I don’t like the phrase “unlike anything you’ve ever ___.” Contrary to what the ad says, the latest superhero movie is actually quite similar to others you have seen. So, understand when I say that I have never played a game quite like Mysterium, I mean that.
If there’s anything even close to a similar game, it would have to be Clue. Like Clue, in Mysterium, someone has been murdered, and players have to figure out who did it, where they did it, and what weapon was used to do it. That’s where the similarities end, though. The first major difference: one of the players is the murder victim.
In this game, the murdered player is a ghost, trying desperately to communicate with the living. As the ghost, it’s your job to communicate the whodunnit of your own death to the other players. There’s just one problem: you can’t use words.
Instead, as the ghost, you have to use a selection of impressionistic “vision” cards that you can use to convey your message. These cards don’t have any text, and frankly the images don’t make a ton of sense either. One might be a turtle carrying a whale carrying an elephant carrying a continent. Another may be a shadowy spider monster engulfing a chandelier. Another still might be people-shaped lights dancing in an ethereal void.
The vague designs are specifically the point. As the ghost, you have to pick the cards that you think your other players will understand the most and connect them to images on the cards they have to choose from.
For example, one suspect card might be a Lara Croft-style adventurer surrounded by gems, artifacts, and tools. How do you get the players to figure out its her? Maybe you give them the card that just shows a wrench sitting on a pile of nuts and bolts, to symbolize her tools. Maybe you have a picture of an old decrepit castle, like the kind she might go digging for treasure in. Maybe you match the colors, maybe the shapes. It can all depends on how you can best communicate with your friends.
Inconveniently, each player has a different person, place, and weapon that you have to communicate to them, so they can’t work together. Each vision you give them is just for them. At the end of the game, each player has a set of three cards, telling their interpretation of how you died.
In the final round, you have to pick which one is the “real” story of your death. Give the entire group a set of three “vision” cards and hope that they can figure out what you mean. No one ever said that communicating with the dead would easy. The whole dynamic gives the game a very cooperative feel and eschews the kind of rule-based tedium that can bog down other games.
More importantly, however, the game is all about communication. How are your friends likely to interpret an image of a slightly open red door floating in space? What will they focus on? What do they prioritize? While most board games focus on accumulating points, bluffing to your friends, or learning complex strategies, Mysterium has a different goal.
This game is about learning how your friends think, helping each other towards a mutual goal, and connecting with each other in a way that is—quite literally—beyond words. While there are surely other games with similar goals out there, I’ve yet to encounter one quite as unique as Mysterium.