- Designers: Kevin Worden & Brian Leet
- Publisher: R&R Games
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 12+
- Time: 20-45 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by R&R Games
Mystic Paths was a game that hadn’t even shown up on my radar until my friends returned from the Gathering of Friends, and it was one of the games that all of them were talking about. DISCLAIMER – many of my friends are in the Opinionated Gamers, and one of the designers of the game is Brian Leet, who also happens to be in our merry group of members… But, that’s not the reason that everyone was talking about the game – all reports were that the game was a nice puzzly/deductive word game.
The theme is as follows: “As an apprentice wizard, you have been transported to the Eternal Forest — an ancient forest, not of this world. Armed with only your wits and a map, you will attempt to successfully navigate the mystic paths to the end. Only then shall you graduate as a full wizard! But your progress is blocked by sealed portals. These may only be opened by specific magic words — words that you are forbidden to utter. In this deductive mind game, strategic communication is key. Reveal one word clues to your teammates, and hope they speak the magic words for you. Each who passes all ten portals shall be proclaimed Champion!”
Despite that, in the end, this is a word game. The board itself is a circle with 19 circular holes in it – at the start of the game, you randomly select one portal disc to go in each of the 19 holes (total of 60 to choose from plus a few blanks to invent your own). Each player gets a figure in their color, five double-sided discs which have the numbers 1 to 10 on them and a bunch of NOT tokens. The figures are placed on the start space closest to them (always found on the periphery of the circle). The deck of clue cards is shuffled and each player gets a hand of 4 cards. Finally, each player is dealt a Map Card – this card shows the path which the figure must traverse over the course of the game. Make sure that you align it with your starting space at the bottom of the card.
The game is played over 5 rounds. In each round, players will present clues for the next 3 steps along their path. The map card that you get at the start of the game gives you your predetermined path. When you put your start space at the bottom of the card, you still see the words on the portals on the board along that path. In the first round,you place three clue cards down – the words on those clue cards are supposed to lead your partners to choose the next step(s) on your path. If your clue cards require it, you can place a NOT token down on a clue card to tell your partners that you really mean the opposite of what is written on the card. Then you place your 1, 2 and 3 numbered discs on the cards to show which clue goes with which step. All players do this simultaneously.
Once all players have 3 numbered clues in front of them, the group decides who they want to guess at first. All players except the one who made that set of clues can discuss which portals they think are on the correct path. The next step will always be directly adjacent and it will never directly double back, though it is possible for a single portal to be used twice on your path, just never on consecutive steps. When a guess is made, a player must physically touch the next portal they think is on the path. If the guess is incorrect, the incorrect space is marked with a NOT token of that player’s color – to remind players not to guess this space in the future. No further guesses are made on that player’s clues. If it is correct, the figure is moved to the next step and the team keeps guessing (or runs out of clues). And previously played NOT tokens are removed as well. Discard the correctly guessed clue card.
Continue to guess at the path of each player in the game. When all players have had a turn, the round ends. All players draw up to 4 Clue Cards in their hand. In each successive round, you add a Clue Card to the existing clues already on the table. You will always have clues for 3 portals in front of you except in the 5th and final round where you can have clues for 4 portals.
If your figure makes it to the end of your path, take a Wizard Cup bonus token, Put it Gold Side up (worth 2VP) if this happens in Round 4, put it Silver Side up (worth 1VP) if it happens in Round 5.
At the end of the fifth round, the game ends. Each player calculates their score – which is simply the value of the last completed step in their path plus bonus points from their Wizard Cup bonus token. The overall success of the group is graded as the average of all the players’ scores.
My thoughts on the game
Mystic Paths is an interesting word game that gives the cluegiver a chance to make some clever clues and lets the guesses make some deductions as to what the cluegiver is trying to say. Each game is going to be different as the portals in the board are always different, each path card is different and the clue cards will always be different. Sure, there are going to be plenty of times when the cards in your hand don’t necessarily match up well to your portals, but that’s the beauty of the game.
You don’t necessarily need to have an exact set of clues – sometimes you just need to have clues that lead away from particular spaces, and the team can figure out where you’re going. A risky strategy is to have a very strong clue for the third word (though, of course you have no way of signifying this to the team) – and then in order to make that path work, this definitely narrows down the different paths that will eventually lead to that third portal. Of course, if the team misses the first step along the way, your turn will end prematurely and no progress will be made! You only have 5 turns to make 10 steps, so you can’t burn too many turns without making forward progress if you intend to see the end of the path!
Also, when your clue cards don’t necessarily match up, it might take two turns in order to communicate what you want to say – don’t forget that all clue cards remain for a portal until it is correctly guessed.
I would definitely recommend looking at the other words which could be potential steps on your path – more than once I have played a clue card that made perfect sense to me – only to realize later that it was a much better clue for a different erroneous nearby portal – and that screws up my entire turn!
While it is certainly not required, familiarity with your teammates will be helpful as you might be able to use some inside knowledge/jokes for certain clues – but, overall, I think you’ll be able to play this just as well with strangers. In fact, maybe it’ll be easier because you won’t even be tempted to think about some inside meaning of a clue…
The components are serviceable. The clue cards have a large font for the word so that it is easy to read, and the same can be said for the portal. You will have to be a bit careful standing your figure on the portals as they have to stand off to the side of the actual portal so that all players can read the word. You need to make sure you do this because it’s kind of a dead giveaway for people to grab a figure to try to read the word underneath – because why else would they need to do this unless their path included that word?
The publisher was pretty proud of the fact that they were able to include the term “sausage pizza” in the game as a portal, and I’m happy to say that my team correctly identified this as a “delightful” thing in my most recent game!
As with most word games, it’s not going to be for everyone – but this is a nice entry to the genre – a bit more thinky than So Clover or Just One; so I think it fills a niche in this niche category. Definitely worth a try!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan (3 plays):This is a good entry in the now somewhat crowded field of cooperative clue-giving games. Unlike in most such games, the clues require no creativity on the part of the players, since they are all printed on the cards; a lot of people like coming up with their own clues, but many others do not, so this is more generally accessible than similar games. Some creative thought is still required to determine the best clues to use for each word given the adjacent locations and the sequence of locations to be clued each round.
My only issue with the game is the fact that the pieces are really too large for their purpose, as Dale mentions. They’re actually worse than he says in that they’re not supposed to be on a location but on the path from one location to the next, so you can tell where they came from. They just don’t fit well. Last time I played the set had some little wooden pieces from a different game which worked much better.
Joe Huber (2 plays, 1 of a prototype): Mystic Paths is a fun game, which avoids issues with being dealt a small number of choices by providing clues to multiple words at a time – so that if you don’t have a good clue for one word, you have a chance to make up for it with a later, better clue. But – the small number of clue choices is still quite contraining, and makes the game a little less interesting for me than other games which require more creativity. The net result is a game I’m happy to play, but wouldn’t suggest myself – which likely means that I will only be playing it while it’s new and shiny.
Tery (2 plays): I enjoyed both my plays of the game. The first play was with two players, and I didn’t really expect it would work with two; I just figured we’d learn the rules and get familiar with it before we took it to a local con. It turned out to work very well. I have now also played it with 6 players cooperatively, and that was also fun, although like all games of this nature there was a little too much discussion for me with that many people discussing the options. I liked that you had to choose from the cards you were dealt, which required some creativity, and the endless combos of tiles means it won’t get repetitive.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale, Lorna, Dan, John P, Tery N, Steph H
- Neutral Joe H.
- Not for me…