Review: Mysterium12 Jan 2017 16
Released 12 Jan 2017
A steady stream of boardgames are getting digital adaptations which almost always means mobile versions as well. No big mystery behind this, of course, mobile gaming is big and getting bigger. Mysterium is just the first of several tabletop games jumping on the mobile train this year.
The story takes place in autumn of 1922 in Warwick County, Scotland. The county has been struck by a series of gruesome murders—four dead bodies in three terrifying weeks. Three more mysterious deaths followed in the next two weeks. Each murder featured some commonalities: a violent end for the victim and a bout of amnesia for the perpetrator. Yes, each murderer claimed no knowledge of the events leading up to the crime. It was clear something abnormal was going on in Warwick County but the police had no leads and no clue how to proceed. Enter Conrad MacDowell.
Mr. MacDowell is a local nobleman famed for his psychic talents. He returned to town to lend his aid and quickly realized the case was too big to take on himself. MacDowell lit the bat signal, so to speak, to bring in some help—sort of a psychic dream team. In Mysterium you play as part of this dream team with the goal of solving a murder mystery in eight turns.
Players act as either the ghost of the murdered individual or one of up to six psychics trying to solve that murder. The psychics will attempt to reconstruct the events of the ghost's murder by identifying the correct character (murderer), location, and object used to commit the crime out of several possible suspects. Kind of like Cluedo, but with ghosts. First, however, the suspects must be sorted out with possible matching locations and murder weapons. The ghost needs the help of each psychic to figure this out.
The only way a ghost can communicate with the psychics is by sending them visions, represented in the game by vision cards. The visions are abstract and weird—fitting for something sent via ghost I suppose—and the clues they contain are often obscure. Within the vision there will be something that points to the correct character, location, or object card—it's just a matter of finding it. On the first turn the ghost sends each player a vision of a suspect. If correctly identified, the player moves on to the location in the next turn. If not, the ghost will send additional vision cards to help the player advance. Once the location is correct the ghost moves on to murder object. Once all three are correctly identified the player waits until the eighth and final turn. The ghost is able to send up to seven vision cards per turn to clarify their message depending on how long it takes each player to guess the correct set of cards.
In the final turn players get a new set of vision cards and must match the correct culprit, location, and object to them. This time the team is trying to solve the murder and point out the true culprit. If the correct set of cards is guessed, they win, if not…well, better luck next time.
The Mysterium story mode doubles as the tutorial and features nine different cases and a few hours of play time. You start out in psychic training school to learn the ropes, including how to become possessed by the ghost of the deceased. One thing you are tutored in is Clairvoyancy and the addition of Clairvoyance Points to the mix. Clairvoyance Points allow you to decide whether your collaborators (in this case AI controlled) have made an accurate choice on each turn. If you are correct, you get additional cards on the final turn to help guess the correct culprit.
The single-player version of Mysterium just didn't work for me. First, it is tough to figure out exactly what is happening and the tutorial doesn't do a ton to clarify things. If you've played the boardgame you'll have a leg up and probably realize why there are, what seems to be, two unrelated parts of the game. First you match the person, place, and object and then you move on to a completely different set of clues. If you guess that right…you win! The gameplay is easy enough, it's just not a particularly clear, challenging, or otherwise rewarding experience.
Mysterium offers several multiplayer options. "Quick Play" gets you into any available multiplayer game as quickly as possible. "Online" play offer a custom game where you can configure many options. You can choose 2 to 7 players, three different difficulty settings, whether you want to use Clairvoyancy, and whether you want to be the ghost, a psychic, or either. "Blitz" mode offers shorter games with 4, 5, or 6 players. In "Solo" mode you play with AI collaborators.
I very much wanted to test multiplayer with other humans for this review. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any multiplayer games and games I set up did not fill. This isn't overly surprising given the game had not yet been released so I was relying on what I assume were beta players. I will say, however, that lack of player population is a problem for many similar games that have been out much longer.
While I wasn't able to play a proper multiplayer game, I can draw some conclusions based on the options available and by comparing to other Asmodee Digital games. There has been a lot of speculation that the delayed deployment of both this game and Potion Express—originally expected in 2016—was to shore up online multiplayer after the release and reaction to Colt Express. Mysterium does seem to have solved at least some of the issues that plagued Colt Express' initial multiplayer experience. There is a lobby where you can see what games are available and choose one to join, for example. The game, and Asmodee titles in general, still have a way to go however. While you can search for a player and invite them to a game they must be online at the time you create the game to be found. There is no way to invite friends who are not already registered and logged into the game.
You also can't create a game and leave the app to do anything else without losing the game. This means your mobile device is devoted to Mysterium until your game fills and finishes, which could take some time. A big and common question is whether online multiplayer is real-time or asynchronous. For Mysterium, it is real time. The game is built to have all players engaged throughout the game. The style of play does not support asynchronous multiplayer due to the high number of player, quick turns, and focus on collaboration.
I believe the developers of Mysterium did what they could to bring this one to life on mobile devices. The game is attractive and I very much like the ability to zoom in and check out more minute details of the cards. There is also a clear intent to expand the game. Story mode additions for five other psychics will be released for free in future updates. Hidden Signs—one of the game's expansions—will be coming to mobile as well. The existence of a "DLC Shop" suggests that even more is planned for Mysterium.
Unfortunately, I just don't believe this is a great candidate for a digital game. You lose too much by not sitting across from your fellow players in a game like this. It's very tough to replace table talk, non-verbal communication, and banter with a chat room. The remaining multiplayer setup issues and lack of a compelling single-player experience are enough to make me very wary about recommending this game to all but the staunchest of Mysterium fans.
Asmodee Digital was contacted prior to publication. Edits were made to the sections on Multiplayer for clarity. Please consult the first comment below for updated impressions regarding the multiplayer mode.