Sometimes I can’t help but feel bad for mice. They’re regarded as adorable in art, video games, and children’s books, but that all flies out the window when you actually spot one in the wild, or more likely, your pantry, as they attempt to raid your Captain Crunch stash. All thoughts of Ratatouille are instantly gone, and in their place is the natural instinct to grab whatever shoe, pan, box of candy, etc you can find to chase it out of your home. But what if that mouse were actually a member of the King's loyal guard, just trying to warn somebody of the evil in their midst?
That’s the premise of Mice and Mystics, a 4 player board game affair created by the talented guys and gals of Plaid Hat Games. In it you control up to six lovable yet very capable mice who are trying to warn the king of the villainous sorceresses attempting to take over the kingdom, Vanestra, who’s also the one who put you in this predicament in the first place. It reads like a Disney tale of yore, and it's as charming as it is deep. The amount of story and lore they've created is impressive, as is the art by John Ariosa, which is just beautiful to look at and helps immerse you deeper into this fun and gorgeous world.
Your goal is to get through the various chapters, making your way through tunnels, sewers, trees, kitchen tables, etc, all while avoiding a cat named Brodie, hopefully saving the kingdom and taking down Vanestra in the process. While the goal is pretty straightforward, the game itself features numerous layers of complexity. Put it this way: even something so small and inconsequential as a grape has numerous uses, so much so its gets its own multiple paragraph description. That’s a grape, folks.
Like I said, beyond its adorable demeanor, the game is pretty complex. Maybe not for someone who eyes Arkham Horror as a cake walk, but upon our initial playthrough there were several systems that we couldn't fully grasp until much later, one of those being cheese.
You are mice, after all.
I've never seen 4 grown adults get so excited about a small slice of cheese, and in my pimp mage Maginos’ case, boatloads of it. Cheese can be your best friend, as it lets you use special abilities and cast spells such as summoning a cheese golem, while simultaneously being your worst enemy if a minion rolls it. Here is how the process works. You roll a set number of dice for your attack, and if you roll a cheese symbol you get 1 cheese added to your stash, which is all gravy. However, you also have to roll the minions defense, and if in that defense they roll a cheese symbol, you add one piece to the minion cheese wheel. The special cheese wheel has six slots, and once filled initiates a surge, which will bring whatever enemy (or enemies) your new encounter card dictates. This can really muck up a decent strategy, especially if some of you are out searching the area for cool loot and aren't prepared for it.
Also of note is how the game handles traveling from tile to tile. Being of such small stature, you can sneak into grates and crawl ways marked with a flip symbol. You then flip the tile and have traveled to a different place entirely. A cool way to make use of both sides of a tile, and also a great way to fit in optional side quests. In the first chapter, for example, there is an optional foray into the kitchen, complete with mop attack from above, marked with a flip symbol on the second tile. You can continue on your way out to the courtyard, but if you decide to take on that extra bit of danger, you can come away with some great items and some tokens that might help you later on with your quest. Kudos to Jerry Hawthorne and crew for inputting rules from the beginning allowing you to play this as a full on campaign if you so choose (which my group has decided to do). You can also download some cool audio files as an optional add on for the game, narrating the numerous conversations the group has throughout the adventure.
The game starts a bit slowly as you and your other players learn the mechanics, but as with most board games, everything starts to click after a bit. While I loved the let's play video the creators did for the game, I will say it's quite a bit of information to absorb, especially for first time players. We ended up winging it a bit on our first time playing, and after some trial and error and more manual reading everything started to come together. I've played with both 2 players and a full crew of 4 (though you can play up to six in later chapters), and I must say playing with 4 is fantastic fun. You’re able to really take advantage of ranged characters when you've got some melee people taking the brunt of the damage, and having some nice supporting abilities really makes the combat click.
The bottom line is Mice and Mystics is a truly fun gaming experience, and I can’t recommend it enough. Co-op board games have a special place in my heart anyway, but M & M goes above and beyond with its superb presentation and gameplay. There are a lot of mechanics to learn, but ultimately it's so very worth it.
P.S. If you enjoy the core game, then you can also look forward to the expansion pack coming later this year, called "The Heart of Glorm." Check out what it includes in the shot below. You can also catch a preview of the game's story at the Plaid Hat Games official site.