Pawn & Pint Review: Mysterium
Updated: Jul 15, 2018
By Jordan Baranowski
Light the candles and grab your crystal ball, we’re here today to talk about Mysterium! It’s a cooperative game for 2-7 players that can adapt its difficulty anywhere from “practically impossible to lose” to “a single misstep could cost you the game.” In addition, there is a lot of atmosphere and cool artwork, and it is never too complex, making it an ideal beginner-to-intermediate level cooperative game. Let’s take a look at what Mysterium is all about.
The goal of Mysterium is to solve the murder of one of your nearest and dearest friends. You and 5 of your close friends gather every year around Halloween to have your dead friend present clues to you in the form of cards to guide you down a path revealing more clues about what happened that fateful night – but, beware, if the clock strikes midnight before the mystery is solved, you will have to wait for next year to solve it!
The Set Up
In Mysterium, players can take on one of two roles: the ghost (there’s only one) or the psychics (for everybody else). The ghost is sort of the “leader” of each game, and it is often best if it is played by someone who has played Mysterium before. Barring that, make sure the ghost is someone who has some experience picking up new games.
The premise of Mysterium is this: the psychics are investigating a murder, and they travel to a spooky old mansion to try to learn what happened. While sleeping there, they are visited by the ghost of the murder victim, who leaves them clues in their dreams to help determine the culprit, the location of the murder, and the weapon used. One by one, the psychics try to piece the clues together in order to uncover the truth.
How does it work?
From a gameplay standpoint, the dreams are handed out on oversized cards with beautiful, surreal artwork on them. Some are creepy, some are whimsical; all of them are packed with odd details. Each investigator is assigned a different trio of culprit, room, and weapon from a communal pool, and all need to get all three of their items correct before the seventh round is up.
For example: Player 1 has the gardener, the library, and a revolver. Player 2 has the barber, the kitchen, and the bottle of poison. In the first round, the ghost hands a dream to each player, and starts the timer. They may try to find a dream card with grass or flowers to give the first player, and maybe a dream card with a long-haired person for the second player.
The psychics then have to work together to try to determine which dream best matches their culprit. If the first player gets theirs, they will move on to the second phase, where they guess the room where the murder occurred. This happens whether or not the second player got their culprit correct. If they did not, the second player will need to spend the next round trying to guess their culprit again, although their guess will be a little easier, since a few options will have been eliminated at that point.
The guessing is made even more tense because the ghost is not allowed to speak or give any clues other than handing out dreams. They simply have to hope that the psychics will not go off completely in the wrong direction and get lost out in the weeds with some bizarre detail that they never intended.
If the players all solve their trio before the end of the seventh round, there is one final round where the players all collaborate one last time to determine the “true” solution. The final round rewards earlier success, and it is extremely difficult (but not impossible) if the players barely got by the initial rounds.
Does it work?
Absolutely! Mysterium plays like the best parts of Clue and Dixit, paired with a great theme and some excellent artwork. Both roles are equally fun, and it is not a game that requires you to maintain total focus for the entire session. Mysterium allows you to socialize normally, strategize about the game, and even to roleplay a bit, if that’s your jam. Both roles have positive aspects to them, and games tend to move pretty quickly.
As the team of psychics, you all get to puzzle out just what the ghost is trying to tell you. “Well, my dream card has a train on it, so maybe my culprit is the driver?” “No, the only person on your dream is a woman, and the only woman culprit is the seamstress. That’s what the ghost is trying to say.”
Meanwhile, as the ghost, you get to sit there and stare in disbelief because one of the culprit cards HAS A TRAIN ON IT AND HOW HAS NO ONE SEEN THAT? You know exactly what details the psychics should be linking to their own cards, and you just have to hope they recognize those aspects as well. Mysterium is a great way to bring together a group that might not know each other that well: it helps you get to know how everyone else thinks, but it is silly and casual enough that no one is going to get upset with anyone else. Perfection for a light to medium cooperative game.
Who is this meant for?
Honestly, anyone. Younger players may not be able to appreciate the surreal artwork (and, believe us, it’s pretty impressive), but they will probably enjoy being able to hunt for details and help to make connections. The game has almost no reading and no long downtimes, so even those with short attention spans will be able to stick with it.
Games of Mysterium take about an hour to set up and play. Be aware: it is rare that a group finishes a game of Mysterium and then just puts it away. Since only one player gets to be the ghost per game, a completed playthrough will usually result in this question: “Let’s play again, but I want to be the ghost this time.”
Another one of the best aspects of Mysterium is that, since players are all working together to interpret the ghost’s dream cards, there are not really “turns” that can bog down the game. When you start getting into the realm of five, six, or seven player games, other games can lose their urgency. You finish your turn, then you wait around for twenty minutes while everyone else goes. This is absolutely not the case with Mysterium; there is a bit of downtime while the ghost hands out dreams, but then it becomes a frantic bit of interpretation as the timer counts down and everyone makes their choices.
If you’ve got a bit of a larger group, especially if not all of them consider themselves “gamers,” Mysterium is an atmospheric, fun, and relatively casual experience that won’t bore the hardcore gamers of your group. Come on down to Pawn & Pint, grab yourself a round, and get yourself a ghostly good time.