Review of Mysterium (Libellud / Asmodee English Edition)

  • Designers:  Oleksandr Nevskiy & Oleg Sidorenko
  • Publisher:  Libellud (Distributed by Asmodee)
  • Players:  2 – 7
  • Ages:  10 and Up
  • Time:  42 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 7


Mysterium: More than just Tajemnicze Domostwo with new art…

When I reviewed Tajemnicze Domostwo in June, I mentioned that Libellud was planning an English-language version for release at Gen Con 2015.  What I didn’t realize until I read the Publisher’s Diary on BGG was that Libellud wasn’t just re-doing the art: they were re-doing much of the gameplay as well.  BGG separated the database entries for Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo, a decision I agree with: though Mysterium clearly descended from its Polish counterpart, these are different games.

Asmodee had 300 copies for sale at Gen Con, and each day’s allotment sold out within minutes, much to the disappointment of many convention attendees.  I managed to pick up a copy on day three, and I’ve played it seven times since.  Mysterium currently sits as my highest-rated game of 2015, and though there are a few months left in the year, it’ll be a hard game to beat: I love the gameplay.  

Mysterium is scheduled for a wide release in October, although Asmodee told me that the exact date is undetermined.  

Player View

The Gameplay: A Halloween séance…

It is Halloween night in the year 1920.  You and your fellow psychics gather at Warwick Manor in rural Scotland for a séance, knowing that this is the night of the year when the living are most able to contact the other side.  There are only seven hours until contact is lost.  

A ghost of the mansion’s past wants to offer clues about a murder in the mansion’s past, but his memories come in vague “flashes” of imagery.  Working together, the ghost and the psychics must solve the crime, correctly identifying the perpetrator, the related location, and the murder weapon.  

Mysterium is a pure cooperative game for 2-7 players that takes place in a haunted mansion.  One player is the ghost, and the remainder are psychics.  If the identity of the perpetrator is found within seven hours, there is a common victory for all players.  If not, everyone loses.

Each player takes the crystal ball (pictured above), the sleeve (pictured below), and clairvoyancy tokens (pictured below) of their chosen color.  As described below, no clairvoyance tokens are used in the 2-3 player game, and only four are used in the 4-5 player game.

Player Components

A set number of character, location, and object cards are also set out depending on the difficulty level and the number of players.  For example, in a four-player game set to medium difficulty, six of each will be set on the table.

The ghost takes the game screen (pictured below), three “crow markers” (pictured below), the ghost token for each player (pictured above), the culprit tokens (not pictured), and the 84 vision cards (pictured below).  The ghost also takes the character, location, and object cards corresponding to those on the table and randomly puts them in the correct slots for each player on the back of the screen.  

Ghost View

The game proceeds over two phases: the reconstruction of events, and revealing the culprit.  

To start the game, the ghost draws seven “vision” cards from a deck of 84.  After inspecting the cards for each chosen psychic, the ghost selects one or more vision cards that he thinks will help the psychics deduce the character card.  The ghost passes vision cards to the corresponding psychic.  The vision cards are placed face up, and the psychics are free to discuss among themselves.  The ghost then draws back up to seven cards and repeats the process for each psychic. Once each psychic has one or more cards, the sand timer is flipped, and the psychics must reach a decision by the time it expires.  

For example, let’s say the ghost has the following vision cards:

Vision Cards

Let’s also say that the following character cards are showing on the table:


The black psychic’s character card is the nun.  I would struggle with which card to give, but I’d probably go with the bottom right dream card, since it looks like an open book and the nun’s picture has a book in it.  The image also looks vaguely biblical.  

Psychics denote their guess by putting their crystal ball on that card.  When guesses are made, more than one psychic can be on a card, although obviously at least one of them will be incorrect.  After all psychics have made their guesses, the spirit indicates which psychics are right, and the correct ones proceed to the next subject (location, and after that, object).  The incorrect investigators keep their dream cards, and the spirit will add additional cards on the next round.  The time on the clock advances, and the process repeats.

The ghost can discard and replenish his hand a fixed number of times during the game.  On easy, he can discard once per round.  On medium he gets three discards per game, and on hard, he gets one per game.  The crow markers are put on top of the psychic’s screen to show when he has used a discard.  

In what is possibly the biggest change from Tajemnicze Domostwo, players now have “clairvoyancy tokens.”  These — which show either a green check or red “X” one one side — indicate whether a player agrees or disagrees with a psychic’s chosen answer.  Green checks mean agree; red “X” means disagree.  These must be placed before a sand time runs out.  If a player is correct, he moves along the clairvoyance track, which will be helpful in the second phase of the game.  Once used, these tokens are placed on the clock board, regardless of whether the answer is correct.  All of them are retrieved at the start of the fourth round.

Here are samples of the location cards:


And here are samples of the object cards:


When a player is correct, he places the card in his sleeve and advances.  If a player gets all three of his psychic cards correct before the end of night seven, he moves along the clairvoyance track one space for each hour remaining on the clock.

If all players get all three of their cards by the end of the 7th hour, then the next phase of the game begins: revealing the culprit.

A suspect line up is created.  All psychics cards in sleeves are put out in the middle of the table in appropriate groups.  The ghost picks three vision cards from his hand: they must all point to the same group, and one of the cards must point to the character, another to the location, and the final card to the object in the chosen group.   The ghost shuffles his three chosen cards and puts them in the middle of the table.  The ghost also secretly collects the culprit token with the number matching the target group and puts it face down on the gameboard.  

There will now be a straw poll.  Psychics with less than 5 on the clairvoyancy track only get to see the first card from the shared vision before they vote on the culprit’s group.  Psychics from 5-6 on the clairvoyancy track get to see two cards, and psychics 7 or higher get to see all three.  Psychics vote in their order on the clairvoyance track.  

The group with the most votes is chosen.  In the event of a tie, the player who advanced furthest along the clairvoyancy track is the tiebreaker.  (If a tie persists, the eldest player breaks the tie.)  If the vote is correct, all players (including the ghost) win!  The mystery is solved, and the mansion — and ghost — can rest peacefully.

In the two and three player game, the clairvoyance tokens are not used, each player plays with two psychics, and the three vision cards during the shared vision are placed face up.

My Thoughts on the Game

I love Mysterium, and it currently stands as my favorite game of 2015.  I suspect that if I polled my game group it would also be their collective favorite.  This is now our go-to party game, and I anticipate that will be the case with a lot of game groups come October.  The game has a lot going for it: it is easy to learn, beautiful, and, most importantly, a ton of fun to play.

I was a big fan of Tajemnicze Domostwo, but Libellud’s version is, in my opinion, far and above the better of the two games.  The artwork is visually stunning, and the new gameplay elements are clever.  There was initially grumbling about the art of Libellud redo, but I think that concern was misplaced: the new artwork is more detailed and creepier, especially on the character cards.  The new components are also a significant improvement; I especially like the addition of the screen for the ghost.  (Libellud has released a soundtrack to the game to further enhance the thematic experience.)

Mysterium is intuitive and easy to learn, the sort of game that could have mass market appeal.  The rules explanation for the first play takes less than three minutes, and players can typically catch on from watching others play the game.  That said, don’t let the lack of complex rules fool you: the game has depth and is quite challenging.  The images on the cards are extremely well designed to interact with each other, and the vision cards can nicely correspond to several different item, location, and character cards.

The new gameplay elements — the clairvoyance track and the voting in the final round — add quite a bit more clunkiness than was present in Tajemnicze Domostwo, but they also add considerably more tension to the game.  I was initially skeptical, but a few plays in, I prefer the Libellud rules.  Even if they’re not for you, however, you could easily play the Tajemnicze Domostwo game using the Libellud components.  (As a side note, I prefer the Libellud rules, but I dislike the Libellud rulebook: I found it to be long-winded, cluttered, and a bit difficult to navigate.)

As I said with Tajemnicze Domostwo, I would have expected being the spirit to be more fun, but I actually preferred being the psychic.  That feeling is even more true in Mysterium, as I greatly enjoyed attempting to pick up points on the clairvoyancy track.  Being the spirit can be a lot of pressure, and I’ve found it incredibly difficult to stay Hanabi-style stone-faced.  I much prefer helping out the team and thinking through all of the hints.  That said, I suspect I’m in the minority.  Members of my game group have said it is more tense being the spirit, and the ones who have taken on the role have enjoyed it more, even with the added clairvoyance tokens in play.  Plus, on the spirit side, there’s often hilarity in seeing the inane connections the investigators contrive.

I’ve noticed one problem with Mysterium that I had with its Polish predecessor: the difficulty of the game varies quite a bit with the number of players.  I find this game far more difficult with larger groups.  To me, this raises a potential flaw in the game’s rules and design: the difficulty levels in the chart seem, at least to me, to be out of whack.  Even on the “easy” setting the 7 player game seems devilishly difficult, and I have yet to lose a game with only two to four players.  However, I like my cooperative games to be challenging, so I don’t think this detracts much from the game.

Is the game for everybody?  Certainly not.  Individuals who are not fans of cooperatives will probably not like Mysterium.  Fans of Dixit seem likely to enjoy the game, although some may not embrace the added complexity.  (Even if you dislike Dixit, you might enjoy this game: Mysterium is in many ways “Dixit with a point.”)  Mysterium, at least to me, is fairly classified as a party game, and like any party game, the experience will ultimately depend on the quality of the group.  That said, it has worked with every group I’ve tried it with, including a set of complete strangers at Gen Con.  

Overall, I expect this to be a popular game for years to come.  It’ll need a few expansions to keep it fresh, but the game seems like a great addition to any cooperative repertoire.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Melissa Rogerson: I’ve only played Mysterium once (a demo, at the UK Games Expo), with many plays of Tajemnicze Domostwo (which I think is a magnificent game), but I’m not convinced. In particular, I dislike the change from the purely cooperative game provided by the clairvoyance tokens. In addition, I found it unnecessarily fiddly. That said, if you don’t have access to Tajemnicze Domostwo, don’t discard Mysterium. It’s still a great game.

Greg Schloesser:  Put me into the category of “Not for Me.”  I’ve played twice, and both times the experience fell flat.  Oh, there were many people in the game who appeared to be really enjoying it; I’m just not one of those people.  I’m also not a fan of Dixit, so perhaps there is a strong correlation.  I found it very difficult to see the photo placards from across the table, which forced folks to constantly wander around the table to better view the photos.  While certain information could be deduced, much of it was still left to simple guessing.  Like many cooperatives, I also felt that it could easily be dominated by a few highly vocal and forceful players.  Overall, I feel there are so many better cooperative and/or party-style games.

That being said, I recognize that I am in the minority and the game has fascinated many, many folks.

Matt C.:  I’ll just chime in that I’ve played the original and enjoyed it.  It is the right style (co-op) and has a strong theme to which I can relate.  The new rules changes sound fine, in that I doubt they’d be able to change my attitude to less than “I Like It.”  I can’t tell if I will find them fiddly and somewhat competitive or I’ll find them interesting as they add “something to do” for players during their “off” time.

Joe Huber (3 plays, one of the Libellud / Asmodee edition): Somehow, I never got caught up in the cooperative game craze.  I generally enjoy playing cooperative games – but there’s really only two that have captured me enough to add to my collection, and one of those is on shaky ground.  I’ve enjoyed all three of my plays of Mysterium – one as the ghost – but I’m also not looking to play the game more.  As a practical matter, the rules changes didn’t matter much to my plays.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  Melissa, Matt C., Eric M., Joe H.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me… Greg S.
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10 Responses to Review of Mysterium (Libellud / Asmodee English Edition)

  1. Pingback: Review of Tajemnicze Domostwo (a.k.a. Mysterium) | The Opinionated Gamers

  2. Help me out with this one niggle I have with the theme. I’m sure there is an answer, I just don’t know it.

    If the ghost is trying to communicate about a perpetrator, why is the ghost giving everyone different visions instead of focusing it’s energies on only showing the one perpetrator? With 5 players, why 5 visions? Why not only 1 vision? I understand it needs to happen for gameplay, but how am I to explain this to my game players? I try my best to explain the rules thematically, but I can’t make that leap yet here without help. Thanks in advance.

    • Chris W. says:

      Here’s how it was explained to me at the Asmodee Gen Con demo… the Ghost is seeing several suspects, and on the final night, in a burst of clarity, he sees the true culprit. I’m not sure if that’s what Asmodee intended (I don’t believe it says that in the rules), but it makes sense to me.

  3. Game of 2015 with all that is on its way at Essen ’15? Hard to believe!

    • Chris W. says:

      I gave it a 9.5 on BGG… a rating in excess of 9 is rare for me. There are some fun Essen releases coming, so maybe I’ll have to eat my words!

  4. Dan Blum says:

    I like the original version of this quite a bit. I am sure the new one is fine but I really don’t like the new character art – even ignoring the major style change, based on the examples shown here they use extremely similar color palettes, which is problematic from a clue-giving perspective. (In contrast, the new location and item cards look good – not better than the old ones, but I would have no objection to playing with them.)

    I also don’t care for the fact that the English edition perpetuates the weird way some people have of doing the characters first and items last. The items tend to be the easiest so ending with them is anticlimactic, and if there are any new or new-ish players in the game I think starting with characters is a huge mistake.

    • Chris W. says:

      I fully agree that it should be object, place, person, and I might start playing it that way.

      I actually thought the opposite on the artwork. I like the new character cards (although I admit they have a similar color palette), but I thought some of the old location cards were creepier.

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