Monday, 6 June 2016

"Oh Woah-Oh Woah-Oh! Mysterium Game!" /Peter Andre Reference

This place is turning into a bit of a link dump for my stuff elsewhere, isn't it? Here, dear readers; have yourselves some Exclusive Content.  At the weekend F and I joined some friends to play Mysterium.  This is a board-game that feels very much of the type in vogue, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it takes a very old idea and gives it the sort of update sixty-plus years of gaming innovation allows.  Secondly, that update involves the kind of conceptual-linking process that have turned up in several recent releases like Concept and Dixit.

There's also a killer premise, no pun intended. The basic idea here is that someone has been brutally murdered, and you have to solve the crime through the time-honoured tradition of determining the killer, the murder weapon, and the scene of the crime.  Usually this is the point where I would argue any investigator who cannot tell whether a body was strangled in the library or shot in the billiard room has no business sniffing around a chalk outline, but here the objection becomes irrelevant, because you're all playing psychic investigators, which means a) you're possibly not even at the scene of the crime, and b) even if you are, it's entirely believable that you don't know the first thing about criminology. Why check a house for blood-stains when you can dangle a pendant over a candle, or whatever?

Obviously this unorthodox approach to crime-fighting (CSI: Crystal-Staring Intently) can make it difficult to acquire useful information.  That's where the ghost comes in. Did I say you're all playing mediums? Not quite. One of you gets to play the murder victim, who has a very real psychic link to one of the other players. Only one, though. The other tarot-flingers and ouija-fondlers are simply frauds, cranks or opium addicts.  Crucially though, no-one knows which of the players is the real deal for most of the game, including the ghost. Rather than there being a single combination of killer, room and weapon that is correct from the beginning, there is one combination for each psychic, known only to the ghost. Each player's combination is distinct at every tier, so if my visions are leading me to Evil Felicity Kendall as the perpetrator of the deed, then no-one else would be guided in that direction, focusing instead perhaps on Human Pepe-Le-Pew, Dispeptic Sherlock Holmes Werewolf, Septon Unella, or Giraffe Angela Lansbury.

Each turn the ghost will give you a vision aimed at pointing you to your suspect, with said vision taking the form of a piece of abstract artwork the ghost player hopes will put you in mind of your quarry. Once that's done, you each choose who you think your suspect is. Then you ask the ghost who is right, with those who are progressing on to figuring out the room in which the murder happened, and to weaponry after that, and those incorrect forced to guess again next time with the benefit of an additional piece of artwork to guide them.

As well as making your own guesses, though, you have (limited) markers to put next to other players, bearing a tick if you agree with that player's choice and a cross otherwise (you get to see everyone's visions to give you some idea of how accurate or otherwise their current thinking is). Once that's done the ghost lets you know who's brain-hot and who's brain-not. The game recommends knocking spookily once for right and twice for wrong, but I prefer to underline the Clue link by playing them as Ghostly Tim Curry with swivel eyes and scoff-laugh both set to maximum. Anyway, if you've correctly called the veracity of another player's guess; congratulations! You are awarded a psychic point for your indomitable mento-smarts, which allows you more visions at game's end.

So yeah, game's end. There's basically a boss fight coming up here. First though, every psychic has to have found their combination in just seven turns, otherwise it's game over for you all - I didn't catch why a bunch of mediums that can literally agree on nothing have formed a crime-fighting team rather than engaging in competitive hearse-chasing; maybe that's explained in the rules. In any case, that's a pretty tall order when you start off with 216 possible combinations, though admittedly it gets easier as other, more psychic psychics get off the ground, eliminating options.

Ge through that, though, and you reach the final phase. Remember, all but one of the psychics are just neck-deep in the DTs or suffering acid flashbacks; only one of the combinations represents the actual truth. Once everyone has worked out their own combination the ghost determines which is correct, and then selects one last set of visions to let the players know which of them has seen the truth. The ghost sets out three cards face down, one each for culprit, room and weapon (with only the ghost knowing which is which). It's at this point your recently-accrued (or not) psychic gift-tokens come in handy; the more you've amassed, the more of those three cards you can look at, with poor performers seeing just one, and gifted clairvoyants getting hold of all three. Once you've seen what you're allowed to, everyone votes, with the game only one if the majority of players correctly figure out the true combination, with the most psychically-gifted player calling the result in case of a tie.

And that's pretty much the it of it. If you're not into this kind of concept-linking game, I don't really see anything here that would change your mind. If you dig the idea, though, this is a fun little riff on it. Especially since it so entertainingly nods at the central question that arises in so many "vengeful ghost" stories: why can the spirit of some murdered chump blow-out light bulbs and scrawl "REVENGE" in blood across a mirror but not pick up a pen and jot down "Steve did it"? It's perhaps a rather obscure piece of genre criticism to spin into a board game, but it works fairly well in practice, especially in the late game where you find the ghost is learning from your earlier interpretations and is sending out more useful visions. So it's Clue, Dixit, and How To Train Your Ghostie. Works for me.

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