had when sitting down to read the rulebook is finding that this mystery is set in the Count of Warwick’s mansion in Warwick, Scotland.
It’s just, Warwick isn’t in Scotland. It’s a very well known rural county in England. Surely the bigger mystery unfolding here is the mystery of the teleporting mansion?
Alas, that will have to wait for another day (maybe an expansion?). For today we tackle the conundrum of a murdered servant in what is, despite some lazy geographical errors, an otherwise very well written murder mystery scenario.
Wonderfully presented in the style of a private investigator’s scrapbook – stuffed full of newspaper clippings and coffee-stained suspect profiles – the rulebook brilliantly pulls you into the scene.
The components and artwork are all of top quality, too. The 3D cardboard clock used to time the game could easily have just been a marker on a board, so kudos for the extra effort there. And the ghost screen is also really useful to the ghost for keeping each player’s cards organized and is big enough, too, to easily keep things secret.
My favorite bit, though, is the card illustration. It is beautiful. From the snooty, caricatured suspect cards, through to the spooky, sparse location scenes, each one is evocative and perfectly fits the theme. And, to be clear, while this is a great family game, it is still very much a horror game. More Exorcism than Scooby-Doo.
How to Play Mysterium
To begin, players choose their roles. One will be the ghost, while all others choose a psychic character (Conrad MacDowell, Alphonse de Belcour, Alma Salvador, Ardhashir, Madam Wang or Jessalyn Smith).
Depending on the difficulty of the game that the players want to play and how many players there are, they place between four and nine character, location, and object cards face up in the middle.
The ghost then takes the corresponding cards from their deck, and randomly assigns one of each type of card to every player. These are the cards that these players have the job of identifying.
The aim of the game is to work out who killed the ghost and how they did it.
To do so, your team of psychics has connected with the ghost in a seance and must glean information from them to first identify the character, location and objects assigned to them.
However, the ghost is only able to communicate clues through visions (cards) and isn’t all that clear on the events that unfolded themselves…
Phase One – Reconstruction of Events
Picking vision cards
The first phase takes place over seven turns, each one representing an hour of the seance. This is the opportunity for all players to attempt to guess their assigned character, location and object, in that order. If someone fails before the time runs out, the game is lost.
To do so, each turn the ghost will choose one of their seven vision cards to give to a player as a clue. They then repeat the process for all players, replacing the vision cards in their hand as they go.
Once everyone has been given a vision card, you turn over the timer. Everybody discusses together what they think the clue is referring to, before placing their individual crystal ball tokens on the character/location/object they think they are being guided towards.
At the same time, players can make bets on whether they think their teammates made the right choice using their ‘✔’ and ‘✖’ clairvoyancy tokens.
The ghost now tells people if they chose correctly. If so, the psychic gets moved up the progress track and will have to guess the next component on the next turn. Those that correctly placed a clairvoyancy token (‘✔’ or ‘✖’) move their marker up the clairvoyancy track (this will come into play later)
Psychics that guessed the wrong card must try again next turn, but with the added benefit of the information they have already gathered.
Guessing all three components
Once someone guesses all three components (character, location and object), their investigation, for the time being, is over. They move their clairvoyancy marker up the track for every remaining hour, and then can just help their fellow psychics for the rest of the phase.
If it reaches the end of the seventh hour and someone hasn’t identified all components, then the game is lost.
Phase Two – Reconstruction of Events
In this phase, the players must vote on which combination of cards is the true course of events.
First, the ghost selects three vision cards, one relating to each of the components of the murder. They shuffle them and place them face down.
Now, the voting process begins. The ghost turns over the first clue – remember, no one knows which component of the murder this relates to. Then, anyone whose clairvoyancy marker is on the first level of the track must vote secretly on the combination they think is true.
The next card is then revealed, with anyone on the second level allowed to vote, and so on until all three have been revealed.
Once all votes have been cast, they are revealed and whichever combination received the most votes is taken forward as the suspected case. The ghost then reveals which combination is correct. If the psychics chose correctly, they win! If not, you’ll be left with one unhappy ghost.
Your First Game of Mysterium
Mysterium is a very straightforward game to play, with most of the action taking place being the discussion of the vision cards between players. But, while the ghost has nothing to do at this point, they need to pay close attention and use this time to inform their next clues.
Are the team getting hung up on the wrong things in your previous clue? Set them straight with your next one.
If you’re playing with a larger group, you may even want to take notes.
Importantly, too, as with any game like this, it’s vitally important that the ghost doesn’t give anything away, either with words or facial expressions. No matter how insane a conclusion someone might have jumped to, keep your head well away from your hands, and your eyebrows well and truly in their non-exasperated stations. If not, you’ll risk ruining the integrity of the game.
Pros & Cons
- Immersive theme
- Encourages group discussion
- Works just as well with large groups as with small
- Replayability limited due to recurring vision cards
- Some mechanics didn’t quite make sense in the context of the theme
Mysterium is a brilliant, immersive whodunnit game for groups of all ages and sizes. The design and artwork of the characters, locations, and items draw you into the point that you can almost smell the pipe smoke-infused upholstery. It won’t be long until your whole team is overacting their psychic personas (although maybe go easy with the characters who don’t have English as their first language…).
The ghost role is the most fun by far. I loved quibbling internally over the clues I gave and mulling over what each element of the cards could say to different people. And then there’s a real perverse – albeit excruciating – joy in having to sit in silence as your friends head down a pointless black hole with absolutely no hope of return. But this is all part of the fun and can make for a great story afterward.
It reminded me of Codenames in this sense, where the real juicy fun and strategy actually comes from being the one in-the-know. However, unlike Codenames, it will be a while before anyone else can have a turn.
But that’s not to say the psychic roles aren’t enjoyable, too. They are. And the co-operative discussion element fits in brilliantly as your team combine your psychic minds to deduce what the hell went on all those years ago. There is a bit of space for an alpha-player to take over, but ultimately each psychic has their own decisions to make.
An area Mysterium perhaps falls down is in replayability. While the culprit will change each time, the clue cards will soon become familiar, and, for a group of regular players, this could make things quite easy. So, as an option for those who often play with the same group, this might not be the strongest candidate for long-term use.
Finally, while I do think the design and story of the theme are all fantastically presented, I had a small issue with how some of the mechanics fitted into the game. I didn’t get, for example, why in the first phase the ghost would give clues to several separate scenarios when only one could be true. Indecisive, much?
Also, quite why the players suddenly aren’t able to talk to each other in the final phase is entirely unexplained. Surely you’d discuss something this monumental as a team before voting?
I suppose I can forgive some unrealistic aspects. It’s still great fun. And this is a ghost story after all…
Mysterium is a co-operative deduction game in which players take on the roles of crime-solving psychics and the ghost of the victim. Between them, they must work out who committed the deed some thirty years ago.
Gameplay largely centers around the ghost giving visual clues to the identity, location, and method of the murder. The players then discuss the meaning of the clues to try and solve the crime.
It’s a beautifully presented murder mystery scenario and players will easily be caught up in the immersive theme.
Mysterium is a great cooperative team experience, especially for larger groups of six or seven that want something with a bit more depth than a party game.
Fans of hidden identity games like Avalon, Werewolf, or Secret Hitler will like the focus on group discussion, rather than turn-taking or dice-rolling. However, there’s still a good mix of card strategy involved to make it a little more structured.
The stand-out feature for me, though, is the engaging theme. The components and mechanics combine brilliantly to capture the imagination of all players, and it was really fun taking on the persona of a jumbled band of mystery-solving psychics.
If you’re a fan of murder mystery stories then you’ll have a great time unpicking this one. And for once, it’ll be you that gets to take the credit.
Have you played Mysterium? We’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts on the game.
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A passionate traveller as well as a gamer, Joe is trying to play board games in as many countries as possible. No surprise, two of his favourite games are travel-friendly Tiny Epic Galaxies and Coup. But when in his home town of London, Libertalia and Secret Hitler are currently top billing.