Sunday, 19 January 2014

We've got mice in our house and the whole family loves it! - Mice & Mystics review.

It's hard to find a game that you can enjoy with the whole family. Really hard. There are lots of kids games out there but it seems like many game designers seem to think that kids game = simple game with no decisions to be made. Many of these games aren't even really much fun for the kids and are an absolute bore for parents. At the other end of this scale you find games like Mice & Mystics.

Mice & Mystics is by Plaid Hat Games and is just as much a great game for adults as it is a great game for kids. The suggested age is 7 and up but kids younger than that can still play and have a great time with some help. The original game was released in 2012. Since then there have been some additional scenarios released as well as a full boxed expansion.

In Mice & Mystics all of the players work together to play through an epic fantasy story. The story starts in a typical fantasy realm, where an evil sorceress tries to take over the kingdom. Prince Colin and his friends are forced to turn into mice in order to escape. The board game starts from there with the players each playing a hero turned into a mouse stuck in a dungeon cell.

The game is played by selecting a chapter from the story book (best if played through in order) and then setting up the board and selecting mice for each player. The thick beautifully illustrated boards are two sided and show various locations around the castle. Minions, the bad guys, are placed on the board and are represented by very well sculpted plastic miniatures. The mouse heroes are more great looking minis. Each player gets a set of cards to represent their character and their equipment and a central board is set up to hold other important game items like the initiative track, the search deck, the encounter deck and party items.

The scenario book gives the players their objectives and any special rules for each chapter. In addition there is a ton of fluff and background. It's this narrative that really brings the game to life. Playing Mice & Mystics is like playing through a story book. Some of it is just playing through the story as it unfolds but other parts are true decision points where you have to decide which way to go. Do you take a chance and run to the kitchen to warn Miss Maggie or do you decide to skip that area in fear of the dreaded Cat?

Actual gameplay is what you would expect from a fairly simple dungeon crawl. Roll for movement rate then take an action and move or move and take an action. Actions include scurrying (moving twice), searching, attacking or using a special action. Order of play is determined by cards and the bad guys are controlled by the players and move and attack according to some very clear rules in the main rulebook.

Combat is done using special dice that come with the game and are reminiscent of games like Heroquest or Descent: Swords are hits in melee, bows are hits in ranged and shields negate hits. In addition to the combat icons on the dice there is also 1 side of each die that shows a piece of cheese.

Cheese is used for two things. For the heroes it lets them power their abilities. Each hero starts with one ability and when they level up (also done by spending cheese) they can get new powers. These let the mice do a variety of things like heal, magic attack, better defense etc. They are similar to Feats in popular pen and paper RPGs. For the minions cheese represents the passage of time. Every time a bad guy rolls a cheese it goes on the clock on the center board. When that clock fills up with cheese more bad guys may spawn and time advances. If you run out of time the game ends and the bad guys win.

Right now Mice & Mystics is the most popular game in our house. My wife and I enjoy dungeon crawl style games and this is a good example of one. Better yet though is that our kids love it. Our oldest is particularity smitten with the game. At only 6 years old she's figured out pretty much all of the strategy of the game and will confidently play Tilda, "The Healer" in a fun and tactically valuable way. Now my 3 year old, while she loves the game doesn't really get it yet. She has fun rolling the dice but is more interested in sorting and counting her cheese than actually figuring out which Rat she should go smuck next. 

I strongly recommend this game for anyone who enjoys games like HeroQuest, Descent or even Mansions of Madness. One thing that Mice & Mystics improves on all of those is that there's no adversarial play. It's completely co-op. In addition to being a solid dungeon crawler this game is seeping with theme and story. The game is more than just a board game it's an experience and the fact that it's one that you can share with the whole family is awesome.

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