Mysterium from Libellud is a surprise hit with my family. Previously, I had not even considered buying it because of the subject matter.
It is the 1920s and the worlds best psychic mediums have been summoned to a haunted house to solve the murder of a restless spirit.
Of course, in Mysterium, several caveats will turn this creepy premise, into a game. Firstly, you have only 7 hours in which to solve a murder. Each hour represents a game round and is tracked by a cardboard clock. In my copy, the hands don’t stay where they are put which is frustrating but a little bit of added card should solve the issue when I get round to it.
So, psychic mediums, haunted mansion, ghost, you with me so far? One thing that put me off of Mysterium initially was the fact that throughout the game, the ghost does not speak. I thought who would want to be the ghost?
From what I had seen it appeared that you were not taking part in the main game but, now, it is our favourite role. Even my eight-year-old argues to take her turn to be the ghost.
You see, as the ghost cannot talk, it means they can only communicate to the psychics by sending them images to point them in the direction of the culprit, location and weapon.
Mysterium Set up
Set up takes a little while as there are quite a few cards to sort and components to give to the players, (with an insert it’s much easier, look out for the incoming reviews) but essentially it involves you taking a certain number of culprits, locations and weapons cards for up to six psychics, and this is a thought I am having right now so it’s not been tested, with a few homemade tokens I think the game would scale to 8 pretty easily.
The culprits are placed at the start of a track, next, the location and finally the weapon cards are placed. There are generally 2 more cards of each type than there are psychics and the idea is that the ghost, from a hand of 7 cards will, give a psychic a card that they feel should lead the psychic towards a certain culprit, location or victim depending on where they are on the psychic track.
The Psychics Game
As psychics you will be handed a card from the ghost, you are to infer meaning from this ‘vision’ and try to work out which card you are being guided towards.
The vision cards, there are 84 of them in the pack, are beautiful, they are adorned with wonderfully vague and weird artwork that can make identification of your next subject incredibly challenging. Fortunately, Mysterium is an all win or all lose affair so your fellow investigators can help with their interpretations and may have spotted a link you missed.
Whilst this seems helpful you will often find that most people second guess you and themselves when picking where to place your marker. You will be certain you have correctly guessed only for someone to point out something else from your vision or even their own that makes you change your mind, they will then change their mind and the cycle continues, there is a timer that you may or may not use but eventually, everyone selects and at this point you can place your intuition marker if you too are certain someone is right or wrong.
Intuition is important for the final round. You see the ghost is not 100% certain who the culprit is and the first 7 rounds are used to narrow down the bunch of suspects. During the final round, the ghost will be presented with a choice of potential manslayer and the accompanying location and weapon and each is placed on the table with the relevant number marker.
At this point, the ghost will remember which of the selection is guilty and will choose a final three cards, one for the culprit, location and murder weapon, which will be placed face down on the table and the ghosts token which will finally reveal the culprit.
Now, through the game, your intuition will be rising, for those true psychics, those who have proven their skills by reaching 7 on the intuition track, they can look at all three of the cards, those who have reasonable skills and have reached 5, they can look at two but for those charlatans, those who cannot even make it past 4 intuition, they will get one card.
At this point, everyone selects who they think the killer is by placing the corresponding token into their sleeve and handing this to the ghost. As we play with younger children we decided that instead of not getting to see some of the cards those who can see them can describe the cards to the others.
After voting has been completed the sleeves are handed to the lead psychic who then takes the tokens and places them in front of the corresponding suspect. After all, tokens are placed, the one with the most tokens is declared the evildoer, cad and ne’er-do-well.
The ghost then turns the token over and reveals if the psychics are right or wrong. At this point, there is usually shouting at the ghost for giving out terrible cards and the ghost makes excuses or explains why they chose certain cards.
The Ghosts Game
As the ghost you will sit behind a screen that holds smaller versions of the cards on the table, each has a coloured bar through it and indicates which three cards each psychic needs to choose from the visions you send.
You will also have a hand of 7 cards that will inevitably have the very tenuous of links to the cards you want the psychic to choose.
From these 7 you need to pick one card that demonstrates what you want the psychic to see. Handing someone a card because you think that the overall colour is very similar to the card they need to pick and have them find a detail you missed or a link you didn’t spot with another card is part of the fun. Handing someone a card with a hat in it that looks a little bit like the hat the culprit is wearing to have them confidently say, “This has red in it and this looks a little bit like a sword so it must be this card” will make you have an internal chuckle.
Is Mysterium Fun?
You see, the thing that makes Mysterium so much fun is that everyone sees something different in every image and infers a different meaning to the content of the card.
We played last night and I was the ghost. I handed a card to my daughter who I wanted to pick the frying pan. The card I gave her had a round object in it that was dark and looked a little bit like the shape of a frying pan but also, the pinkish colour of the card resembled the colour of the rust on the frying pan. She chose the poison because there was a round dark circle and the light colour was like the label.
The funniest part of Mysterium is the after game, when you are analysing what you meant and what they thought you meant. It’s hilarious when you point out what you were trying to say and someone loses their mind because there was some detail in the card you hadn’t considered.
When I am the ghost I am always accused of not wanting to solve my murder or of simply not knowing who killed me but I swear, it’s the cards I get. Using a crow icon from the top of the ghost screen allows you to replace all seven of the cards in your hand, for 7 equally baffling cards. Look, if the card is mostly blue, go with that. Be warned though, you only have three crows for the entire game.
There are also times when someone gets you. My little girl and I are on completely the same wavelength and it’s a joy as a parent to see how deeply your young ones think. The way they analyse a card is so in-depth and different to what you think they would do.
My wife is incredibly artistic whilst I am, you know I was thinking of a word for a while there but nothing sums me up more than, not artistic.
We think I am partially colour blind, certainly not detail-oriented and most of the cards I hand out are colour related.
We are like chalk and cheese in most things and yet we have a way of communicating to each other that we know exactly what the other thinks.
There was a card that had a bear fur with what looked like an owl face in it. I knew instinctively who I should choose because I was instantly drawn to it as she was. 22 years of working together will do that.
Mysterium is so much fun that most of the game is spent analysing, laughing, apologising and saying “Sorry I had a terrible hand” and whether you win or lose it’s always great to play.
Simple set-up, not too many rules and gameplay that is deep but not complicated make Mysterium an incredibly fun and entertaining family game. There are so many laughs during our games it’s hard not to recommend this to groups too even though we have yet to play without the kids.
I can imagine playing the game with friends with a few drinks and having an entirely different experience and by adding a few rules, like only being able to describe your cards to people as opposed to showing them, would make the game feel completely different but perhaps a little too difficult for the children at the moment so I am sure we will be playing Mysterium for many years to come.
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