Mice and Mystics Review

Mice and Mystics game in play

One of the hottest games lately has been Mice and Mystics.

In Mice and Mystics, you are a group of mice (that used to be humans) attempting to save your kingdom from an evil overlord that is seducing your father, the King.  Also, the evil overlord controls lots of rats, which is horribly inconvenient.  The game is scenario driven, and in each scenario, the players are working together to accomplish a certain goal - whether that is escaping the castle, defeating the house cat, sending a message via a crow, or something else entirely.  To do this, the players alternate taking turns with their mice.  On each turn, you are allowed to move and take an action.  The different actions include attacking, searching, exploring, and recovering.  As free actions, you are also allowed to level up, equip your mouse, or share equipment with other mice on the same space.  Most of the actions are fairly straightforward.  When attacking, you roll dice and compare the number of hits against the number of blocks - and if there are more hits than blocks, then damage is assigned (and if cheese is rolled, then the side that rolled it gets to collect cheese tokens).  Searching lets you find new items, exploring lets you move to the next tile (or flip the current tile), and recovering allows you to attempt to remove status affects.  Among the mice's turns, the minions that are on the board will also get to take turns; their turns work similarly to the mice turns, but they will almost always attack.  If the mice are able to successfully accomplish their goal before time runs out, then they succeed!  If all of the mice are captured at the same time, or time runs out, then they were stopped without being able to accomplish their mission - thus dooming the kingdom!  (There are various things that "advance the timer," like having mice captured and having the minions collect too much cheese.)

At its core, Mice and Mystics is a very lightweight role playing game.  It includes leveling up, an ongoing campaign, characters that you should embrace, and an overarching story.  In fact, the game comes with both a rulebook and a quest book.  And, that quest book contains 11 different quests.  So, honestly, my first pro for Mice and Mystics is that it is a wonderful choice if you are looking for a way to have a laid back role playing experience that can easily include non-gamers and younger kids (probably as young as 8-12).  I think that the campaign is put together well, and I truly appreciate two specific elements.  First, I like that each scenario doesn't have the same victory condition, and second that there are decisions (side quests) that you have to make during the campaign that will affect what happens later.  And, I especially appreciate that, if you play like I do, then you must make these decisions from an uninformed perspective - which does a good job of representing the vantage point of your characters.  Should I go try to get the cook's attention?  Well, I don't know - do I actually need her attention?  What advantage is there in that?  Well, it seems like a good idea - let's do it!

Mice and Mystics player setup
Equip your characters and help them to level up!
The next pro for Mice and Mystics is the world and the story that you find yourself thrown into.  Suddenly, your father has taken ill, and this evil woman has far too much control over your kingdom.  So, what do you do?  You have the castle mystic turn you all into mice, obviously.  Now, as mice, everything is gargantuan!  In fact, even the rats are larger than you.  Both the setting and the enemies in the game do a good job of helping you invest in this theme.  I also like that, as you experience different things, you get to learn more about the story of what is happening around you.  In fact, there are story segments both before and after each adventure, along with an opening prologue and final epilogue for the quest book itself.  And, for the most part the story is interesting - though there are occasionally lines that make me cringe.  (My least favorite line in the book is, "and to make sure Collin didn't dawdle, Nez said, 'Now don't ya dawdle, boy!'"  I really wish they had someone read through that and realize that the word dawdle sounds awkward when used twice in the same sentence.  A thesaurus would have truly helped this line.)  There are also some minor logic problems, in my opinion, but if I go into detail, I'm concerned that I might spoil part of the story for you.  And, as I said before, the story is one of the best parts of the game!

Yet, though I thought that the campaign was well done, there were some definite cons that I had for Mice and Mystics.  The most immediate con that I had for Mice and Mystics was that I felt like I was constantly running into rule ambiguities.  Now, I will confess - I learned this game from a tutorial video.  However, this video was on Plaid Hat Games' site, and was referenced on the front of the rules ("If you want us to teach you how to play, you can visit...") so I was hoping that watching it would be all I needed in order to start playing the game.  Unfortunately, after watching it, I still didn't feel like I understood the game very well, and even after reading the rulebook and referencing it during the game, we often found ourselves guessing at how certain things worked.  One example is with the "Fishhook and Thread" object.  This object is found in the water on the first scenario.  When moving out of water, the rulebook specifies that you must roll a die, and if you roll a "star", then you successfully move out of the water.  The Fishhook and Thread allows you to connect two spaces on the tile and move between the spaces "as if they were normal adjacent spaces."  Now, does "normal" mean non-water, or does it mean that you are able to move between them as if the spaces in between didn't exist?  Do you roll a die, or not?  This is just one example of a multitude of times that I found myself scratching my head trying to decide what exactly the game intended for me to do.  I'm hoping that in the future the FAQ for the game starts addressing more of these issues, but when I referenced it, it still felt like it was in its infancy stage.

beautiful minis from Mice and Mystics
Epic battles on miniature scales
The next con that I had was that I felt like the actions were too prescribed.  Now, if you recall, there were several different things that a mouse could do on his turn.  That sounds exciting, right?  Unfortunately, in order to actually explore (move to the next tile), your current tile had to be cleared of minions.  Why the mice decide they need to fight every household pest is beyond me (ok, ok, they are "heroic" mice - sure), but I really didn't understand why they weren't willing to ever run away.  Regardless, the net effect of this rule is that most turns amount to charging at opponents and attacking.  You will occasionally search, and you will occasionally explore (well, at least if you hope to advance the game), but when you should do each thing is pretty obvious, and so there's not a lot of strategy behind when to fight and when to do other things.

My final con for Mice and Mystics was that I felt the dice played too much of a factor in determining the outcome of the game.  Now, random elements in games are good - they help each play experience to be different.  This is a great thing!  However, in Mice and Mystics, you roll the dice so often that it feels like the entire game depends on how those rolls land.  Did the minions attack you and get some of your cheese?  Did they also roll a lot of cheese when they were attacking and defending?  Then there's a good chance that you aren't going to have a chance to complete your quest, since time will run out well before you are able to actually advance in the game - after all, you hear a roach scurrying around the corner, and you can't resist engaging in an epic battle of one inch warriors! 

Overall, I give Mice and Mystics a 7.0/10.  I think that the campaign nature of the game is well done, but I found the actual gameplay grew stale for me too quickly, so I will probably move away from the game without bothering to complete the campaign.  However, the story was interesting enough for me to cheat and read it, without taking the time to play the chapters.

If Mice and Mystics sounds interesting, you might also check out Runebound, Talisman, and Flash Point: Fire Rescue.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the thorough review. We've been interested in Mice and Mystics but also just got Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition for Christmas and the boys have loved it - playing constantly. After going through your review, I'd think that Mice & Mystics would be a step back for our crew.

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  2. Thanks for your great review. I was wanting more information about the game. :-)

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