Mysterium was designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko and the board game was initially released in the Ukraine by the game publisher Libellud. Since the games initial release, there has been an online and app version (which I played) of the boardgame, in which all keep to the unique blend of a murder-mystery board game and a card-based guessing game. Mysterium is a cooperative, murder-mystery game that challenges players to deduce the culprit of the murder, along with the murder weapon and crime scene (Asmodee). The initial premise of the game is:
On a bleak night in December of 1894, tragedy struck the Count of Warwick’s manor in the highlands of Scotland. In the aftermath of a glittering party, a man-servant was found dead, and although the police declared his death accidental, rumors of foul play ran wild. Thirty years later, this unsolved mystery returns to light as a group of notable psychics converges on the Scottish manor in hopes of making contact with a restless ghost and bringing that spirit the peace it has so long been denied…
In the board game (the app version), you start off with a list of suspects who may have committed the murder. To solve the mystery the psychics (the players) are assisted by the ghost of the victim, who communicates with them through visions (i.e. illustrated vision cards). The visions are received by the psychics to assist in uncovering the truth but the visions are not always precise and it is up to the psychics to discover the hidden details or meanings from the vision illustrations. The psychics have to deduce the correct culprits from the clues given in the visions. The visions come when needed but the fewer visions the psychics require the quicker the murder can be solved. Once the psychics uncover the individual behind the crime, they can move on to discover the murder weapon and the crime scene through additional visions. When the psychics close the case they can move on to another unsolved murder with the help of a restless ghost awaiting justice for their murder.
Mysterium as a Game
What is a game? Game is a broad term that many different things could be classified as. A game could be defined as something that is free/voluntary, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governered by rules, and make-believe (Caillois). Another definition of a game could be:
A game is a rule-based system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels emotionally attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are negotiable.
With these definitions in mind, Mysterium could indisputably be defined as a game. Mysterium, as a game has all the aspects listed in the above definitions that are required for the classification. The game has a set of rules, which the players have to follow to be involved, which relates to the outcomes. You get only so much information before you have to make a decision and, in the game, you either uncover the killer, murder weapon, and crime scene or you do not. This means that the outcomes vary, and when playing with other individuals the different outcomes would quantify as different values (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) The players also have to be invested in the outcomes because they are investing their time, voluntarily and without compensation. Mysterium requires the players to become invested in the details of the murder-mystery to earn the desired outcome.
Mysterium as Art
Mysterium is a game but is it art? Art could possibly be generally defined as a piece that is, “offering to express a general human (i.e. non-utilitarian) interest… [by] independent workmen and skilled workers producing a certain kind of marginal commodity” (Williams 32). Which, means art could be defined as a product that is created by individuals with the intention of appealing to others in an impractical or nonessential way. Mysterium, also could fall under the classification of art, according to this. The game has designers (as previously mentioned) and illustrators of the incorporated art
work. Mysterium was also created to appeal to the general person without the thought that it was essential or necessary. There are many thing that may not initially appear to qualify as art but there are viewpoints that may very much depict it as a form or piece of art. Mysterium is as much art as it is a game.
Most things can be seen differently depending on the viewpoint and context in which it is observed and Mysterium is no different. It is both a game and art. Games and art may not be obviously reconcilable but when something is observed from different views and can be found to be both game and art it shows that they may not be so incongruent. Mysterium! From Board Game to Art!
Caillois, Roger. “The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games” The Game Design Reader. The MIT Press (2006:Cambridge, MA.).
Jesper Juul. (2005). “Video Games and the Classic Game Model”. The MIT Press (Cambridge) Pp. 23-54.
“Mysterium”. Asmodee Editions. <https://www.asmodee.us/en/games/mysterium/>
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Cary: Oxford
University Press, USA, 1985.