#34 – Mysterium

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 020

Base price: $50! Usually it’s cheaper, though?
2-7 players.
Play time: 42 minutes. (That’s the number on the box. Exactly 42.)
BGG Link

Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

Mysterium has been pretty popular on all my channels, so I picked it up a while back looking for some new cooperative games to play with my housemates. In Mysterium, you are playing an asymmetrical co-op: most players play as psychics, summoned to this house to help commune with a long-departed ghost that walks the manor every Halloween,  but one player plays as the ghost itself, a spirit murdered at this manor many years before who is having difficulty moving on because they don’t remember who killed them. Their best chance to move on is you.

Think like Clue, but you’re all on the same team. Except one of you got murdered. Being honest, however, it’s a bit of Clue + Dixit + Codenames, which is a great combo.

Contents

Setup

So, you’ll actually have to do some assembly to get this game going. Start by putting together this sweet clock:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 002.JPG

You’re also gonna want to lay out the four progress boards. Set them up such that the screen (which is where the ghost will sit) is at the end of the Epilogue progress board, and they progress like so (starting from the ghost’s screen):

Epilogue -> Object -> Location -> Character (where everyone starts)

You’ll also add the Clairvoyancy Track to the Epilogue Progress board. It’s double-sided. One side is for 4-5 players, and the other is for 6-7. All in all the space should look something like this when you’re done:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 003

Next, designate one player to be the ghost. For simplicity, try to avoid having inexperienced players be the ghost (it’s actually pretty difficult to play well), but do what you can, as you don’t want the same player to be the ghost every time. Let the other players pick their characters, and give them the corresponding Intuition Markers (crystal ball tokens) and Clairvoyancy Tokens (the little tokens with arrows on them):

Give them 0 if you’re playing with < 4 players, 4 for 4-5 players, and all 6 for 6-7 players. Note that that counts the Ghost and you should give them the numbered tokens in order (so 1-4 if 4-5 players and 1-6 for more than that). Also set the Clairvoyancy Level Markers (the tiny chits) in their colors on 0 on the Clairvoyancy Track (if playing with 4-7 players). These are pretty easy to lose (and / or eat, if you’re so inclined, though I cannot recommend it) so be careful! The ghost gets the screen and should sit at the end of whatever gaming table you’re using. Give the ghost the ghost tokens:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 008

And keep them player-side up (as pictured) for now. You’ll need the other side for the endgame, but that’s a ways off, so don’t worry about it currently. Also get out the blue Ghost Cards, which look suspiciously similar to the brown Psychic Cards, and give them to the ghost. Ghost Cards for ghosts, Psychic Cards for psychics. If you need a simpler way to tell them apart, the Ghost Cards are all the same size, whereas the Psychic Cards are not:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 010.JPG

As you’ll note, they are in three different categories corresponding to the Progress Boards — person, location, and object. Shuffle each category and then draw a number of Psychic cards in each category depending on your difficulty and number of players (I’d recommend starting on Easy for your first game):

# Players 2 3 4 5 6 7
Easy 4 5 5 6 6 7
Medium 5 6 6 7 8 8
Hard 6 7 7 8 9 9

Now, before you flip them face-up and set them above their respective progress boards, you should also read off each number to the ghost. They’ll draw the respective cards from their Ghost deck (hence why you shouldn’t shuffle it), and then shuffle the drawn cards and place a person, location, and object in their screen along each player’s track, randomly. When they’re done, it should look like this:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 011.JPG

There’s a tiny mistake here. Can you find it?

Note that they should probably keep the unused cards around so that they remember what they look like without having to look at the table. I keep mine behind the screen (as shown in the picture), so that might work for you, too. You’ll notice some crow tokens in the box as well — give those to the ghost, and I’ll explain them a bit later in Gameplay. For now, place everyone’s Intuition Marker on the first Progress Board (Person), flip over all the cards (so that you see the picture, not the back / number), and set the clock to 1. If your area looks like this, you’re ready to begin the seance:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 012.JPG

This was a surprisingly hard photo to set up. My table’s a bit narrow.

Let’s talk Gameplay.

Gameplay

So, as I mentioned, this is an asymmetric coop since the psychics and the ghost have different abilities, but they win or lose together. Essentially, you have seven “hours” (rounds, noted on the clock) to help the ghost remember who killed them. If you succeed, then you have one final chance to guess who the murderer was, winning the game! If you fail (or if you fail to correctly guess the murderer), the Ghost vanishes and cannot return until next year (and you lose). So let’s focus on the game in two parts.

Part 1: Remembering (In Seven Hours)

Again, as mentioned previously, the ghost is weak from years of wandering the ghost plains or wherever you go when you die, so they can’t remember who killed them. Your job is to narrow it down and essentially each construct a set of person-location-object cards (similar to Clue’s “Mr. Green, Library, Lead Pipe” combinations, though each person gets a different one). You can only choose from the cards in front of each Progress Board, and your cards are mutually exclusive (that is, you will never share a person-location-object card with another player). Note that if you are on the Person Progress Board, you can only choose Person cards, and so on for the other Progress Boards. Now, keep in mind, the ghost wants to help! Inside of their screen, they know which person-location-object combination each player is assigned. However, since they’re still weak (and because it would be no fun) they can’t just tell you what card you’re supposed to guess. Instead, they can commune with you and give you a psychic “flash” using one of their Vision cards:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 013.JPG

You’ll notice these are quite similar to Dixit cards, and in fact you can substitute Dixit cards in if you’d like. The ghost has a hand of seven vision cards, and has several “turns” in which they must distribute at least one card to each psychic to try and hint to them which card is theirs. Note some things:

  • (Ghost) You can only give cards to a psychic once per round. You should use the player token behind your screen to mark when you’ve already given cards to a psychic.
  • (Psychics) You can (and should!) freely discuss what clue you think the ghost is trying to give you with your cards. That’s how you guess correctly, but watch out! You might (and almost inevitably will) get bad advice from another psychic, and the ghost cannot help or give advice in any way.
  • (Ghost) Again, each Psychic must get at least one card. You can give as many cards as you like, if you think they’re related to the clue you’re trying to give the Psychic. Or if you’re trying to dump cards from your hand so that you can draw back up. Actually, on that note:
  • (Ghost) Once you’ve given cards to a Psychic, draw back up to seven cards. This game would be impossible otherwise.
  • (Ghost) If your hand is worthless, you can discard it. Indicate with a Crow token that you’re discarding your hand, and then discard any number of cards and draw back new ones. HOWEVER, you are limited in your discards by your difficulty:
    • Easy: Only 1 discard per round (hour on the clock).
    • Medium: Only 3 discards per game.
    • Hard: Only 1 discard per game. Choose wisely.

Once all Psychics have been given cards, the ghost flips the timer? Oh, did I not mention? You have two minutes to guess which card the ghost is trying to clue to you and place your Intuition Marker on that card. This is also where you can use your Clairvoyancy Tokens (on the green check and red X side), as you can agree or disagree with other players’ votes. If you want to use your Clairvoyancy Token, set it on the card pointing towards the player’s Intuition Marker with your vote (green check is “I think this is correct”, red X is “I think this is incorrect). Naturally, there are a few caveats to this:

  • More than one player can put their Intuition Marker on a card. As I mentioned before, they’re mutually exclusive, so one of you will definitely be wrong, but you can do as you please.
  • You cannot assign more than one Clairvoyancy Tokento an Intuition Marker. This does mean that you cannot “super agree” with more than one vote or try to hedge your bets by voting with both an Agree and a Disagree Token, though if you attempted to do that I support your initiative.
  • You cannot assign Clairvoyancy Tokens to your own Intuition Marker. This might seem obvious to some, but it’s important to note.
  • You can use as many Clairvoyancy Tokens as you’d like (or none at all!). Naturally,they help you later in the game, but there is a slight catch to using them.
  • You can move around your Clairvoyancy Tokens and Intuition Markers until time runs out. Usually as the ghost I’ll remind players that they have little time left.

Once time runs out, the ghost tells players whether they guessed correctly or incorrectly (the rules indicate you can do this by silently knocking on the table if you wanna be extra spooky, but usually I just say yes or no).

If you were correct:

  • Move your Intuition Marker to the next Progress Board.
  • Take the card you guessed and add it to your character’s sleeve.
  • Give your Vision cards (the ones the ghost gave you) back to the Ghost, who should add them to their discard pile.
  • If other players Agreed with their Clairvoyancy Token, move their Clairvoyancy Level Marker up by one.
  • If other players Agreed or Disagreed with their Clairvoyancy Token, move their Clairvoyancy Token to the clock. They cannot use that token again until Round 4. If it’s after Round 4, they can’t use it again for Agreeing or Disagreeing for the rest of the game.

If you were incorrect:

  • Return your Intuition Marker to the current Progress Board.
  • Keep your Vision cards. The ghost will try to help clarify.
  • If other players Disagreed with their Clairvoyancy Token, move their Clairvoyancy Level Marker up by one. Hey, someone’s gotta profit.
  • If other players Agreed or Disagreed with their Clairvoyancy Token, move their Clairvoyancy Token to the clock. They cannot use that token again until Round 4. If it’s after Round 4, they can’t use it again for Agreeing or Disagreeing for the rest of the game.

Note that this means that players might be at different levels on the Progress Board (one person at Location while two people are at Object and another person is still back on Person, for instance). That’s totally fine! It should help the furthest back person use process of elimination to guess their card a bit faster, since the other players have already taken their cards and there are fewer cards left for them to choose from.

If any player successfully makes it to the Epilogue Progress Board, they leave their Intuition Marker there and move their Clairvoyancy Level Marker up one for every round / hour remaining in the game. That means if you finish perfectly, (in the third hour) you would gain four extra Clairvoyancy Levels. If a player has made it to the Epilogue Progress Board, they can still use their Clairvoyancy Tokens to support other players and potentially gain even more Clairvoyancy Levels.

Now, if any Psychics have not made it to the Epilogue Progress Board, the round restarts and they can guess again. Move the Clock Hand forward one hour.

If you are already on the seventh hour and not every Psychic is on the Epilogue Progress Board, everyone loses. Tough. Try to avoid that.

Part 2: The Epilogue

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! The Psychics managed to narrow down the suspects successfully and the ghost has remembered! Now, the final phase begins.

The ghost should distribute the player markers, number-side up rather than player side. Each of these is a Suspect Group Marker, now. Use them to lay out each Psychic’s sleeve so that every one is numbered. If the ghost hasn’t already taken the numbered Culprit Tokens, they should do so now, too. They’re the round tokens numbered 1-6. Also return the Clairvoyancy Tokens to each player, but turn them number-side up, now.

Your area should now look like this:

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 019

Now, the ghost has to help the psychics one last time with a Shared Vision. Check the Clairvoyancy Track. If you are over certain thresholds (shown by 3, 2, or 1 card symbols), you will be at High, Medium, or Low Clairvoyancy, meaning that you get more or less information. The ghost must first remember the culprit and set their number face-down on top of the Clairvoyance Track (there’s a circular space for it) and then choose three cards from their hand. These cards must each correspond to the person, location, and object (one card for each thing), and will compose the Shared Vision all psychics receive. Shuffle the three cards and place them face-down on the table.

Each player will use the knowledge they obtain from the cards they get to see to vote on who they believe the culprit is. Voting must be done secretly and silently. Do not let other players see what you voted or tell other players what you voted.

  • Low Clairvoyance Players:
    • The ghost flips over the first Shared Vision card onlyYou then vote for who you believe the culprit is, slide the Clairvoyancy Token with their suspect group’s number into your sleeve.
  • Medium Clairvoyance Players:
    • The ghost now flips over the second Shared Vision card. Like previously, you vote for the culprit and slide the Clairvoyancy Token with their suspect group’s number into your sleeve.
  • High Clairvoyance Players.
    • The ghost flips over the final Shared Vision card. Seeing all the cards, you vote for the culprit and slide the Clairvoyancy Token with their suspect group’s number into your sleeve.

Sucks if you have low Clairvoyance, but… it happens. Hand the sleeves to the ghost, who will then reveal the votes. If there’s a tie, it’s broken in favor of whichever group has the player with the highest Clairvoyance. If there’s still a tie, fight for it. I don’t care. The ghost now reveals who the culprit was. If the majority of players guessed the culprit (or the tiebreaker did), all players win! If not, everyone loses. Tough.

Player Count Differences

There aren’t a ton of differences unless you get to the 2-3 player version of the game, which I can’t explicitly recommend. The major difference is in that card table, as you’ll see more cards. However, you’ll have more “help” trying to figure out what cards your vision matches. That being said, as in Codenames, more help isn’t really always the best.

It looks like in a 2-3 player game you don’t use or need the Clairvoyancy Level Markers or Tokens or Track, since it’s just a couple people. Each player also plays with two sets of psychics, and all three Shared Vision cards are revealed during the Epilogue. Here are the other differences:

With Two Players

  • Add two random sets of character + location + object from the discarded Psychic cards as a suspect group. You should have four suspect groups, at this point, since you’re playing with two psychics. The ghost can choose them as the culprit as well.
  • You vote with just one of your Intuition Markers.

With Three Players

  • You’ll have four suspect groups as well, since you each play with two psychics.
  • You vote publicly and must agree on the culprit. Otherwise you’d just have a pointless tie.

That being said, it seems to play much better with > 3, but the option does exist, sort of like playing Avalon with 5 people or Spyfall with 3. (Or Dominion with 5+, if you hate yourself and others.)

Strategy

As you might imagine, it’s hard to give good strategy advice for this game, given how subject it is to interpretation. I’ll mark (G) or (P) if it primarily applies to the ghost or psychics.

  • (G) Don’t be afraid to save cards for later. At a certain point in the game, it becomes useful to start trying to identify who you want the culprit to be. In doing so, you should probably start saving cards for the final phase. Have a card with food on it? Might be worth saving for the final phase to clue cook.
  • (G) Try to be consistent, if you can. If you can avoid trying to give a hint based on one card’s color and another card’s theme (one is green and the other has fish), that can sometimes be helpful. That being said, there are only so many cards, so do what you can.
  • Thoroughly examine the cards. For both the ghost and psychics, you really should make sure you’ve checked the cards as much as possible. It’s frustrating as the ghost if you give a vision card with a key in it, only to notice that another location has a visible key in the photo. That throws off the psychics. Similarly, I’ve seen psychics miss clues where there are chess pieces in the vision card and a chessboard on one of the tables. Just make sure you’re looking at all the cards thoroughly.
  • Use process of elimination to your advantage. There will be times that you know exactly what card is yours because you no longer have options to choose from (this happens a lot more on Easy). If so, this means that the ghost can give you as many cards as he’d like to discard to get rid of them, and other players can use their Clairvoyancy Tokens to Agree with your choice and get easy Clairvoyancy Levels.
  • (P) Try to find as many connections and patterns as possible. There are many different ways that the cards can be used for clues. Maybe it’s the color scheme! Maybe it’s the fact that there are two people in the card and two chairs in the location? Maybe it’s thematic? It’s tough to give a lot of advice, here.
  • (P) Cut the ghost some slack. They only get 7 cards. It’s hard! Remember that it’s a co-op and you all want to win together, so the ghost is trying to help you. Generally. This also means that the ghost’s hand is constantly changing, so they may get new cards that offer new information. That being said, the ghost can hear what you’re discussing, so they may offer you cards to either contracdict or confirm your assumptions, if you’re vocalizing them. That can be helpful!

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Cool theme. A bunch of psychics trying to help a ghost move on? I don’t have a lot of games like that, and it maintains a fun place in my collection. The fact that it’s asymmetrical helps as well, as I don’t have many games like that (other than games with variable player powers).
  • Also good art. It’s art in the same vein as Dixit (and I often call it Co-Op Dixit Pro), and it’s pretty amazing.
  • Generally high replay value. There are a LOT of person-location-object combinations, so I can see myself playing this a lot in the future. Plus, if I feel like the cards are getting stale I can substitute in Dixit cards. (Or Codenames, perhaps? That might make the game too easy.)
  • Cool components. It’s got crystal ball tokens and a sweet clock and a blue sand timer and a big screen! What’s not to like?
  • Nice fusion of a few different games, in terms of gameplay style. It plays like a combination of Clue, Dixit, and Codenames and I think it has the strengths of each and a few of the cons. Generally I think it’s pretty fun.

Mehs

  • Not the biggest fan of the endgame coming down to a vote. I think it’s just because it reminds me a bit of the Assassination Phase in Avalon, which I really dislike, but I’m okay with it here. Not my favorite, just a meh.
  • Some of the cards are significantly more difficult to clue than others. This comes into play a lot with the objects, but I find myself often struggling to clue the straight razor card or worse, having both the poison and the syringe together. This is part of the luck of the draw, but you might find yourself in a bit of a bind because of it.

Cons

  • Fairly arbitrary failure cases. Given how subject to interpretation this game is, either failing to guess the murderer or make it to the Epilogue board can make the game difficult if you’re not playing with a group that you mesh well with (though that’s a similar issue for Codenames). I kind of figure it might make the game a bit less stressful if you just either don’t let psychics that don’t make it participate in the second part or if you just let them vote with their reduced Clairvoyancy. Not sure if that unbalances the game, but it might help. Then again, I haven’t seen anyone lose the game by failing to make it to the Epilogue board, so… perhaps that’s not as big of a deal.
  • Not an incredible variety of cards. I’ve been the ghost four(?) times and I think I’ve seen most of them once or twice. I imagine the upcoming expansion will help with that, though.

Overall: 9 / 10

Mysterium and Burgle Bros 016.JPG

I really like Mysterium, and can see why it’s so popular. All the games that it takes cues from are games people generally really like, and it combines them into an asymmetrical co-op with a cool theme and some fun gameplay. Sure, there will be stressful moments when the ghost watches the psychics stress over and choose the wrong card, but that’s half the fun! (Unless you lose, that is.) I think this is a great game if you’re looking for graduating your family from Dixit or looking for something a bit more intense than Codenames, or if it’s Halloween and you’re looking for something a bit more cooperative than Betrayal at House on the Hill. Either way, it’s a great choice!

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2 thoughts on “#34 – Mysterium

  1. Thanks for the review, Eric. Brawlin’ Bros did an EXTREMELY thorough review of this on their Podcast some time ago, so I was pretty clear on how it all worked, but always good to get differing opinions on the “Pros, Mehs, and Cons,” as you call them. I’ve been thinking about picking this one up as a party game for our Halloween get-togethers. Something to thematically accompany Gloom.

    Liked by 1 person

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