Mice and Mystics – A Written Review
Review #45 –
Mice and Mystics By Jerry Hawthorne – Art By John Ariosa – Published By Plaid Hat Games
“Once upon a time there was a kingdom of men, and it was ruled by good King Andon. King Andon was a kind and generous man and loved by all his people. But he was lonely as well, for he had to raise his son Prince Collin all alone. Prince Collin had grown into a fine young man, and the king was very proud of him, yet the king missed his queen who had passed away many years ago.
King Andon spent much of his time with his advisors, and together they decided on how to best rule the kingdom and protect its people. They would order the construction of important buildings, ensure that food was plentiful, and forge alliances with neighboring lands such as wealthy Nextor.
But one summer day, a visitor from a faraway land arrived at the castle. She was heralded by dark skies and a chill wind. She was Vanestra, beautiful queen of an unheard of land called Dahrklend. She had traveled with a contingent of several hundred soldiers dressed in jet black mail…” Excerpt from Sorrow and Remembrance
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Mice and Mystics, is a story driven cooperative fantasy game of exploration and adventure for 1-4 players played out through chapters like a story book. The game feels like you are playing out a great story reminiscent of classic novels like Redwall or the more recent Mouse Guard books. Each “chapter” of the story can be played as a standard dungeon crawl or chained together to form an epic narrative campaign that tells the story of Prince Collin and his plight to save his father the King from the nefarious Vanestra and her dark soldiers. The game is played on a game board made up of multiple interactive tiles where the heroes will explore, fight the minions of Vanestra, and complete various story objectives. Each chapter is very scripted and has a predetermined layout and a set amount of mice heroes who can participate, usually it will be four mice but occasionally as many as six or as few as two. Mice and Mystics plays like a standard “Dungeon Crawl” with unique heroes and villains represented by plastic miniatures, combat that is determined by the roll of the dice, and treasures that can be found through exploration. Unlike your average Dungeon Crawl though Mice and Mystics has a strong narrative and decisions you make (or fail to make) in one chapter carry over into later chapters of the story!
Prince Collin and his closest friends have been turned into mice, the king is dieing, and Vanestra has turned the guards against you! Can our heroes fight off the guards who have been turned into rats, save the ailing king, and finally defeat Vanestra before her evil plot comes to fruition? This will truly be a dark tale of “Sorrow and Remembrance”!
What’s In The Box
Mice and Mystics comes in an 11 1/2″ x 11 1/2″ x 2 3/4″ box that comes with a very simplistic divider that doesn’t adequately keep the game components separated. I was actually surprised by this especially after seeing how well Plaid Hat Games did with Summoner Wars: Master Set. If you decide to paint your miniatures you will want to pop the cardboard divider out and invest in a decent Plano box or something similar from your local craft store. If you do not plan on painting the miniatures it is simple enough to put all the miniatures with the bagged life and cheese tokens on one side of the box and everything else on the other side. The box itself is pretty sturdy and close to standard sized so it should fit nicely on your game shelf.
1 story book
6 mouse hero figures
16 minion figures
1 story control board
8 dual-sided room tiles
28 mouse ability cards
71 search cards
18 encounter cards
6 mouse hero cards
5 action dice
3 sheets of die cut counters
The game retails for $74.95. Of course you can always accept my cheesie recommendation of where to buy it.
Miniatures: Mice and Mystics comes with 22 detailed plastic sculpts made out of hard plastic (although not as hard as Games Workshop plastic). Each of the six heroes is represented by a unique sculpt that really brings each hero to life with fine details that really give each hero personality. There are also 4 different sculpts for the bad guys which should include six rats, one giant spider, one cave centipede, and finally eight cockroaches. The villain sculpts are good but not quite as striking as the heroes. The roaches are on the rather small and less detailed range while the spider and rats are good but not as good as the heroes, I would describe them as simplistic as opposed to being bad sculpts.
Each miniature paints up rather nicely especially the heroes with their higher details such as capes, cowls, bows, quivers of arrows, satchels etc.
When painted the miniatures really liven up the game board. Unfortunately since these miniatures use harder plastic and the divider isn’t quite up to par these miniatures can
and will break. Some breaks like the tip of a tail are mildly frustrating but the rat who had the snapped legs was a little bit of a glue project. Unfortunately the four major villains do not have unique sculpts and the limited number of models means that anytime a random minion should spawn that uses the same miniature as the villain and the villain is already on the board nothing happens which can make the difficulty of the game very swingy.
Board Tiles: The 8 double sided board tiles are made out of thick cardboard with full color artwork that is occasionally interactive. Water currents will move the mice on the board, broomsticks will help the mice get up on tables, and a helmet might hide a treasure to be discovered. In a unique change from your standard dungeon crawler the board doesn’t use traditional hex or square grids, instead each movement space is a cobblestone. The cobblestones are uneven and do not line up perfectly which can occasionally cause movement discrepancies. Fortunately the game comes with rules to deal with this situation, simply put, spaces are considered adjacent if the mouse’s base can touch both cobblestone spaces. These tiles do not interlock and this is actually a conscious design choice since tiles will be flipped and both sides will be explored during chapters. So far after numerous plays the tiles are free from any signs of warping and seem to be holding up very well.
Cardboard Tokens: There are quite a few cardboard tokens included in the box made out of thick full color cardboard. There are tokens for tracking damage, status effects, party items, cheese, and special achievements. While the tokens are well made the game is a little shy on cheese tokens and you will occasionally run out. The tokens are supposed to be limitless though so you might want to have a substitute on hand.
Cards: Mice and Mystics comes with standard size and mini cards. All of the artwork on the cards is full color and done very well. The text on the cards is easily legible with a nice contrasting background. The cards do a great job of conveying game play information and are organized well. The one negative to these cards though is the thin cardstock used. While this is far from the thinnest cardstock I have ever seen, it is thin enough that you will want to sleeve these cards. The smaller initiative cards that I have not had a chance to sleeve yet are already starting to show signs of wear at the corners. The cards do have a good laminate on them though and the designers had the forsight to give the cards different backs which makes cleanup much quicker and simpler. Search Cards have a Large “S” on the back and encounter cards have a large “E”. It is a pretty nice design choice.
Dice: The 5 included customized dice are well made with the symbols engraved into the dice which should add to the longevity. The dice appear to be standard size with a good heft and a decent roll to them. Unfortunately they tried to get too much info onto each face of the dice causeing the font used for the numbers to be on the small side making them hard to read from across the table. Trvivial for people with good eyes but an outright frustration for any grandparents who want to play with grandchildren. I understand the desire to keep costs down but I think it would have been a better design choice to include another D6 numbered 1-3.
Rulebook and Storybook: The rulebook and storybook are very well made and include numerous full color images throughout each. The paper quality is nice and all the text uses a nice easily legible font. The storybook does a great job of breaking down each chapter/adventure with details and images. My only concern is that although each tile is named and numbered to help set up the boards quicker, the font used in the story book is awefully small. I have really good eyes and even I need to hold those images up close to read the tile numbers. The story elements are very well done and extremely thematic making the story entertaining to read through.
The rulebook is also fairly well done containing multiple game images and examples. It does a great job of breaking down the game components in great detail and even has a nice index in the back of the book. Again the fonts used are very pleasing to the eyes and the rules are laid out in a fairly logical manner. Overall the rulebook does a good job of teaching the game but there are a few rule omissions and areas that needed extra clarification. There is a FAQ available that answers most of the questions though and I highly recommend downloading and reading the FAQ before playing your first game. Although to be fair most of the issues can be on the spot house ruled especially considering this is a cooperative game and your decisions will either make the game easier or harder. One rule clarification I would like to mention though is that the cheese wheel will never have over flow. Excess cheese is always discarded and anything that cause you to manipulate cheese will always happen before anything else is resolved.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 7/10 – Overall, aside from the broken miniatures (which I attribute to the UPS gorillas) the components are fairly good. There are a few issues though with card quality, the tiny fonts used on the dice, and a rulebook that does need a FAQ. The game could have used a few more miniatures or at least more variety in the sculpts, especially the roaches which are so simple as is, that they could have been easily replaced with cardboard tokens.
How Does It Play?
Mice and Mystics is a cooperative story based dungeon crawler where each player will take control of the heroic mice as they adventure through the chapters of a story. Each chapter is scripted for set number of mice and it does not scale so some players may have to control more than one mouse hero. Players will explore various locations in the castle including the jail cells, the courtyard, the kitchen, and the kings chambers while trying to unravel the mystery of Vanestra’s evil plot (future expansions will have a completely new story arc and adventures). Each adventure is a “Chapter” in the overarching storyline with the heroes exploring multiple double sided adventure tiles connected to form part of the Castle. In a fun interactive twist each tile is double sided with an “Above ground” and a “below ground/mouse tunnels” side. The mice will be exploring both sides during each chapter completing mandatory objectives, optional side quests, and encountering enemies (sometimes randomly sometimes predetermined). Each chapter has a victory and a loss condition, luckily though there isn’t any player elimination. When a mouse is defeated they are merely captured by the villains until the rest of the heroes can manage a rescue. If all mice are captured though then the chapter does indeed end in defeat. You will want to avoid getting captured though because the game has a built in timer called “Pages” on the Story Control Board. Each chapter has a finite number of pages and each time a mouse is captured another page is marked off. There is also a sense of urgency through the “Cheese Wheel” at the top of the Story Control Board (as a nice touch the Story Control Board is actually a giant Grandfathers Clock). Any time an enemy rolls cheese on the dice when attacking or defending, cheese are added to the cheese wheel. There are only 6 slots on the Cheese Wheel and if it fills up a “Surge” occurs spawning more enemies and causing another page to turn on the Story Board. The heroes, unless they are blessed by fate, will have a constant feel of time pressure as they scurry through the castle trying to complete their adventures. Some chapters will have optional side quests that will influence later chapters of the story but completing these side quests can be challenging making you ponder if they are worth attempting within the time constraints!
Ability Cards: Each mouse begins each chapter with one ability card of their choice. Each ability card represents a skill that mouse can use by spending cheese. Most ability cards can only be used by certain mice. Each ability card lists which type of hero can gain that ability. Instead of naming mice the cards list a class which allows the game to add new mice in future expansions. There are Healer abilities, Tinkerer, Warrior, Scamp, Leader, archer, and finally mystic abilities. Each ability card will list the name of the ability along the top along with how much cheese the mouse must discard to use that ability. Under that is the class that can use the ability followed by the rules text for the ability. A mouse can “Level Up” at anytime by discarding 6 cheese to gain another ability that matches their class. In campaign play all learned skills are carried over between chapters and a learned ability is not discarded after use.
Life and Cheese Tokens: Cheese tokens are used to pay for ability cards and are also used on the cheese wheel. Cheese tokens are gained any time the dice roll comes up with cheese. If a hero rolls a cheese they add it to their personal stash. If an enemy rolls a cheese it is added to the cheese wheel. Life tokens are double sided with the red side showing regular wounds and the green side showing poisonous wounds.
Dice: The dice are used for quite a few actions. Every creature at the start of their turn MUST roll one die for movement (even if they do not want to move this distinction can be important during some chapters). The number rolled (1-3) is either added to the heroes base movement to get their total move (for the heroes) or for enemies it is their actual full allotted movement. The rest of the symbols are used for searching, combat, and gaining cheese.
Encounter Cards: Encounter cards are only used if a room tile does not list a set encounter when it is first explored. One important note if you leave a tile and return to it later you do not have a second encounter (unless you delay and suffer a surge). Encounter cards are used to randomly determine what kind of enemies the heroes must face when they enter a new tile that has not been previously explored. Simply turn over the top encounter card and then check which page of the Story Control Board the hour glass is on. The heroes will encouner the enemies listed for the page they are on. The encounter card is then placed face up on the encounter deck in case the heroes suffer a surge. At the bottom of the card lists what kind of enemies will be added to the board if there is a surge. If their is a surge then the encounter card is discarded.
Hero Cards: Each hero has a matching hero card that lists their name across the top along with their class for choosing ability cards. It also lists their 4 stats from left to right: Battle Value (how many attack dice they roll), Defense Value (how many defense dice they roll), Lore Value (used for abilities), and finally Move Value (added to the roll of the dice to get total move). Each hero also has a special ability or two listed, what equipment they always start each adventure with (find and remove from the search deck before play begins), and finally how many hearts they have (how many hits they take before being captured). As a nice touch each hero card has a nice little story snippet on the back.
Initiative Cards: The initiative cards are used to determine in what order everyone acts. Each time the heroes explore a new tile or have an encounter a player must take the initative cards for all the heroes and enemies involved and shuffle them together. The cards are then placed face up one at a time on the Story Control Board to determine in what order everyone acts. Each initiative card lists the name of the creature(s) it represents, battle and defense value, special abilities, and how many hearts it can take before being defeated/captured. If an initiative card doesn’t list any hearts on it that means the card represents multiple creatures which will all act on that initiative phase and each creature only has 1 heart. Some Villains have multiple initiative cards allowing them to attack multiple times and each initiative card needs to be defeated separately to completely defeat that villain.
Story Control Board: The Story Control Board is used to track pages of the story, initiative, surges, and party items.
Board Tile: The board tiles are where the action occurs. Red X’s signify where traps are placed if they are part of an encounter and purple footprints are where enemies appear when a tile is first explored or a Surge occurs. If a surge or Encounter occurs and there isn’t enough room to spawn the new enemies because all the purple footprints are crowded then the excess enemies do not appear.
Tokens and Status Markers: Various tokens are used to represent party items or status effects like charmed, webbed, or stunned. There are also cardboard tokens to use for the enemies that do not have plastic miniatures.
Search Cards: Finally we have the Search Cards which grant our heroes various boons and challenges. Each mouse can successfully search each tile once. If they succeed they make a draw from the search deck where they may draw Accessories…
… which grant abilities as long as the mouse has the required attributes to equip it.
New weapons and armor, that grants melee bonus (bonus dice rolled for melee attacks), ranged bonus (bonus dice rolled for ranged attacks), or armor bonus (bonus dice rolled for defence). Some of the new equipment can only be used by certain mice and each card has a mouse silhouette that shows which slot the equipment occupies when worn.
Instant Fortunes to help our beleaguered heroes.
Items that have a special use and occasionally are only useable by certain mice.
Single use scrolls (clarified in a FAQ) that can be used as long as the mouse using it meets the required minimum Lore attribute.
Various negative effects that occur immediately and are then usually discarded, making searching a gamble.
Finally we have the trick cards, which like scrolls, are single use cards that can be played to help the heroes as long as they meet the cards requirements.
Setup will vary slightly depending on which Chapter is chosen to play but generally it is broken down as follows.
- Choose a Chapter of the story to play
- Select heroes, starting equipment, and abilities
- Set up the Story Board
- Lay out the Board Tiles
- Prepare the first room encounter
- Read the Chapter prelude, any special tile instructions, and the victory loss conditions
- Prepare the initiative track for the first encounter
- Follow any Chapter specific instructions
You are now ready to begin.
Rulebook turn Summary.
Mice and Mystics is played in a series of Rounds made up of Turns. A turn is usually an activation of figure(s) when their initiative card is up and a Round is finished when all creatures on the Initiative Track have completed their Turn(s).
At the beginning of each Encounter the initiative cards are gathered up for all creatures involved in the encounter, shuffled up, and then placed on the Initiative track. Any creatures added in during the encounter due to Surges or special rules are generally added to the bottom of the Initiative Track but there are exceptions to this rule.
On a Heroes Turn they must roll the die for movement even if they do not plan on moving. Then a hero can move and/or perform 1 action in either order.
• Scurry – Make a second move
• Battle – Roll dice to defeat enemies
• Search – Roll a die to see if they can draw from the search deck
• Recover – Recover from status effects
• Explore – Attempt to move to another tile or flip the current tile
Each mouse also gets 3 free actions a mouse can perform all 3 free actions but each action can only be performed once per Turn.
• Share – Exchange Cheese or Search cards with another mouse
• Equip – Equip items in the mouse’s pack
• Level up – Discard 6 Cheese and instantly gain an Ability card
A mouse can also use one ability card on the mouse’s Turn but some Ability cards have requirements that have to be met. If a mouse has multiple ability cards they can still only use one per turn.
A minion’s turn consists of 2 parts:
When a minion initiative card comes up in the turn order, each minion of that type will move and battle. Minions follow a pretty simple If/Then routine of target selection and movement. The various Bosses have multiple initiative cards giving them multiple attacks and multiple actions per turn. The mice have to defeat all the initiative cards for the boss to defeat the boss. When dealing with a boss, it is usually best for the heroes to focus all attacks on one Initiative card to reduce the number of attacks the boss can take.
Playing as a campaign allows players to preserve the progress of their mice from one chapter to the next.
1. Mice keep their story achievements and abilities earned from previous chapters.
2. Mice can keep only 1 search card that they had at the end of the previous chapters (some chapters do break this rule). This 1 card is in addition to their starting equipment cards. Mice will always begin a new chapter with their starting equipment cards.
3. Mice do not keep any party items, individual achievements, wounds, or cheese from previous chapters.
A sample game might look something like this:
This is a story based game and I try to avoid spoilers so this is a completely randomly made up encounter that you will not find in the included Story Book.
Collin and Tilda are in a race against time chasing a Rat who has the key to a cage where Filch has been tossed into. Our heroes have chased the Rat into a dark room full of cobwebs and a hungry spider. One player takes the Collin, Tilda, Rat, and Spider initiative cards shuffles them up and then places them on the initiative track. The initiative order ends up being Rat, Collin, Tilda, and then Spider. Collin take a Cheese thanks to his special ability and the Encounter begins.
The Rat takes its turn, rolls a die, gets a 3 and moves next to Collin. The Rat rolls 2 dice getting a Sword and a Cheese. A Cheese is added to the Cheese Wheel (now at 3 Cheese due to a prior encounter) and Collin rolls 3 dice to defend getting 2 shields and a Cheese. Colling gains another Cheese bringing him up to 2 and successfully parries the Rat’s attack. It is now Collins turn, he rolls a die for movement, and gets a 2 (always start a turn by rolling the movement die even if you do not plan on moving). Collin attacks the vile Rat and rolls 3 solid hits! The rat rolls 2 dice and scores 2 Cheese! Two more Cheese are added to the Cheese Wheel for a total of 5 Cheese bringing our heroes dangerously close to a Surge! Luckily the Rat is defeated leaving a very hungry Spider to deal with. Collin finishes his turn by moving 4 spaces ending adjacent to the Spider.
It is now Tilda’s turn she rolls a movement die and scores a 3. Tilda moves up to the same space as Collin, adjacent to the Spider and smacks it with her mace! Tilda rolls 3 dice scoring 2 hits and a Cheese (which is added to Tilda). The Spider rolls 3 dice scoring 1 shield and 2 more Cheese causing a Surge! The 2 Cheese are added to the Cheese Wheel (excess Cheese are discarded) and the Surge causes 2 Elite Rats to spawn and they are added to the Board Tile! The Page marker on the Story Board advances one space and the Initiative Card for the Elite Rats is added to the bottom of the Initiative Track. Knowing things are about to get very challenging Tilda uses a free Share Action to take Cheese from Collin in anticipation of the healing she will probably be doing very soon.
The Heroes turns are finished leaving the Spider and the Elite Rats about to make life very difficult for our out numbered heroes. The Spider moves in for a nice warm meal…
Simplicity of the Rules: 7.5/10 – The basic rules are very simple to understand and will seem very routine for anyone who has played Dungeon Crawlers like Heroquest, Descent, or any number of games in this genre. There are a couple rules ambiguities that are not covered in the rules though and while some of them will only pop up under certain circumstances (can “Give Order” be used to let another mouse use an ability card? Answer is no.), others will creep up routinely nagging at you until you find the official ruling (Timing for gaining Cheese? All rolls that generate Cheese, will have the Cheese awarded before any other effects or abilities are dealt with – This one was really important for “Filch’s” special ability).
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Mice and Mystics is a thematic, fantasy, adventure game for 1-4 players ages 7+. It is designed to generally play in 60-90 minutes but the fickleness of the dice can effect this. Players will be required to read ability cards, manage finite resources efficiently, plan hero development as a group, and play cooperatively while trying to complete the adventures. The artwork and images from the game have a strong midevil fantasy feel but they are kept very child friendly. Aside from one line in the story when the heroes complete the final chapter almost all of the story text is fairly tame. This game was obviously designed by a parent who wanted a game to play with their 2 children and it really shows. I think 7 is a perfect minimum age to enjoy this game but honestly my 4 year old plays this game with his 7 year old brother and me without any problems at all. I simply do all the reading for him and he happily enjoys playing Collin his favorite mouse!
Family Friendliness Verdict: 9.25/10 – This truly is a game designed with family play in mind.
Game length and perfect player count opinion
Mice and Mystics lists as a game for 1-4 players with a play time of 60 – 90 minutes, truthfully though these numbers are going to vary wildly. Mice and Mystics is a story based game first and almost every mechanic in the game puts story first. Each chapter is designed to be played with exactly X number of mice anywhere from 3 to 6 mice and the chapters are balanced for exactly that number of mice. Whether you have 1 player controlling 6 mice or 4 players splitting up the mice among themselves you will be taking the exact same number of turns. Additionally some of the chapters are just longer and more involved then other chapters and it will be very swingy based on just how lucky you are with rolls and surges. For example the very first time I played Chapter 1, “Filch” was an absolute machine of destruction, thanks to judicious use of Throwing Daggers, his Knife Strike Special ability, and repeatedly drawing Rats for each encounter. I was able to finish the chapter in a little over an hour, on page 3 of the story control board, thinking this was the easiest co-op game I had ever played. The second time I played through was an absolute nail biter with numerous surges, extremely close encounters with some of the mice getting captured, and an eventual defeat after over 2 hours of brutality where a spider rolled 3 cheese on a single defense roll ending the game.
Each chapter is also balanced for an exact mice count (I’ll elaborate more in my closing thoughts) which isn’t terrible if you have 4 players in a 6 mouse adventure but there are 2 adventures that are basically for 3 Mice only. This creates an interesting situation if you are trying to play with 4 players you either have the 4th player sit out and watch TV, skip that adventure and paraphrase the results (I do not recommend this because these are very story driven events), or simply have the odd man out control the encounters (best option in my opinion).
I know this is getting a little long winded just too arbitrarily tell you a perfect game time and player count but I had to justify the following comment, Mice and Mystics is at its best with 2 adults, or an adult playing with 2 children. With 2 adults you can play through all 11 chapters without having to fuss over someone not being involved or complaining about having to control more than one mouse (because both players will already be doing so). With an Adult and 2 children the adult will be able to control “the game” which parents are usually accustomed too doing so this is definitely not an issue. If you do indeed intend to play Mice and Mystics with either 3 or 4 adults just realize that there will be times that occasionally someone will be controlling multiple mice or someone will control the “game” or just have to sit out that chapter.
As for play time, it will vary depending on just how unlucky/lucky you are with the roll of the dice, the Mice you have chosen for your party, and the encounter cards that will pop up throughout the adventure. I have seen games as short as an hour and as long as 2+ hours, just plan accordingly.
* Fantastically Thematic, if you grew up with the likes of James Brian Jacques or recently discovered Mouse Guard you *WILL* love this theme
* Great gateway game to bridge the gap between role playing and board games
* Great detail on the miniatures
* This game was *Made* to enjoy with your children
* Game play simple enough for children to enjoy yet still enjoyable by adults
* Very child friendly theme but can we edit out the bursting/melting jelly eyes next time please?
* Great artwork throughout and the board tiles feel interactive/realistic
* Some game play and balance decisions were made with theme being the predominant thought process versus balanced game play
* Could have used a few more miniatures, Vurst and Vanestra bare minimum needed their own Miniatures, the Elite Rats would have been nice too
* Some rule ambiguities/omissions
* There is no way around it, the game will generate price comparisons with other games on the market
* Thin cards, order a few packs of sleeves with your game
* The numbers on the dice are pretty darn small
* The dice can be extremely fickle a series of bad rolls from Brodie can potentially end a game
But Is It Fun?
One major caveat to this review is that Mice and Mystics is at its heart a Story Based Game and I do not want to ruin the enjoyment of experiencing this story, so I might occasionally get a tad vague on some aspects. I’ll try to specify when I am intentionally being vague but if I do slip up I apologize in advance.
I can sum up Mice and Mystics pretty easily; it’s a fun game for families and adults alike. The theme is the greatest selling point but that theme is backed up with some solid mechanics and fairly balanced co-operative game play. I grew up reading the Redwall series and both my sons are really enjoying Mouse Guard to the point they often refer to Mice and Mystics as “The Mouse Guard Board Game”. Sorry Jerry I know you worked hard on the theme but it’s a 7 year old’s perception!
Jerry Hawthorne has done a great job creating a board game that has a very strong Role Playing Game feel in a good way. The story is fleshed out with encounters, story elements, game board tiles, and villains all designed to help bring the game to life. It may seem trivial but knowing that a broom and a helm on a board tile are actually interactive objects really helps add to the games immersion level. Each hero also plays and feels different bringing their own skills to the table. I actually spent time pondering who I wanted to bring on each adventure because I knew each mouse would bring something to assist the party. Nez was great for dispatching multiple vermin, Filch was great for getting across the board and was a beast when he had throwing daggers, Colin was a solid protector with great leader skills, etc. I never felt like any of these heroes were “Lame Ducks”. I actually found myself longing for a sliding difficulty mechanic based on how many mice were in play so I could field all 6 mice. Sadly an adjustable difficulty based on number of mice used is not included in the game and it is a very unfortunate oversight.
The game feels like a long interactive story. It’s amazing how some “campaign games” occasionally miss one small detail, events and decisions need to have repercussions in future adventures. From the very first adventure in Mice and Mystics you will be making decisions about side quests and the results of those side quests will matter in later adventures (Again I will occasionally be vague to avoid spoilers). The heroes will grow over the course of the story gaining new skills and equipment as the adventure unfolds. In an effort to keep the game balanced though hero development is slightly handicapped to prevent heroes from becoming too powerful for later adventures from lucky draws or efficient leveling. It might feel a little artificially limiting to some players but honestly it is 100% in place to prevent power creep which could trivialize later encounters. Unfortunately this can also be a negative for the game. The game IS designed and balanced as a campaign game. Heroes are allowed to carry over skills and equipment between adventures and the encounters seem to be balanced in anticipation of this. Since this isn’t a game designed to level up with the heroes the difficulty is geared towards leveled up heroes making it very difficult as a one off game. I hate to use comparisons with other games but Descent 2.0 seems to be the best comparison here. In Descent 2.0 if you play it as a campaign the heroes level up and so do the bad guys keeping things balanced. When Descent is played as a one off the Heroes are not leveled up and neither are the bad guys again keeping things balanced. Mice and Mystics does not have a matching mechanism and the difficulty is always set by the random encounters from card draws or predetermined encounters. If the heroes are playing through the campaign they bring along additional skills and gear if they play as simple one off adventures they will get outclasses especially in later chapters.
Mice and Mystics takes some great tried and true game play mechanics that we have seen before and then adds in some new innovations like the initiative mechanic. The initiative mechanic is designed to be simple enough for a youth to figure out but robust enough to create some interesting game play. I really like how major villains can have multiple initiative cards each with possible different attacks. Players can slowly whittle down the bad guys and as they do the bad guys lose attacks. To me thematically this reminds me of epic, titanic, struggles where the bad guy gets weaker from the constant onslaught from the heroes, loses strength, and eventually falls!
There are a few negatives to the game and while some may seem on the more trivial side, truly the difference between a good game and a great game is simple attention to details.
On the trivial end of the spectrum, Vanestra should have been a complete surprise, it is thematic and I think part of the story that you have no idea what Vanestra is. Yet when you open the box and tear the plastic off the cards, the top 4 initiative cards are for Vanestra and show a picture of a SPOILER. I admit it is a minor detail but imagine how much better thematically players would have been served if these 4 initiative cards were shipped in a small brown envelope that would have cost a mere penny with the words “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DIRECTED” written on it.
The theme is absolutely fantastic, the story draws you in, and you want to know what happens to the heroes next. Unfortunately this dripping theme at times forces balance and game play to take a back seat. This starts with the heroes themselves, most adventures will require players to play 4 mice, some will require all 6 mice, and a few will technically be only 3 (2 if you are frustrated by the Vurst adventure, trying to keep this relatively spoiler free). This is fine if you want to play the entire campaign with 1 other player and both of you are ok with the possibility of playing an uneven amount of heroes. It falls apart though if you have people who do not want to play more than one hero or you have more players than heroes (again trying to avoid spoilers here but one chapter is only 2 mice heroes). Also and admittedly this is a very rare occurrence, some adventures forbid certain mice from participating or require certain mice to participate, trivial issue for adults, frustration inducing for younger players. Younger players will get attached to their “hero” and are not going to be thrilled if they are told their favorite “hero” can’t tag along in this adventure. Anyone who has played a Pen and Paper RPG will definitely understand the following statement “It’s like playing an RPG with a group using only modules, its fun at first, there is usually a good story, but you really don’t get attached to your hero because you know you are getting new characters with the next module. That’s why I got bored of modules.” That’s a quote from an adult who played the game.
The amount of “stuff” for your dollar is a little on the lighter side, some people are going to compare what you get in the box to a Fantasy Flight Games or Soda Pop Miniatures production and simply scratch their heads. Yes I do realize Fantasy Flight Games is a “bigger game company” than Plaid Hat Games but your average consumer isn’t going to think like that. Your average consumer is going to look at another quest based dungeon crawler that came out this year and see a definite short coming especially when you compare dollars to components. I am not going to do a side by side comparison because honestly it would seem petty but there is definitely a large difference in your bang for your gaming dollar compartment here and the game should have had more. There are not enough cheese tokens included in the game for example and you will run out especially during the 6 mouse adventures. There should have been more than 5 dice in the box, heroes and villains rolling 4 dice each isn’t a rare occurrence, and I think 7 dice would have been a better number. There should have been more miniatures in this box. Vanestra needs her own sculpt and Vurst deserves the same treatment. I also think the elite rats that use bows needed their own miniatures. I don’t think that 5 more miniatures is asking for too much especially considering the 8 roach miniatures are on the small side. To be blunt I would have preferred the cockroaches to be cardboard tokens if it meant Vanestra, Vurst, and the Elite Rats would have had their own miniatures. I would have also liked to see a few player aids or at least turn break down cards such as those found in the D&D adventure system games and in Descent. One final knock on the components is the extremely small font used for the numbers on the dice. I have really good eyes and even I have to crane my neck to see what was rolled for movement. Optimally the box should have just included a single D6 numbered 1-3 to make things simpler.
There are a few rule clarifications that need to be made. What happens when you run out of cheese tokens? We played that if you run out the players need to sacrifice their cheese to fill the cheese wheel to stop player hoarding but it appears we were actually wrong about this. Some of the minion initiative cards do not list how many hearts are needed to defeat the minion. Some cards don’t specify if they are single use and then discarded or if they can be kept and used again. The rules specify limits on equipment but do not cover accessories. There are also a few timing questions but most of them were clarified by Jerry on Boardgamegeek.com the most important of which is any timing question that involves cheese rolled on dice, remember cheese are handled first. Honestly though this is a co-operative game and most players will just house rule some of these issues or make a judgment call and move on. I do hope that the eventual second printing ships with a FAQ to clear up these issues and ambiguities.
One final point, and this teeters between boon and bust depending on whichever camp you plant your flag in. You are constantly at the mercy of the dice in this game. A series of bad dice rolls can slaughter your party, bring the hourglass to the end of the story page, or just make your journey an absolute nail biter. On the other end of the spectrum a perfect storm of perfect encounters, the right party, some lucky die rolls, and the right equipment will make your adventure an absolute cake walk. These are 2 extremes but they are extremes I have personally encountered. I had fun, I didn’t feel cheated by the hands of fate, and I simply reset everything and tried again. Just be warned if you do not appreciate the capriciousness of lady luck this game will occasionally frustrate you.
Even with all these concerns, the bottom line is this; Mice and Mystics is a fun experience. I had a blast playing it with my 2 sons and it is also enjoyable to play for adults. I felt like we were playing an interactive story on a board. I would read them the intro story in the most dramatic way possible and then ham it up when the mice moved into a new room. Yes it was a little bit of improvisation but my children were enjoying every minute of it. The game is well designed with future expandability in mind. There may be a few rule ambiguities but you will eventually either house rule them or download the eventual FAQ that will appear on Plaid Hats website. This is a game that will only get better as the lumps are worked out and future Story Books are released. If you can look past the shortcomings or you are looking for a purely campaign based board game that will feel like an interactive story from beginning to end then this is a great game to add to your board game collection.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.25/10 – Great, thematic, and fun for the family. Aside from a few issues Plaid Hat Games and Jerry Hawthorne have a good game on their hands.