Sunday, May 11, 2008

Board Game Review - Mystery of the Abbey

The fundamental logical flaw in the game of Clue is that the murderer may not know he or she committed the crime. It always seemed to me to make more sense that the players should be investigators, not suspects. I mean, if you actually did conk the old geezer with a pipe wrench in the bidet, wouldn't you tend to remember that? But no, you apparently suffer complete amnesia whenever you take a life. And then you're stupid enough to wander around the mansion looking for evidence to incriminate yourself. What an idiot.

Mystery of the Abbey solves that little inconsistency by having you investigate a murder without having to worry about being a suspect. A lot of people say the game is like Clue (and since I started out comparing it to Clue, I guess they could be right), but there are some very big differences. In fact, the biggest resemblance is that both games involve finding the murderer by deducing which card has been hidden, and after that, all similarities are pretty much gone.

Fans of the Umberto Eco novel 'Name of the Rose' should find the entire theme quite familiar. You're the outside investigator, come to figure out which of the visiting priests at the abbey has been bumping off the other clergymen. There are dozens of suspects, from three different orders, and you must explore the abbey to hunt for clues as to the identity of the killer. You don't get to burn down a secret library or bone the scullery maid, but otherwise there's a lot of reasons for you to pretend to be Sean Connery in a cassock (a reference that about three people alive would actually get. I'm hoping one of them reads this site).

The abbey contains lots of different rooms, from the chapel and parlor to the scriptorium and library. Different rooms have different abilities - the confessional lets you swipe a suspect card from another player, while the crypt lets you draw a chance at an extra turn. The library and scriptorium are the most powerful rooms, because the cards you get there can decide the game. So you wander around, bumping into your fellow investigative monks (actual clergy members, not Tony Shaloub with OCD) and asking them questions.

The question-and-answer part is the most hilarious thing about this game. When you are questioned by a fellow Brother Cadfael, you can either answer, in which case you get to ask a question back, or you can take a vow of silence, in which case everyone will hate you (which is way more fun, but far less informative for yourself).

The questions are a little like that old game where you tried to figure out who was the secret guest by asking questions like, 'do you have a beard?', or 'are you wearing a hat?', or 'do you have genital warts?' (that last one doesn't crop up very often when kids play the game, but trust me, it makes it a lot more interesting). So you'll ask 'how many monks with beards have you marked off?' or 'do you have the Father Ted card?' (there isn't actually a Father Ted, I'm making another obscure pop culture reference. Next thing you know, Dennis Miller is going to show up on this site shaking his head and going 'ba ba ba!' And nobody will get that one, either.)

One irritating thing about this abbey is that these people pray, like, all the time. I mean, you basically have time to run to your room and change your hair undershirt before the bells ring and it's time for Mass again. Then all the monks have to haul ass back to the church. And every time you go to Mass, you pass cards around the table. As the game progresses, you'll have seen most of the cards, and there's usually one turn when two or three people know who the killer is at the same time, and then it's a race for the capitulum (chapter hall, for those of us who didn't take Latin in high school), where the first person there can tell the head abbot who has been whacking people and get a great big gold star.

The theme in Mystery of the Abbey is great. It fires up the imagination and puts you in mind of the Dark Ages. All that's missing is a burning witch. And you can burn your mother-in-law, if it will get you into the theme, though then you might hear from some investigators who aren't wearing floor-length robes.

The game, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. We've played it a lot, because it is fun, but all the deduction skills in the world won't save you if Brother Douchebag has spent the whole game hoarding special cards that let him look at your answer sheet and then teleport to the chapter hall. You spend the whole game trying to figure out one card, then all of a sudden it turns into a foot race. It's still a hoot, but the ending feels cheap sometimes.

I'm afraid I'm out of off-the-wall pop culture references, so I'll have to close with an overall recommendation. I can't give a particularly resounding positive review to Mystery of the Abbey, but I can tell you that it's a good time, especially if you question your fellow investigators using your primary weapons such as surprise, fear, and a fanatical devotion to the pope.


Great theme
Fun art
Entertaining investigation mechanic

No matter how much better you play, someone else can whip you just by having the right super card

Mystery of the Abbery is a good family game, and it can be lots of fun. You can get one here:


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine once said this game is broken because you don't have to actually do anything. You can get all your clues from other players and still win.

Anonymous said...

Great review Matt and yeah, there is an obvious flaw to Mystery of the Abbey in that sense. What would you recommend for another deduction game though? The closest that comes to mind is Mr.Jack and it's only a 2 player game.

Anonymous said...

Great review Matt and yeah, there is an obvious flaw to Mystery of the Abbey in that sense. What would you recommend for another deduction game though? The closest that comes to mind is Mr.Jack and it's only a 2 player game.

Matt Drake said...

How about Clue?

Anonymous said...

Clue - that is so old. I suggest THe Simpson's CLue for a really good game!

Great review, I have heard great things about Mr. Jack, but the wife says no to the theme.

How long does the game take?

Matt Drake said...

What, Clue?

Just kidding. Mystery of the Abbey takes about an hour.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Matt - one of the three people alive who got the "Sean Connery in a cassock" reference does, indeed, read your reviews...

Damn fine funny ones they are, too! Keep up the solid work!