A few months ago, my roommate returned from a trip to Michigan to visit his family. While there, he visited a game store and had purchased a board game called Mice and Mystics. This is a game designed by Jerry Hawthorne and published by Plaid Hat Games. Initially, I had mixed feelings over the game from the cover art and the name alone. I know, never judge a book by its cover, but I was won over after learning it was cooperative game without the overseer mechanic you see in a lot of adventure board games.
Mice and Mystics falls into a very similar vein to games such as Descent: Journeys into Darkness. Players are given a selection of characters to play, from the beefy Nez to the mystic Maginos, you’ll find a character for every fantasy archetype you could desire. One of the more interesting things about this game is the fact that it is best played as a single campaign. The scenarios don’t really lend themselves to being played out of order or at random so it feels like a traditional tabletop roleplaying game. One of the characters, Lily, isn’t even available until a certain point in the story since in the opening game she is separated from the group.
The game functions on a map where premade board pieces are fitted together to show the overall map. From there you travel room to room as a group completing different objectives to advance. On these maps are different markers to indicate various things, whether it is a trap or a hazard for different storyline purposes. As I mentioned above, the game is completely cooperative. A lot of adventure games of this style have an “overseer” (also mentioned above), where a player effectively is against the party and will throw his weight against them to stop them at any cost (within the rules, ideally). The role of overseer is replaced via encounters and the narrative that different players have the chance to read out loud to the party.
As you take on the roles of Prince Colin and his comrades, you’ll feel a drive to complete the story and save his kingdom. Colin and his comrades are all represented on beautifully done miniatures as are a selection of the monsters. In this respect it is effectively a light substitute for a roleplaying game (RPG shorthand). Rather than having to spend time generating characters and having a player come up with the story it’s all right there ready for you and your friends to tear into. The game allows you to keep track of inventory and experience advancements as you level up so when you return to the game each time you don’t start over. In addition to that, some items you find in the game may not seem important, but are relevant for later missions. Plus, the game offers an achievement system for bonuses to players who accomplish set tasks during game progression.
The art style of the game does a very good job of portraying the world of these humans turned into mice. When you are in the sewers a sense of filth and obscurity creeps into your imagination and as you leave, the world doesn’t immediately brighten as you must now take the corridors only available to one of your newfound stature. On top of this, the box art alone has to be mentioned as it portrays the party hiding from the hideously scarred cat and constant antagonist, Brodie. On top of the care done with the artwork, an MP3 of the story to be played as you progress is available for sale from Plaid Hat Games, should you truly want full immersion.
The only real issue I have with Mice and Mystics would have to be the fact that there is only the one campaign in the core set. Sure, it’s a lot of scenarios for you and your friends to play, but once again they don’t make great standalone play. Each mission has bonus objectives to complete for loot and story bonuses yet they aren’t numerous. At the time of this writing they do have expansions available as well as missions you can buy to add to the main game’s campaign.
If you’re like my friends and I, it’s downright difficult to find the time to plan an RPG at times. Puckish rogues and barely-functioning cyborgs gather dust as their games languish as their adventures get put on the back burner for real life. Mice and Mystics is a light and enjoyable alternative to all of this. When we gather to play, I just grab the card for Fleck and check with the party notes for my abilities and inventory then we’re off to save the kingdom regardless if it means fighting off cockroaches or dashing across open fields as a crow menaces the entire party. Mice and Mystics is a brave showing with beautiful artwork, and I can’t help but recommend it to any role-player or board gamer in general.
Pros! - The overall story gives a great deal of environment to this game. - The cheese system really keeps you going as you spend and gain. - It’s an easy fix for role-players who can’t quite get the adventurers together like they used to.
Cons! - There’s only the core story which makes it difficult to just pick up and play. - Price is a bit steep at $74.99.