Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Board Game Review - Mice & Mystics

You know that scene from The Jerk, where Steve Martin is all excited because the new phone book has arrived at the gas station, and he goes, 'The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!' Remember how he's so far over the top that he is running around with his hands in the air? Well, that was me when Mice & Mystics finally showed up at my house. My copy is a demo that was used at GenCon, and let's just say that it has been lovingly enjoyed, but I didn't care because I was so damned excited to finally play with my family.

Now, first things first, I've already written about this game once. But when I wrote about it last time, I was just playing with the guy who made it. We tried it, had a good time, but I was just enjoying the experience, and not trying to run the damned thing. It's one thing to have Jerry standing there going, 'yeah, now you get this, and you did that so here's one of these, and have some chili because I just made it.' It's another thing entirely to be the guy who reads the rules and has to remember how many different treasures you can have, and when do the rats get a turn, and what does it mean when the roaches are greedy. I assumed it couldn't be too hard, considering the fact that the game is designed to be for families.

And I was right. It was pretty darn easy. And that meant that instead of having to be the dungeon-mastering head man, I was able to join in the game alongside everyone else and have swashbuckling miniature adventures against cranky house cats, villainous rats and monstrous spiders. We climbed out of sewer drains and up into the kitchen. We slew cockroaches like a can of Raid. We made friends with the castle cook, dodged the vicious crow, and finally escaped from the tunnels, only to find more adventure waiting for us.

All the administrative stuff, and the different rules that actually allow you a fairly wide set of options on any given turn, are made simple through the use of a very cool set of dice. The dice have swords and shields and arrows and numbers and explody marks, and best of all, cheese. When you move, you roll the dice and check the numbers. When you search, you roll the dice and look for explosions. When you fight, you roll the dice and look for swords or shields (and cheese - you'll want a lot of cheese). Special abilities will have you roll and look for cheese, or explosions, or shields, or whatever else, and it means that the game has tons of flexibility without getting complicated.

I've already commented at length at how much the game feels like living out a story, but the thing that impresses me now that I've had to actually be in charge of a game is how well the rules make those stories happen. Mice & Mystics contains an incredible number of customizable components, from double-sided boards and delightful treasures to swappable encounter cards and a flexible timer. With subtle manipulations that appear to be little more than a flick of the wrist, a journey through the castle pipes can be either a frenzied race from an implacable foe to a charge into the face of a powerful enemy.

The story book that you get in Mice & Mystics does an incredible job of showing how flexible this system can be. The various adventures you can play will have you escaping, rescuing, sneaking, sabotaging, and otherwise doing all manner of heroic things made that much more heroic because you're playing a mouse. The adventures string together, and if your mouse learns how to thundersqueak in one thrilling tale, he'll still know how for the next one. This would seemingly create a situation where you'll eventually become too powerful, but happily, the additional abilities are not super powers, they're just a wider array of options.

And those options are beautiful. Now that I've seen the card art, the delightfully sculpted plastic miniatures, the beautifully illustrated tiles and the board shaped like a broken grandfather clock, I can't believe this wasn't made by a much bigger publisher. The components are so high-quality that even though my copy had been played something like 20 times already, it was in surprisingly good shape. Everyone in the family had to stop playing every now and then to gawk at the pictures or examine the minis. Money went into this game, and a lot of talent, but the most obvious thing that went into Mice & Mystics was passion. This isn't just a product. It's a labor of love.

I've heard some concerns about the ability to play this game once you've finished the book. I suppose from one standpoint I can understand it, but at the same time, do you complain about a D&D module because you can't play it twice? Or do you take a look at all the tools at your disposal then do like junior-high kids have been doing since the 70's, and start making your own dungeons with hundreds of demonic seductresses and no bathrooms? Because having read through the rules, played the game and had a look at all the pieces at your disposal, I can promise that if we finish all these adventures before more come out, I'll be writing my own. And it won't even be that hard, because all the pieces are already there.

I think that's one of the things that I really noticed when I was able to hold a copy of the game in my hands - there is so much I can do with this one base set than I imagined. Once my heroes finish with the evil witch and her evil minions, I can use what I already have to build new scenarios that will be just as thrilling and imaginative as the ones I've already played. As more pieces are released for Mice & Mystics, I can add those to my repertoire, and I'll have so many fun things to do with this game that I will have even less time to play all my other games.

Honestly, I really hope Plaid Hat Games releases some mini-expansions that include stuff like new treasures and opponents, because I can see myself having a great time writing my own stories. And the great thing about Mice & Mystics is that unlike every other dungeon crawl I've ever played, the story is the most important part. It's not all about establishing line of sight or managing the combat order. It's not a game where you have to balance your inventory or count your gold. You might look for the weapon that grants the best attack bonus, but you'll do it because you have to save the realm from the clutches of the dark queen, not because you're trying to balance attack speed with defensive bonuses.

I have said for a very long time that my favorite game of all time is Warhammer Quest. I'm not entirely prepared to surrender that position, partly because I've got a few hundred plastic miniatures to paint and I paid 500 bucks to replace the copy I lost in a fire. But I can comfortably say that Mice & Mystics is easily in my top three, sharing the limelight with Risk Legacy. And if I get the tools I need to make Mice & Mystics the game I know it can be, I might have a copy of Warhammer Quest available, cheap.


2-4 players (maybe more, depending on the adventure)

The most story-driven board game I've ever played
Planning and strategy and tactics are important, too
Absolutely stunning components
Exceptionally good to play with your kids (unless you cuss as much as I do when you win)
One of my favorite games ever

Not enough out yet to make it my number one

Mice & Mystics still isn't out yet, which means you've still got time to get in on the awesome preorder. You can save $25 on a $75 game, and get two promos in the process. But time is running out, so hurry your ass up and order.


Kenneth Harkin said...

Orderred based on your review and I let them know.

MIK said...

I need to stop reading this blog, it's bad for the budget!

Andrew Wodzianski said...

You cuss win you win? I cuss throughout any game, and just cry at the end. Regardless of a win or loss...

Anonymous said...

*Matt wins*

Fuck yeah!

Scott said...

Matt - I couldn't quite see whether you liked this game or not, the intense glowing emitted from my computer screen was blinding my eyes!