Mysterium Board Game Review (Asmodee/Libellud)

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A cooperative, asymmetrical murder mystery game released in 2015, Mysterium quickly became an award-winning staple on many shelves. In Mysterium, one player is a ghost, giving out clues to detectives and attempting to coax them to guess a person, place, and thing. Once every detective has figured out their person, place, and thing, the ghost helps them zero in on the correct one. Everyone is working together in Mysterium, with one complication: clues can only be delivered in the form of extremely obscure cards, serving as ghostly visions.

Mysterium Board Game Details

Players 2 to 7

Game Time: 60 Minutes

Genre: Guessing / Cooperative

Age: 10+

How is Mysterium Played?

I don't know that there's any way to get better at Mysterium. Mysterium is a cross between Clue and Dixit. The ghost has a stack of cards; they need to hand these cards out to players as clues. The card might have a shape, color, or general theme that associates with the player's card. It's up to the player to figure out how the ghost thinks.

The ghost hides his cards behind a screen, while players try to progress through the stages, finding their own cards from a selection in front of them.

Players begin at the first stage, which is guessing the murder suspect. If they guess correctly, they advance to the second stage -- guessing the location. Once they have done that, they can progress to the third stage -- guessing the weapon. As they guess correctly, they take their correct card. This leaves fewer options for the other players, thereby making it progressively easier for players who are stuck.

Meanwhile, players can also vote on whether the guesses of other players are correct or incorrect. The better everyone does in general, the more guesses they'll get in the final stage -- if they get to the final stage. Mysterium is played in rounds, and you only get a certain amount of time to figure things out before it's too late.

What's Going On in the World of Mysterium?

There's something that's always bothered me in Mysterium: what on earth is going on. Not in the game, I mean, but in the plot. I've played Mysterium so many times by now that its idiosyncrasies seem normal, but I've never actually stopped to find out what is happening in the game. Wikipedia says:

"Thirty years ago, a servant was murdered in his employer’s mansion during a party. A group of mediums organize a séance to solve the mystery. The ultimate goal of the ghost is to indicate who killed him, where, and with what weapon"

Okay -- but you see the problem here. The ghost is giving nearly every medium a red herring -- someone completely unattached to the murder, with a scenario and everything -- and then whittling it down to the one person who actually killed the guy. This seems like a really easily distracted ghost. This is basically the end of the Clue movie.

That's what could have happened -- but here's what actually happened.

Alright, let's just assume the afterlife is confusing.

One of the Best Games for a Party

In Mysterium, everyone is working to help each other rather than taking turns. Once you're certain that you have chosen the right card, you can help others work on theirs. Often, it's best to figure out the easiest card on the table, and progress from there. There is a time limit, so it behooves all of you to help each other in the most efficient way.

Cards tend to be fairly obscure; the above card shows a blue scene, with a stone gargoyle. The clue could be stone, blue, or even the rocks and shadows in the background.

This makes Mysterium a great party game, because everyone is constantly interacting with each other. Though there is some element of skill -- you need to be good at reading people, in addition to reading the cards -- it's also very random, which means players of all skill levels can join it and have fun. 

On the other hand...

It's No Fun Being the Ghost

Mysterium comes with a caveat -- it can be no fun being the ghost, depending on your own personal temperament. Players are going to yell at you. They're going to get frustrated with you. They're not going to understand how difficult giving clues actually is -- the cards are extremely obscure and obuse. Of course, the players aren't actually blaming you, but it can certainly feel like it. And everything hinges on you: due to the asymmetrical gameplay, the ghost is really the most important player.

Due to this, it's almost always best for the most experienced player to be the ghost. You need a thick skin to be able to deal with all the frustration and eye-rolling. Being the ghost becomes a responsibility, and in some ways it may feel as though you're facilitating everyone else's fun.

There's a reason why Mysterium has won so many awards; it's a great game to play. That being said, it does have some flaws. If you play it enough, the cards become repetitive. Like Dixit, you get a feel for which cards are going to start indicating which object. It's worth it to get the expansion for that reason.

It also really can feel unfair, if you just aren't getting the right clues, or if you're just not seeing something you're supposed to see. It's possible for a player to get "trash" cards if the ghost just wants to empty their hand, and it's possible for some people to get far better clues than others. Some people just aren't good at being the ghost, even if they try -- and that can make the game unwinnable. In one of our sessions, a ghost gave us the clue card "knight helm" for a gun. His rationale? "A knight is basically a samurai, and samurai were rendered obsolete by gun powder." 

Mysterium Board Game Review
  • PRO: Unique, cooperative gameplay that keeps the entire table engaged at once.
  • PRO: An easy to learn game that uses a lot of lateral thinking and guesswork.
  • PRO/CON: Asymmetrical gameplay means one player may have a drastically different experience than the others.
  • CON: Can become repetitive with multiple playthroughs, though an expansion is available.