Mysterium is the Perfect Party Game for a Grump like Me

I consider myself extroverted person. I’m not sure whether the change is a result of the isolation that so many of us are experiencing as a result of COVID or if it’s my thirties, but I’ve retreated quite a bit socially. Part of that is the conscious effort to socially distance but the other part of it is the side effects of socially distancing for almost a full year now. I tend to spend more time reading rather than spending time with my roommates. That would all be fine and dandy if I hadn’t converted my roommates into board game players last year. It’s since become my role at home to host the game nights and teach everyone how to play, which is entirely counter to my desire to enjoy my bourbon and read. Thanks to Mysterium, I can entertain the roommates during our eternal nights in and not have to talk to anyone. 

Mysterium Set UpIn Mysterium, players take on the role of mediums attempting to solve the murder of a spirit communicating to them through a series of abstract visions. One player will take on the role of the spirit of the decreased spirit while the other players will desperately try to guess who sent this person from the mortal to ethereal realm. Each medium will have a different narrative they’ll need to piece together by identifying a suspect, scene of the crime, and murder weapon; not unlike Clue. If the mediums are able to use the ghost’s clues to solve their murder, everyone wins and the ghost can find peace. But if they can’t solve the murder by the end of the night, everyone loses and the ghost is doomed to wander the earth for all eternity.

What makes Mysterium so challenging is that the ghost player can’t speak and must remain silent for the entirety of the game. The ghost may only provide clues to mediums in the form of visions cards. These large cards are filled with vibrant abstract art depicting nonsensical characters and worlds and are truly a highlight of the game. Every round mediums will receive a vision card with a busily illustrated piece of art on it. The card that the medium receives is specifically chosen to guide them to their suspected murder narrative. 

The very nature of art is subjective and that means that each player is going to interpret in a different way. It’s the role of the ghost to maintain a consistent theme in each card they give a medium in hopes to steer them toward the correct suspect. But the elements of each vision card and suspect that ghosts may not always align and silently finding a way to communicate is a lot more fun that it sounds.

Mysterium Dashboard

More often than not, I end up playing as the ghost, but I’ve grown to enjoy the game from either side. The personality of the person playing as the ghost has a significant influence players ultimately experience the game. Some ghosts might try to guide players by handing them vision cards with a similar color palette. The last time I played as the ghost, I gave a medium every vision card with a woman wearing a hat, desperately trying to guide them to the one female suspect with a white bonnet. Their eyes were simply noticing other details in the art than what I had. To me, the pattern was obvious, but she kept thinking the clues I was giving her were based on the locations depicted in the cards.

What makes Mysterium even more challenging is that the ghost can only have seven of the eighty-four vision cards in their possession at any given moment. It’s entirely possible that the ghost’s options don’t align with the vision cards in their hands in an obvious way, forcing them to look for more and more obscure details in the cards; details that the medium may not know to look for. In situations where the ghost is truly stuck and has no options, they may use one of their available crow tokens to completely discard their hand a draw a new set of seven cards. Depending on the difficulty players selected, the ghost will only be able to do this one to three times throughout the entire game. Using them early can put the whole group in a bind later on. 

Mysterium Suspect

Once mediums have all received their cards, they’ll flip over a two-minute sand timer and will hurriedly discuss their visions as a group. Whenever a player feels they know who their correct suspect is, they will place their crystal ball on top of their selected guess. After everyone has done so, or the timer runs out (whichever comes first), players will have the chance to vote using clairvoyance tokens whether they believe their peers’ guesses are correct.

Mysterium Clairvoyance

Each player has six clairvoyance tokens, three tokens that signify a player agrees (represented by a green checkmark) and three to signify that they disagree (represented by a red ‘x’). If a medium uses a clairvoyance token to say they agree with their peer’s guess and they are correct, the medium who played the token gains a point and reclaims their token. If they were wrong, they do not get a point and they lose the clairvoyance token. 

At this point, the ghost will silently acknowledge each of the players and whether or not the mediums’ intuition was correct. If they were, they’ll take their card and place it in front of them and they will move on to guessing the scene of the crime. If they were incorrect, the medium will simply try again the next round. In either case, the clock advances as a precious round is lost. The game then continues until every medium has correctly identified their suspect and crime details.

Once every medium has correctly guessed who their suspected clues are, the final round begins. At this point each player lays out their suspect, location, and weapon cards in a line where the ghost will assign each set a number from one to six, depending on the number of players. Only one of these possible suspects is the true culprit and in order to determine who that is, the ghost will give the mediums a shared vision.

The ghost will select exactly three vision cards from their hand to try to guide all players toward the same culprit. But there’s a twist. For this final round, players aren’t allowed to talk to one another. Instead, they will blindly vote by dropping the clairvoyance token into their character envelope and secretly hand it to the ghost. This is where the clairvoyance points come into play.

The above pictured track represents the points players earn by voting with their clairvoyance tokens. The symbols on the seven and ten represent a number of revealed cards that come into play for the finale. For this shared dream, the ghost only selects three cards that apply to all players. Players who have scored between one and six points throughout the game must make their final culprit vote after only seeing one card. Players who score between seven and nine points make their guess after two cards are revealed, and players with ten points or more make their votes after all cards have been revealed. The more players engage with their peers through the clairvoyance mechanic, the greater the greater the group’s chance of success is. 

What I like most about Mysterium is how personality driven a game it is. The contents of Mysterium‘s box is little more than beautiful artwork and a framework for the interactions. The challenge that Mysterium presents is purely a non-verbal communication puzzle presented by the nature of how the person in the hot seat thinks. As a result, playing with a consistent group of people who rotate out as the ghost can present a fun challenge, especially should players increase the difficulty.

For that very same reason, Mysterium has been on my shelf for years and has survived multiple board game purges. I definitely prefer games with heavier game mechanics, but there’s a simple charm to Mysterium that keeps pulling me back. Unlike other common party games like Coup, Secret Hitler, or Cards Against Humanity that begin to feel repetitive after just a few plays, Mysterium offers an inherent degree of variety that depends so heavily on the players’ character that the experience rarely repeats itself. 

The only real downside for me is the finale/shared vision. After several rounds of one game structure, the sudden change feels jarring. Without fail, this always confuses new players and takes what was an otherwise smooth experience and brings it to a grinding halt. It’s the one, but significant, blemish on the experience. 

Mysterium is a great game that I believe should be on everyone’s shelf. It’s not a perfect game, but I would however argue that it is a perfect median. It’s an inexpensive and accessible game that’s unique enough for veteran gamers an accessible enough for new ones. If absolutely nothing else, Mysterium lets me enjoy a board game while keeping to myself and not needing to host.

Player Count: 

2-7 Players.

Play Time:

42 Minutes.

Core Mechanics: 

Deduction
Hand Management
Pattern Recognition
Séances

Accessibility: 

Mysterium is an easy game to teach with some familiar concepts. The only challenging part is the quick shift in game mechanics for the final round. Otherwise, it’s a simple joy that remains a permanent part of my collection.

Artwork/Components: 

The artwork on the vision cards are bright, vibrant, an absolute visual delight. 

Replay Value: 

Mysterium‘s replay value is as high as the variety of people it’s enjoyed with.