Wednesday, November 04, 2015


A few years ago, a gentleman who was a district manager for a local chain of game stores told me that he'd brought Dixit in entirely on my say-so.  "It doesn't seem," he'd said, "the sort of game someone like you would usually enjoy.  So I knew it'd have broader appeal than its rules indicated."

While his gamble did well for him, he'd missed something key about me:

I'm a sucker for a game with an interesting communication mechanism.  Dixit is all about communicating exactly the right amount. Too much information, and no-one will guess wrong. Too little information, and maybe someone else will snag those points.

Concept is another communication-focused game that I just absolutely love to play, because it's a game that is about communication, and learning how the other players think is the key to victory.

Every year at GenCon, there are stampedes as crowds rush in to get that Hot New Game that is there in Limited Numbers.  It's as regular as clockwork. This year, we were the cause of one of those stampedes.  There were a limited number of copies of Mysterium. The pre-release buzz was pretty hot on the game, so when the doors opened, we saw this:

Every morning we saw that. We had 50 copies per day (except for Sunday), and the line was crazy. I'm glad I was in the demo part of the booth and not the sales portion, because a lot of people didn't get the game they had rushed to get.  The first day, the line wrapped around the back of the sale booth and back towards the demo area in less than two minutes.

I was curious about the game, having worked on quite a bit of marketing material, and I probably could have laid claim to one of the copies in the booth, but I chose to wait.

My copy arrived a few weeks ago, and it hit the table on the Wednesday after it arrived (the Wednesday before Halloween, appropriately enough). And I really like this one.

The most common comparison I've seen for the game is "It's Dixit crossed with Clue."  And that's ... that's pretty accurate.  Only there's more to it than that.  For starters, it's a cooperative game. Everyone wins or lose together.

The goal of Mysterium is for one player to get each other player to pick up on three distinct pieces of information.  That one player is the Ghost, and he communicates with the other players by giving them cards which strongly resemble Dixit cards. The ghost is not permitted to speak through most of the game, and I heard a rumor that some editions were going to include a mask to help the ghost's poker face.

Each other other players is trying to assemble a set of three items - one suspect, one location, and one item.  In that order.

At the start of the game, a number of cards from each category is turned up. The more cards, the higher the difficulty of the game.  Then the ghost has a duplicate set of cards behind the screen that they use to assign one from each category to each player using a screen that they sit behind.  This image on BoardGameGeek shows it off very well (and is set up for a six-player game).

Then the ghost gets a hand of seven cards.  They give one or more to each player, refilling their hand to seven after each gift.  Players will place their markers (crystal balls) on the suspect that they think that the ghost's clue is pointing towards.  And the non-ghost players (called "mediums" in this game) are allowed to (and encouraged to) communicate with one another.

Once all of the players have decided, they also have markers where they can indicate agreement or disagreement with other players' decisions. These tokens matter during the last phase of a game.

And then the ghost goes medium by medium and tells them "yes" or "no."  If it's a "yes," then the player advances to the next category.  If it's a "no," then they'll get to try again next turn.

But time ticks away.  The game only lasts for seven turns. If all of the mediums haven't assembled all of their sets by the end of that time, the game ends and everyone loses.  If they have, then players go to a final phase.

The ghost lays out each set for the players to see, and then looks at the cards they have in hand. The ghost is allowed three cards, one must point to the suspect, one to the location, and one to the weapon. Looking at the cards they have in hand, the ghost chooses one of the sets to be the actual culprit/location/item.

This is where the tokens for agreement and disagreement come into play.  The more correct tokens a player has played, the further they will have moved along a clairvoyance track. Also, mediums who assemble their full set early gain bonus points based on the number of turns remaining.

The ghost shuffles the three cards they have chosen, and flips the first one face-up.  Depending on how far they are along the clairvoyance track, some players are required to vote immediately for which set they feel is correct.  Then the ghost flips the second card up. Again, some mediums are required to vote.  Finally, the ghost flips the third card up. Any mediums who hadn't previously voted do so at this point.  At this point, it's a simple majority vote. The set which received the most votes from the Mediums is declared, and the ghost reveals whether the mediums are correct or not.  If they are, everyone wins.  If not, everyone loses.

The game has a couple of difficulty levels, which are adjusted in a couple of ways.  The first way to adjust difficulty is to increase the number of cards face-up in each category. If there are six players, having eight or nine or ten suspects can radically alter how difficult the job is for all involved.  The second adjustment to the difficult is that the ghost can limit the number of times they can discard their hand and re-draw a fresh hand of cards, because they may not have any good cards.

A lot of people on BoardGameGeek have suggested that you can play the game with Dixit cards instead of just the included cards. This will work, but you'd need to curate the batch of cards you're using to maintain the feel of the included cards. The art in both games is phenomenal, but Dixit cards have an optimism and brightness that is (deliberately) lacking in the Mysterium deck. The Mysterium cards are all gloomy and ominous, even when the color palette is a bit brighter.

All in all, I suspect that this game will see a lot of play on Wednesdays, as the group seemed as enthusiastic as I was when we played.

Update: This is apparently /r/boardgames' Game of the Week over on Reddit. A pure coincidence of timing, I assure you.

1 comment:

  1. Another review I read pointed out that the dixit cards are also a lot more sparse in their art. Where you have a gazibo with a fountain, bats, moon, bench, statue, hedges, etc. in Mysterium dixit has a boy with a bear and a yellow back ground. They could end up being equal parts too obvious or not helpful enough. Definitely something you would have to pick and choose as you say, if you are determined to mix one in to the other.