Review – Mysterium Kids: Captain Echo’s Treasure
|Designer||Antonin Boccara, Yves Hirschfeld|
|Publisher||Space Cow (Asmodee North America)|
|Category||Kids' Game, Cooperative Game|
|Release Date||Summer 2023|
|Player Count||2-6 (although the top end is a little too generous)|
Summertime is always huge for board games. In America, many new game releases are timed around Origins and Gen Con; in Europe, everyone has their eyes on the Spiel des Jahres nominees. But not only is there an “expert” game of the year award in addition to the traditional family award, there is also a “Kinderspiel des Jahres” award for the best kids’ game. Now that my three daughters are consistently playing games with me, I pay far more attention to that award. One of this year’s nominees is Mysterium Kids, which somehow makes a paranormal murder mystery appropriate for children by using… a tambourine? Let’s take a look!
I have fond memories of Mysterium. At Gen Con 2015, I weaseled my way into a full demo table by convincing the organizers to let me be the ghost player, and then I played it many times with friends and family after it arrived at home. It’s sort of like a cooperative Dixit, except that all of the difficult decisions are put on the ghost player, who can’t talk. If the game ever fails, it’s because the ghost player can’t handle the pressure and spends too long deliberating their move.
In Mysterium Kids, we have a very similar idea, although it is sanitized for kids. Instead of a murder mystery, a ghost is trying to tell you where his treasure is. Players alternate taking turns as the ghost (an improvement over Mysterium!), who gives a clue about one of five different objects. However, instead of passing out cards with abstract art, the ghost uses a… tambourine. Although, that’s false advertising; it’s more like a very small bongo (it does not jingle at all). The other players shut their eyes while the clue is given, and the sound is meant to identify one of five objects (new ones are revealed each turn). In the final round or within most of the advanced mode, back-to-back clues are given for two different objects. Players don’t necessarily “win” or “lose” the game, but are going for a high score; I guess you could say that “winning” is guessing every clue correctly.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well this worked. You can make a much bigger variety of sounds with the tambourine than I expected, and it’s fun to try different ways to scratch, flick, or hit it. Some of the pictures do look like items that might sound similar, so it does really require some cleverness to pinpoint the right object; it teaches kids how to be creative while having fun banging on a toy. Yes, you could “game the system” and just hit the tambourine four times for card #4, but you can also game Dixit and Mysterium too. Fortunately, it actually hadn’t crossed my mind (or my daughter’s) to do so until I saw a thread suggesting such on BoardGameGeek. The game’s challenge is so naturally inviting and fun to try as intended that “cheating” never crossed my mind. This is a big positive and quite a big difference from past co-op games with awkward communication rules (e.g. using intonation to an extreme as you say “That’s a twooooo…” in Hanabi).
This is the part where I would normally air my grievances with a game, but I’m struggling! Over time, I have a feeling it might get kind of samey, I guess. You might eventually associate a certain sound on the tambourine with each card, and then you don’t really have to think about anything when the card comes up. But, you’d have to have the card come up, and be the number you picked, and play the game enough times for you to have an associated noise with each of the 78 Noise cards. The game is also a little on the short side, but that’s hardly a complaint – kids often have short attention spans, anyway, and with my older child (9) we play several times in a row.
I really can’t say enough about how great of a package this game is. It looks great, it’s fast and fun, and it teaches my kids to be creative while playing with a fun manipulative. I hope that it wins the Kinderspiel des Jahres and that we continue to see more great games from “Space Cow”.
The Bottom Line
A fantastic cooperative game for kids!