Mystery of the Abbey Review

Mystery of the Abbey game in play

The original whodunit game by Days of Wonder is Mystery of the Abbey (which just came back in print).

In Mystery of the Abbey, a murder has occurred! And, it is vitally important to determine who did the dastardly deed! To start the game, each player receives a handful of Catholic suspects (Fathers, Brothers, and Novices). Obviously, these people did not perform the murder, because they were too busy spending time in your hand. Each "round" consists of 4 turns per player. In any given turn, a player can move up to two spaces, ask a question of a player in his space (who, if he chooses to answer, can then ask a question back to the original player), and then perform the location's action. This action can be gaining extra suspect cards, getting various bonuses, or stealing suspect cards from other players. One of the crucial actions that a player can perform is to make an Accusation or a Revelation. An Accusation is when you declare a feature of the culprit - such as that he is Fat, Bearded, a Novice, or a Franciscan. This Accusation is written down and, if you are correct, is worth two points at the end of the game (and minus one point if it is incorrect). A Revelation is a declaration of who performed the murder - if you are correct, the game is over and you gain four points; if you are wrong, then you lose two points and miss a turn. At the end of each round, all of the players return to the Assembly Hall for Mass. During Mass, players pass some suspect cards to the player on their left, and an event occurs. This event can range from beneficial, forcing everyone to reveal a suspect card, to downright odd, like forcing everyone to communicate only in song for the upcoming round. Once someone successfully Reveals the murderer, the game is over; however the person that made the successful Revelation is not necessarily the winner - whoever earned the most points from successful Accusations and Revelations is the winner.

Mystery of the Abbey suspect cards
Trying to eliminate some suspects
The first thing that I like about Mystery of the Abbey are the questions. This is really the crux of the entire game. Each time that you get into a room with another player, you have to ask them a question. And they have the option of ignoring your question ("taking a vow of silence"). However, if they choose to answer your question, they can ask you anything they want. And you are forced to answer. Therefore, you need to make sure that you ask a useful question so that you're not just giving away information. However, as powerful as this can be, it is kept in check by another limiting factor - all of the questions are public knowledge. Therefore, if I ask you, "Have you eliminated all of the Franciscans?" (a legal question), and you answer "Yes," then everyone in the game knows that the Franciscan suspects are innocent. I find this balance of asking questions that help me without revealing too much about what I have to be quite enjoyable.

I also like that with the questions, if you are the original person asked (ie, it is not your turn), then you have the option to take a vow of silence. This is useful because it allows you to determine if the information that you would be giving up would be too valuable to disclose. On the other hand, you have to make sure that you don't always take the vow of silence for the same reason (ie, if the answer would confirm something), otherwise your lack of an answer can be equally informative. (As a side note, it is a valid strategy to always take a vow of silence and listen to other people asking questions. However, though this is a valid and understandable strategy, it is quite annoying and really takes quite a bit of the enjoyment out of the game. At least that player is forced to ask a question when he moves into a room with another player.)

Another thing that I have grown to enjoy about Mystery of the Abbey is that you don't have to make the successful Revelation to win the game. At first I was quite hesitant about this aspect of the game. After all, isn't the point of the game to find the killer? However, I like that Days of Wonder took an alternate approach here. Yes, it is incredibly valuable to find the killer - worth twice as much as any Accusation! However, making several Accusations can reward the player who is able to most quickly decipher certain aspects about the killer. It also prevents someone from winning (as easily) by desperately guessing something at the last second.

However, though I really enjoy Mystery of the Abbey, there are a few things that I dislike about it. First is the constant vow of silence strategy mentioned earlier - I think there should be a rule against this. Forcing the player to ask a question when he goes into a room with an opponent helps, but does not completely take care of the problem.

Mystery of the Abbey board game suspects
Are we sure this isn't the guy who did it?
The second thing that I disliked about Mystery of the Abbey is that your movement is limited to two spaces per turn - yet the board is setup to where you often need to go three spaces to perform a room action. This causes a lot of turns to be spent only moving and (sometimes) asking a question. Of course, that question could be met with a vow of silence, so your turn could be completely unproductive towards finding out information about the killer.

The last thing that I will mention is that, since you only pass cards to the left at the end of each round, a lot of what you are able to see is heavily influenced by a single opponent. For example, in one of the games that I played I was collecting as many suspect cards as I could. In doing this, I was able to steal a couple and take a couple from the parlor (extras after dealing out every player's hand). Because of this, I had about 8-9 cards in my hand. You never have to pass more than 6 cards. Therefore, since I kept track of some of the cards the player to my left had seen, I was able to regularly prevent them from having useful information. The other players had less than 6 cards. So, as the game progressed, they had less opportunity to hide information - the only person negatively influenced was the person directly to my left. And she was quite frustrated. And married to me. And so now I will try to make sure that she no longer sits directly to my left in Mystery of the Abbey.

Overall, I give Mystery of the Abbey an 8.5/10. I looked forward to trying it out for quite some time, and I wasn't disappointed. If you like whodunit games, this is one that I think you can play with your entire family.

If you like Mystery of the Abbey, you should also check out Mystery Express, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, and Ticket to Ride. Or, if you want another opinion about it, you should check out this review of Mystery of the Abbey by the Board Game Family.


  1. Great review Josh. We haven't played for a while, but all the talk of the reprint and your review have caused an itch that we're just going to have to scratch...

  2. I think you have revelation and accusation backwards in your review - it is the revelation, I believe, that let's you guess a characteristic of the murderer.

    Otherwise, great review!