Mysterium and the Straits of Communication


Cooperation can be hard to find on the internet, which means the digital board game Mysterium is a breath of fresh air. But can a game that relies on unspoken communication thrive online?

Mysterium caused a sensation among board gamers when it first appeared in Poland in 2013. A cross of Clue and Dixit, the game challenges a team of investigators to solve the mystery with the help of a ghost. The ghost uses vision cards with  dreamlike images to guide the investigators to a culprit, location, and weapon.

The ghost has only a few cards to work with, and the connections to the suspects are rarely straightforward. The investigators must ruse their inductive skills to figure out the clues before time runs out.

Waiting for the ghost to point out the guilty party.

Working in Mysterium Ways

True to the art of the original cards, the Mysterium app offers a sumptuous presentation with excellent art and music. The story mode spends too much time on dialogue and background flavor for its own good, but it gives a clear explanation of the game. The user interface is flexible and functions well.

The AI players are an welcome surprise. They aren’t all-knowing, but they make reasonable associations when giving and receiving clues. I suspect they work from a combination of random actions and an extensive keyword database on the cards, but whatever’s going on feels lively and unscripted.

Even good AI is not as satisfying as live players, so this game’s future depends on how well its community plays together. Asmodee Digital has a robust online play system, so getting together with other players isn’t difficult. However, the actual play experience doesn’t measure up.

Much of the fun in real-world Mysterium games comes from players guessing together, in commenting on their cards and each others’ choices. Face-to-face games give players plenty of bandwidth; they can talk, point, make faces, wince, and laugh.

The online version does its best to keep the lines of communication open. Players see each others’ choices, and type to each other through a chat window. But typing is clumsy on mobile devices, and you don’t have your fellow players’ expressions and gestures giving the game life.

Without the physical presence of players beside you, the game feels thin. The cooperative puzzle solving is enjoyable, but doesn’t replace the edge of competitive play. Online Mysterium is good, but so far it’s just a ghost of the face-to-face experience.


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