Let’s admit it, most Halloween parties are just the worst. For non-parents, they fall into one of two categories: overpriced club where you spend $100 and can never find a place to sit down, or a house party where one couple (named Sean and Denise) is guaranteed to be dressed up like ketchup and mustard. That’s why I’ve taken to hosting spooky board game nights at my house for All Hallow’s Eve. I thought some of you guys might want to do the same.
So, for the next several weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the coolest spooky, creepy, and supernatural board games and tabletop RPGs out there. This week, we’re starting with Mysterium, one of my personal favorites. Here’s how I tend to describe it: “Imagine Clue, only it stars a ghost who’s super emo.” (Yes, technically all ghosts are emo, since they’ve refused to move on to the afterlife because of how much pain and suffering they need to share with others. But this ghost is really, really emo.)
Mysterium ($39) is a cooperative mystery tabletop game based on the Ukrainian board game Tajemnicze Domostwo. Set during the 1920s, it takes place in the home of Mr. MacDowell, an astrologist and fan of the occult. His home in Scotland is haunted, so he brings over a bunch of his friends (who all happen to be mediums) to find out who murdered the ghost and put her or him to rest.
What sets this apart from, say, Clue is that the ghost is actually part of the game. No, that doesn’t mean you get to murder one of your friends (sadly), but that one of the players takes on the role of the restlessly undead. It’s the ghost’s job to help the mediums figure out if the murderer indeed was Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Wrench. This is undoubtedly one of the best parts of the game, as it creates this great dynamic where there’s a quasi-Game Master who knows all but can’t say shit about it.
The game takes place in two rounds. During the first (and much longer) round, each medium has their own unique mystery to solve, with their own Person, Place, and Weapon that they have to figure out. For example, it could be a Demon Barber in a Playroom with the Iron, or the Bagpiper in the Kitchen with a Rope. The ghost knows every person’s individual mystery, and has to point the medium in the right direction. Then, once (hopefully) everyone’s solved their individual mysteries, the ghost has to help them come to a consensus on the actual murder. Only problem is, they’re a freaking ghost. They can’t talk, mime, or be corporeal. So, this is where the ghost gets artistic.
The ghost communicates to the mediums through a series of “visions,” which are represented in the game by abstract illustrated cards. It might show a rainy umbrella hanging upside down, its handle slicing through the moon, or it could be a bunch of dripping candles floating over a carpeted staircase, with a bear trap nestled in the corner. Each one is a cornucopia of psychological exploration, a Rorschach test...only with a lot more stuff. Largely illustrated by Igor Burlakov, the cards are a visual splendor. You might find yourself poring through them even when not playing the game.
While the game itself is a fun experiment in spooky mystery solving, it also provides for a lot of unique immersion. I’ve held game nights where we’ve all dressed up as mediums, with our own unique characters and personalities. This also means upping the intensity in the game too. For example, instead of having the ghost’s visions laid on the table for every player to see, we sometimes play it so each medium has to describe his or her visions to everyone else. Let me tell you, it gets a little hilarious when you have to say things like: “Yeah, there’s a woman chilling with a tiny dog, cat, and little blonde girl in her pocket” while trying to keep a straight face. But hey, it’s a vision, they’re weird like that.
But I have to say, my favorite is getting to play the ghost. It might be the hardest job in the game, but man, there’s just so much fun you can have with it. I like to use my iPhone and Phillips Hue bulbs to really set the mood, surprising people with creepy noises and flashing the lights on and off if they’ve figured out one of the clues. You can even arrange it so you’re not even in the same room with the mediums. For the most part, you just chill in another room, silently observing. And anytime you need to give them visions, just tell them to close their eyes so you can float in and out like a whisper on the wind.
Mysterium is a feast for the eyes and mind, and anyone who’s wanted Clue 2.0 is going to get a lot out of this one. It’s an excellent choice for a spooky night of haunted fun. And it’ll seem like a walk in the park compared to the disturbing nightmare that’s coming next. Things are about to get Lovecraftian.