In Mysterium players take on the role of a group of psychics who are attempting to communicate with a recently deceased ghost who will provide the psychic players with cryptic visions. The aim of the game is to cooperatively narrow down the variety of eclectic suspects until it is clear who is responsible for the murder of the ghost.
One player will take on the role of the ghost and be only able to communicate with their fellow players through passing on ethereal messages to the players in the form of vision cards providing vague and elusive hints to help them succeed.
The first step of Mysterium is to decide who will play as the ghost. From my own experience I’d definitely recommend that the most experienced player takes on this role as it involves quite a bit of setup/micromanaging and you will largely be responsible for the other players enjoyment – so no pressure!
Once this is sorted, a variety of suspects, locations and murder weapons will be placed on the table making up the three rounds of the first phase. The ghost player will determine who is responsible for the crime and each psychic will receive clues that will narrow down who killed the ghost, where it happened and what the murder weapon was. Each player will receive their own clue that will help them to narrow down the suspects however they are welcome to consult with the other players to help identify the ghosts intended meaning. Crucially, the player who received the clue will have the decisive say.
Players only have a limited number of time to do this as the game is a race against the clock (literally!) which can occasionally result in unsuccessful players not qualifying to the final round of the game. In this final phase all players will receive a final set of clues (the number of which is dependent on their success in the previous round). Players will then all have one final vote in secret to accuse the guilty suspect once and for all.
One of the most appealing aspects of Mysterium is the beautiful artwork featured on the vision cards. The designs are truly dreamlike which can lead to a bunch of different interpretations leading to entertaining discussions around the table especially when playing with a large group. This creates almost no downtime for players as even when other players are interpreting their visions, the other players can bet as to whether or not the guessing player will be correct in order to move their way up the clairvoyancy track – this is what determines the number of clues they receive in the final phase of the game.
Depending on the cooperation of your team this can in-turn lead to some really funny moments as often when playing Mysterium with my friends we’ve had scenarios whereby every player re-assures the primary player that they have guessed correctly – and then proceeds to bet against them for their own personal gain – being a dick psychic can be fun!
One of the reason I enjoy Mysterium so much is that it’s incredibly easy to teach and I would compare it to a game such as Codenames in that it works with a wide variety of players and is incredibly intuitive to pick up for the first time.
Similarly, to Codenames the theme isn’t super important to your enjoyment of the game – the real fun comes from the simplistic easy to teach gameplay which boils down to interpreting images and matching them to suspects.
The theme of Mysterium is cool for sure and as mentioned earlier, the artwork in particular is stunning; but the theme is never going to be the focus of your enjoyment when playing Mysterium. The thing that will keep you coming back are the bizarre and random links your friends will make when interpreting the images and observing the ghost player desperately attempt to conceal their reactions if their teammates interpret clues in a completely bizarre manner.
Speaking of which, the game has a huge amount of replay ability due every player likely wanting to try their hand at being the ghost, “how hard can it be?”, but also through the various ways players read different cards. Again, like with Codenames if you pick clues that have a real-life meaning to your teammate the game can become incredibly meta especially if you use clues that had developed their own meaning based on previous hijinks in games of Mysterium.
Here’s a great tip for playing Mysterium: while the ghost player can’t speak directly to the players they must each round confirm whether or not the guessing player has chosen correctly. I’ve always played Mysterium with the variant that the ghost must knock on the table (once for incorrect and twice for correct) to let the players know if they’ve been successful. This creates some really tense spooky moments as the ghost can really drag out the knocks to mess with player and create some frankly unbearable tension.
If I have one major criticism of Mysterium, it would have to be related to the setup involved with a game. There’s quite a few decks of cards which need sorting and for the game to work you need to make sure that the cards provided to the psychic and the ghost player match. Due to the secrecy of the ghost players spectral doings, it’s important that the ghost player does a lot of the setup which is one of the main reason I recommend the most experienced player takes on this role – at least for the first game.
But, after playing many games I’ve gotten pretty speedy at setting up the game and naturally with a bit of pre-planning you can do most of the setup for next time if you organise the cards properly at the end of your play session.
Mysterium is frankly a pleasure to play due to it’s simple yet engaging gameplay. What’s more almost anyone can play it which makes it a fantastic introductory game for players new to board games and a polished/refined unique experience for board game enthusiasts.