I love cooperative games. Even within the genre “cooperative”, there is so much variety in games. There may be players working in a team against other players as in Codenames or all of the players working together against the game itself as in Pandemic. However, as is the case for this Game of the Week, there is no enemy or clear adversary. In Mysterium, the challenge lies in communication — or lack thereof. One player acts as the Ghost, trying to get a team of Psychics to correctly deduce combinations of suspects, locations, and weapons to solve their murder. The challenge? The Ghost can make no sounds, give no facial expressions nor gestures, and must only communicate to the Psychics using a limited supply of cards beautifully illustrated with abstract images. It is up to the Psychics to figure out what messages the Ghost is trying to convey with these cards to solve the crime.
During class, I played the role of the Ghost, and I can say with confidence that having such limited communication with your teammates makes it really difficult to win Mysterium. That is also illustrated by the fact that there was a 0% win rate in class among the 3 groups. The Psychics are dependent on the Ghost giving them clues about the sets of suspects-locations-weapons, but the art on those clue cards are so colorful and detailed! Having to match the 7 clues in my hand to the 5 cards that the 5 Psychics had to guess while also paying attention to the other 6 cards I had the steer the Psychics away from… Creating a connection between the clues and the cards was hard enough. Knowing the Psychics had to figure out what my thought processes were for each clue made me squirm in my seat and hide behind my screen for fear of giving away too much information with my reactions. I think the hardest part of the game for me was biting my tongue while listening to the Psychics discuss what their answers should be. I wanted desperately to praise the players who understood my line of thinking, warn the players who got attached to the wrong details, and hint to one side of the table to look at the clues I’d given out to the other side.
When thinking about this game in terms of leadership, my mind keeps coming back to all of the things I couldn’t do as the Ghost. I couldn’t encourage my players for doing a good job. I couldn’t explain my thinking with misinterpreted clues. I remember watching in horror as one of my players guessed literally every other suspect than the one I wanted him to pick because I couldn’t say, “Let’s forget that last clue I gave you because I definitely gave you the wrong idea with it.” Playing a game with no communication really goes to show how important communication is for succeeding. Being able to clear up confusion verbally would have made the game trivial, yes, but applying this game to the real world, open discussion and being able to clear up previous mistakes is so very, very important.
I think Mysterium is a fantastic game. I recommend, however, to play it with family or a group of close friends first. Anybody who loves a game of Charades, loves beautiful art and aesthetics, and doesn’t mind waiting patiently for the Ghost to set-up or disperse clues would love this game. I suggest to play with a group of people you know very well first as an “easy mode” introduction to the game. You’ll know the thought processes of family and friends, and can get a handle on the rules of the game. Then, give it a try with strangers or acquaintances for an added challenge.