Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Red Hawtness: "Mysterium"

I can't help but think that there's an alternate time-line out there, one in which my book was wildly successful, selling twenty thousand copies and giving me the financial autonomy to spend the rest of my life doing what I want to do. I.E. traveling, writing professionally and, of course, attending board game conventions all around the world. 

I'm still holding out hope that this'll happen one day but until it does I'll just have to live vicariously through Kris. 

Back in the summer of 2013 Kris joined our little gaming enclave. All I knew about him at the time was that he was a trusted friend of charter member Mike and he loved to play games. Like, Loved with a capital L. It wasn't until much later when I realized that Kris was the mastermind behind the city's first wildly successful game cafe.

Every once and awhile he'd show up to game night with some exotic new title in tow, an obscure little gem that he'd just picked up during his latest jaunt to some fabled, far-flung game convention that I'd only ever read about in gaming magazines. Gathering of Friends, Origins, GenCon...whenever one of these events wrapped up, Kris was likely to show up to game night toting along a sneak preview of some yet-to-be-published-in-North-America-classic-in-the-making. Usually something with an incomprehensible title and an all-German rulebook.

This past Wednesday was no exception. Having just gotten back from BBG.Con in Dallas, Texas, he brought along one particular title which was widely regarded as the hit of the convention.

It's called Tajemnicze Domostwo.

 
Er, sorry...I mean it's called Mysterium. How that jumble of consonants translates into "Mysterium" is beyond me, but hey, there it is.

In a nutshell, Mysterium is Clue meets Dixit. If you want a description that's decidedly less flippant then here are the deets courtesy of I ♥ Games:

"Mysterium is a co-operative game for 2-7 players. One player takes the role of a ghost who lives in a mysterious ancient manor. Other players are a group of psychics invited by the manor owner to solve the mystery of the place and bring peace to its residents, as any person who stays in the castle sees strange dreams.

"The ancient legend says the ghost is the soul of the manor's previous resident, who was unjustly executed for a crime he didn't commit, more than 100 years ago. Now he tries to use the mysterious signs to tell people the truth about what really happened then, so that justice would be established and he might rest in peace for ever. The specialists in the supernatural were invited to try to understand what the ghost wants to tell and in case of success be honoured by one more victory and receive a generous reward. They have 7 days and 7 nights to reach their goal. If they succeed in time, they win the game.
"

Looking for the full ghost story? Then click on the following link to read the spooky full account right here

***

Last Wednesday night we had to scramble to find a place to play, what with Dean out of the loop for an indefinite amount of time. Thankfully Kris offered up a unique opportunity to play in an expanded section of the cafe which hadn't been thrown open to the general public just yet. In much the same way that we'd christened the cafe itself before it opened (with a game of Terra Mystica no less!) we'd be the first people in history to play a game in this new space dedicated solely to the pursuit of our beloved hobby!

To try and illustrate the game as best as possible, Kris decided to take on the heady and sometimes thankless role of the Ghost to try to guide the rest of us dim-witted simpletons through our revelations. As soon as he got a load of just how stunned we all were at the game I'm sure he regretted his decision.

PLAYER COLORS/ROLES

Chad...Red
Me...Yellow
Jeremy...White
Kris...The Ghost
Mike...Green


DAY ONE

Kris went to work, laying out a series of image-based clue to try and clear the name of an innocent murder suspect. After a great deal of shuffling, hemming and hawing, Kris finally offered up the following spectrum of dream-like images for our fevered minds to ponder:


Kris's placement for Mike was an atmospheric skyline featuring a mysterious figure precariously balanced on a chimney. For some reason Mike associated this with the young starving artist, perhaps because of the pastel color palette? I dunno. I still don't get where he was comin' from on that one.

My dream had a violet, nightmarish quality which showcased a scarecrow and a haunting, bleak backdrop. Without hesitation I plopped my voting marker down on the suspect with the calipers, a violet-colored inkwell and what looked to me like a mental institution pictured in the upper left hand corner. Read into that what thou wilt.

Chad was given a moody seascape with clouds, apparently painted with the use of a giant push broom. Also in the picture was a sailboat being tossed around at sea and and a wind-ravaged kite on a string and spool in the turbulent sky above. After mulling this over for while, Chad placed his voting marker down on the old watchmaker with the gears, pins and magnifying glass. Perhaps the old man looked like a grizzled sea captain to him?

Jeremy got a pinkish, top-down aerial shot featuring two airships, a floating green whale, clouds and a distant seascape down below. He decided that this image matched up best with the veddy propah lady with the parasol. I think the association here involved the windmill and the dragonfly; two objects which had a loose connections to air power and flight.


So, how did we do? Kris's expression immediately began to darken, leading us to believe that he was less then impressed.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...RIGHT!   ✓ 
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Not good. We only had six days left to narrow down all three criteria and we were already well behind the eight-ball. Not freakin' good.

DAY TWO

While I moved on to Locations, Kris served up a second Character-related Dream Card to give my slow-on-the-uptake fellow mediums a second clue to eliminate some culprits. If we got everything right this turn then we'd be well on our way to bouncing back.

Here are the cards Kris tabled for Day Two:


Mike got the entrance way to a warm-looking home, with the hazy light from a sunset shining down on a family's neatly-aligned shoes and a set of keys hanging on the wall. Given the connotations of home, hearth and family legacy, Mike wagered on the grandfatherly-looking watchmaker.

My card featured a creepy, jaundiced-looking woodsy scene with a large wolf lurking in the background and a tiny sword concealed in the rocks ahead. As such, I immediately voted for the ivy-overgrown outdoor patio.

Chad got some sort of wooden display case with a glass front. Above it: dancing lights. Below it: what appeared to be cozy nest of popcorn. I dunno, whatever. He went with the Egyptian explorer that day, probably because the cabinet reminded him of ancient antiquities.

Finally Jeremy got a downright weird image featuring a narrow series of platforms, bridges and overpasses being traversed by, of all things, a disembodied bike wheel, a gryphon-like silhouette and what appeared to be a white horseman. In the bilious sky overhead: a stab of clarion sunlight and winged creatures flocking all about. He went with the artist this time out, probably because of the Bespin-like clouds on his palette. 


At that stage, Ghost-Kris probably would have started banging his head on the table, if not for the fact that his spectral cranium would have passed right through it.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...RIGHT!   ✓ 
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Wh-a-a-a-a-t?!? Again?!? C'mon guys! Can you say "dead weight"? 

Either Kris and I were on some sort of scary-ass wavelength or he was feeding me the only obvious cards in his possession. Whatever the reason, we were headed into Day Three with a serious deficit.
 
DAY THREE

Clearly stymied by this point, Kris laid out the following spectrum of nebulous clues, hoping against hope that we might finally start to puzzle stuff out:


Mike got the close-up of a jacket pocket containing some cute little characters. This time he voted for the sun-bleached archeologist and her tchotchkeys. Um, o-o-o-kay.

Now that I was on to the Item category, Kris served up a bakers stray spilling sweet treats all over the place. In the dark-blue background there appeared to be a crowd-filled grandstand, impassively watching the desert-related tragedy unfolding right before their horrified eyes. I must have been peckish at the time since I went with the fork, a utensil that one might hypothetically use to gobble up all of those yummy spilled detectibles. The matching blue background also screamed "tip-off" to me.

Speaking of, Chad got a sunny-looking picture featuring a top hat on edge and cutlery raining down all around. In the distant background: a stately mansion and some skeletal trees. He voted for the mustachioed race car driver, perhaps because the hat looked like something the driver would wear when not barreling down the track at Mach Two. 

Jeremy got another air-themed image: two entangled dirigibles in a clear blue sky with seagulls wheeling overhead. This time he opted for image association since the balloons vaguely resembled the ball of yarn which featured prominently in the maid's portrait.

  
Right then and there I half-expected Kris to calmly gather all the cards up, march out to his office and then start shredding everything wholesale.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Man, we sucked at this game. 
DAY FOUR

Given our shamefully poor performance thus far, we'd just about disqualified ourselves from victory. In order to have just one single shot at completing the game, our power of deduction would have to be perfectly flawless from here on in.

Under tremendous pressure, Kris took a bit more time picking out his spectral clues. Here's what we ended up with:


Mike got sort of a ying / yang image: sky above and what appears to be an autumnal treetop below, both punctuated by a single flying bird. This time Mike voted for the Maid, presumably because the red leaves and the ball of yarn matched their placement in both pictures.

I got an arrangement of well-worn tools hanging on the wall, including a saw, a sickle and a bullwhip. Sticking with the theme of implements and background color schemes I opted for the surgeon's tools.

Chad got a truly bizarre picture involving a suit of armor sealed up inside the top tier of an hourglass. He placed his voting token on the fancy, parasol-wielding socialite, perhaps due to the knight/lady link and the flowers in the Clue Card background.

Jeremy's card immediately evoked the phrase "shoot the moon"; a cannon launching its payload skyward towards a distant city with odd astronomical portents in the heavens above. Jeremy opted for the race car driver, perhaps because of the "wheels" connection?


And here's how that round of voting panned out:

Chad...RIGHT!   ✓
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...RIGHT!   ✓
Mike...RIGHT!   ✓

Success! Finally! Although we enjoyed a momentum of celebration we knew that the odds were firmly stacked against us for the rest of the game. 

DAY FIVE
Mathematically speaking, if everyone guessed their location properly there was still enough time to join me in eliminating the Items. 

So here's what Kris flopped down for us:

Mike got a Dali-esque image of a bathtub floating at sea with a golden ship in the background. Naturally he voted for the only Location that prominently featured a bathtub! 

I received the vision of a heavenly pipe organ and, apparently more obsessed with color schemes then Steven and Chris, I selected the gray-looking bundle of rope.

Chad got an evil-looking dungeon corridor with scary glowing demon eyes, a threatening curtain of blades poised to strike, a lava pit and, incongruously, a pair of caution cones! He picked the dark, stately-looking library with the bardiche pole-arms propped up in the background.

Jeremy was given a lush, green, object-strewn sylvan path leading to a tranquil lake. He selected what looked to me like the Genesis Cave from Wrath of Khan.


Kris grimaced as he started to review our votes. With a heavy heart he announced the following results:

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...WRONG!   X
Mike...RIGHT!   ✓
 
And with that the game became officially out of reach. We kept playing though, keen to resolve the mystery. Even though we technically lost, I felt an odd sense of vindication when Mike and I became the only two players to correctly eliminate Items, Locations and Characters!  


***

REVIEW

PROS
  • All of that gorgeous art can't help but evoke shades of Dixit. Alternately whimsical, surreal and troubling the images really help to establish the dream-like mood of the game.
  • The game is deceptively simple yet elegant and engaging. Just by reading my session report you probably know enough about the game now to play it, and likely much better then we did!
  • The Ghost player has to communicate non-verbally, relying solely on the Dream Cards to try and guide the Psychics. Brilliant!  
  • By altering the number of Character, Location and Item Cards you can easily tweak the difficulty of the game. For the record we played on normal difficulty for five people which required eight cards of each type on the table.
  • Pity we didn't do well enough to get to the endgame, which sounds pretty durned cool. In this final phase the Ghost player looks at all of their remaining Dream Cards and then deliberately picks one Suspect, Location and Item to represent the real guilty party. Naturally the Ghost player should make these picks based on the best tells provided by their remaining Dream Cards. This particular combo (and the two remaining sets) are then laid out for the Psychics and a new guessing, sorry... Oneiromancy phase begins. If the mediums can come to a general consensus as to who the Ghost is fingering (!) and pick correctly, they win! If they don't then they can try again if they have another day left! This final Common Dream / Exposing the Culprit phase adds an interesting little climax to the game; providing a hypothetically-simpler final challenge while rewarding players for doing well in previous rounds.
  • Even though the Ghost must remain silent, table talk is definitely encouraged amongst the Mediums. 
CONS

  • One could argue that Mysterium is, quite literally, a Frankensteinian mash-up between Clue and Dixit but, hey, who cares! Sometimes when two different game mechanics get shmushed together the results are kinda icky, like when Leia frenches Luke at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. But sometimes, as it is in Mysterium, things blend together perfectly, kinda like the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of board gaming.*
***
All told I give Mysterium six pips outta six with a tilt up towards that creepy attic where that mute and decidedly-unhelpful ghost always be hangin' out.


***

Wanna conduct your own pretty-as-a-picture seance at your gaming table? Welp, your gonna hafta wait until Mysterium is released en masse in this backwater burgh known as North America!
 

* PLEASE NOTE: The opinion that Reese's Peanut Butter Cups "blend perfectly together" is the sole opinion of millions of Reece's Peanut Butter Cup fans and several friends of the author but not the author himself because the author is, in fact, deathly allergic to the fucking things.
 

 


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