(2012 – Plaid Hat Games)
I’ve always loved a good story. Whether it was a novel, movie, or even video game to some extent, good storytelling has always drawn me in. One of the first series of books I got my hands on as a kid was Redwall by Brian Jacques. I’m not sure what it was about Matthias and the legend of Martin the Warrior that pulled me in, but using heroic mice and villainous rats just seemed interesting, and to this day I enjoy them still.
I first learned about Mice and Mystics listening to the Plaid Hat podcast. Hearing designer Jerry Hawthorne talk about his new game and his attempt to integrate a strong storytelling component to board games was the initial tug. But the Redwall-esque them? I was completely in, head first.
Mice and Mystics is a cooperative, dungeon crawl RPG-style board game, where players control various loyal warriors to the crown that have been transformed into mice by an evil Queen. Players will work together through 11 separate scenarios (Chapters 1 – 11) found in the game’s Story Book in order to complete the narrative successfully. Each Chapter provides a short (but beautiful) narrative, setup instructions for the scenario, as well as special rules and victory conditions that players will need to complete in order to succeed and move on to the next Chapter. Dual-sided room tiles are used as the setting for the various areas and rooms that the mice heroes will explore and complete their adventures through.
Mice and Mystics was the winner of three 2012 Dice Tower Awards including: Best Theme, Best Game from a Small Publisher, and Best Artwork.
– Mice & Mystic Game Board Tiles
– Hero Miniatures
– Hero Character Cards
– Hero Ability Cards
– Minion Miniatures
– Initiative Cards (includes Minions and Heroes)
– Story Board
– Search Cards
– Encounter Cards
– Action Dice
– Cheese tokens
– Wound & Poison tokens
– Hourglass & “The End” tokens
– Various other tokens used during scenarios
– Story Book
Setup in Mice & Mystics heavily relies on the current scenario that is being played. There are 8 two-sided game board tiles that come with the base game that each represent the various rooms of the castle and grounds that make up the game. At the beginning of each scenario, the Story Book will guide players through setting up the tiles needed and play area for that particular scenario. For the purposes of this review, I will cover the basic setup of the tiles and game components for a 4-player game using the initial chapter (scenario) in the game, “Flight to Barksburg”.
The Story Board (represented by the broken Grandfather clock board) is used for all the upkeep during a chapter of Mice & Mystics. It contains a section along the left side of the board that is broken up into different page spaces. At the beginning of each chapter, the Hourglass token is placed onto the Page 1 space. The End token’s placement is dependant on the setup for that particular Chapter. For the 1st Chapter, this token is placed on the Page 6 space. If at any point during the scenario, the Hourglass reaches the same space as The End token, the players have failed the scenario. All objectives must be completed before reaching this point for the Heroes to be successful.
The right side of the Story Board represents the initiative track and contains spaces for the Initiative cards used in a scenario. When players are on a particular game board tile, there is an Initiative card on the track for each of the Heroes as well as for each type of Minion on the current board tile. This will determine the order in which the Heroes and Minions will perform their actions. The initial Chapter uses Rat Warrior minions on the first tile, therefore the initiative track will contain the Rat Warrior minion initiative card along with the 4 Hero initiative cards, depending on which heroes were chosen by each player. These 5 cards are then shuffled together, and one at a time placed face up along the initiative track.
The top of the Story Board contains a picture of a clock that is divided into 5 pie-shaped sections. This is considered the Cheese Wheel. During a scenario, it is possible for players to have to place Cheese tokens into each of these sections. If the wheel fills up completely at any time, a Surge happens which will bring out new minions. I’ll cover Surges a bit later during the gameplay discussion. For setup purposes, the various Cheese tokens are placed near the Cheese Wheel for use during the game.
Right below the Cheese Wheel on the Story Board is a section for the Encounter cards. These cards will help determine what minions are placed onto a new game board tile when the Heroes enter a new area as well as determine which minions will enter the game during a Surge. There are two types of Encounter cards; Standard (gray icon) and Difficult (red icon). Only the Standard Encounter cards are used in the initial scenario. All of the Standard cards are shuffled and placed face down onto this space.
At the very bottom of the Story Board is a section for the Search Deck. All of the Search cards in the game are shuffled and placed face down on this space. During the game, Heroes, as an action, can choose to search a particular space that they are on. If successful, they are allowed to draw the top card from the Search deck and add it to their inventory.
Once the Story Board has been set up, the next step that players will take is setting up the various Game Board Tiles needed for the current scenario. The Story Book shows which tiles are needed for the particular scenario and how to place them. Each tile has tiny arrow icons displayed on their corners. When the tiles are placed, all arrows should face the same direction. This is how you know that the tiles have been placed correctly. For the 1st scenario, the Guard Room (tile #5), Kitchen Tunnels (#4), and Tunnel Entrance (#2) tiles are used, and placed accordingly as seen above.
For the 1st scenario, the Heroes will start on the Guard Room tile. The Story Book tells players that the initial Minions on the tile for this scenario will be 3 Rat Warriors. Each tile has certain spaces that include feet icons. This represents where new Minions will be placed during set up of a new tile or when a Surge happens. Therefore, the 3 Rat Warriors are placed in the Guard Room according to the dedicated spaces.
Before gameplay can begin, players will need to choose their Heroes. Each scenario calls for a certain amount of mice heroes that need to be controlled for that chapter. Therefore, depending on the number of players in the game, some players may need to control more than one Hero. For the 1st scenario, 4 mice heroes are needed, but none of them can be Lily (she comes into play later in the story). Each player will choose a Hero and take their corresponding miniature and Character Card.
They will also choose a special ability from a stack of ability cards. Each Character card references the class type of that particular Hero. The ability card chosen for a Hero must match the class type of the Hero. Each Character card also references what Weapons and Armor the Hero will start will as well. These cards are also added to the Heroes personal play area.
Once all Heroes have been chosen, these miniatures are placed onto the starting space on the Game Board Tile and gameplay is ready to begin. The Action Dice, various Minion miniatures, and other various tokens that may be needed for the scenario are also placed near the board. After the initial setup, the game should look something like this:
The Initiative Track on the Story Board will determine which order Heroes and Minions take their turns while on a particular tile. When it is a Hero’s turn, that player has a choice of various Actions which he can perform. A hero can either Move and then take an Action, or take an Action and then Move.
When a Hero chooses to Move, he will roll 1 of the Action Dice. Each facing of the die contains a small number consisting of a 1, 2, or 3. Each Character card shows four icons along the top portion of the card with various numbers beside them. The “footprint” icon to the far left represents the Hero’s base movement. The number rolled on the die facing is added to the Hero’s base movement. This is the maximum number of spaces that the Hero can move this turn.
It is now Collin’s turn on the Initiative Track. The player controlling Collin decides to Move first, in order to get close enough to attack one of the Rat Warriors. According to Collin’s Character card, his base movement is a 2. When rolling the Action Dice, he rolls a facing with a 2 on it (the icon does not matter in the case of movement, only the numbers).
Collin now has a maximum movement of 4 spaces this turn. He decides to move straight ahead 4 spaces so that he is directly adjacent to one of the Rat Warriors.
There are 5 main Actions that a Hero can take on their turn: Attack, Search, Explore, Scurry, and Recover. A Hero may only perform 1 of these Actions on his turn, either before or after his Movement.
Attack – As an Action, a hero may choose to Attack a minion either using a Melee weapon or a Ranged Weapon. If attacking with a Melee weapon, the Hero must either be in a space adjacent to the one containing the minion, or in the same space as the minion. If using a Ranged weapon however, the Hero can be anywhere on the tile as long as it has a clear line of sight to the minion.
Each Character card references the Hero’s base attack value as the number next to the red sword icon on the card. This represents the number of Action Dice that the Hero will roll when attacking. Equipped weapons by that Hero may also add to this attack value. After totaling up the attack value of a Hero, the player will roll that many dice. Any die facings with a “sword” icon represent successful Melee hits, while any die facings with a “bow & arrow” icon represents successful Ranged hits. All other icons are considered misses.
The minion will then have a opportunity to defend the attack. The “shield” icon on the minion’s initiative card on the initiative track will reference the number of Action Dice that need to be rolled to defend an attack. Any die facings with “shield” icons will represent a successful defend. Any successful hits by a Hero that are not defended by the Minion are considered Wounds. Minion initiative cards as well as Hero Character cards show how many Wounds (represented by Heart icons) a character can take.
For Collin’s Action, he decides to attack the minion directly adjacent to himself. According to his Character card, his base attack value is a 2. Collin starts that game however with a sword that adds +1 to his attack value, increasing the overall amount to 3.
Therefore, Collin gets to roll 3 Action Dice when attacking. The Rat Warriors defense value is a 2, therefore a player will roll 2 Action Dice for the Rat Warrior to try and defend Collin’s attack with.
Both players roll the Action Dice. Collin rolls 1 “bow & arrow” facing, 1 “sword” facing, and 1 “sword & shield” facing. The Rat Warrior rolls 1 “cheese” facing and 1 “sword & shield” facing. Since Collin attacks with a Melee weapon, he cannot count the “bow & arrow” facing, therefore he does 2 hits. The Rat Warrior can only defend 1 of these hits, therefore will take 1 Wound. Since the Rat Warrior cannot take any Wounds, he would automatically die, with that particular miniature being removed from the board.
Even though the Rat Warrior died, anytime that a Cheese facing is rolled when defending with a minion (or attacking with a minion), a Cheese token is added to the Cheese Wheel on the Story Board. Therefore, in this example, 1 Cheese will be added to the Cheese Wheel. Remember that if the Cheese Wheel is ever completely filled, a Surge takes place.
Search – As an Action, the Hero may choose to attempt to search the particular space they are on to see if there are any treasures to be found (or possible threats). When attempting a Search, the player will roll 1 Action Dice. If the facing that is rolled contains a small “starburst” symbol (as seen below), the Search is a success and the player may draw the top card of the Search deck located on the Story Board. The Search deck contains many types of various Armor, Weapons, and Trinkets, but may also contain threatening Events that can befall on the Hero. Searching will help Hero’s upgrade their gear and gain advantages on certain enemies during a scenario.
Explore – As an Action, the Hero may choose to Explore in order to advance to a new area or room of the castle. A Hero can only attempt an Explore action when all minions have been removed from the current tile. There are two different types of spaces that Heroes can attempt to Explore.
They can either attempt to Explore a new room adjacent to the tile they are on (represented by the matching bars between the two rooms, as seen above), or they can choose to Explore a “flip spaces” (seen below), which are represented by circular arrow icons on the tile.
If the player Explores a new room, that Hero and all other Heroes on the current tile are placed onto the adjacent space of the new room tile. If the player successfully Explores a flipspace, the tile is flipped to its opposing side and all mice placed on the corresponding space of the newly flipped tile.
During the 1st scenario, the only way to escape the Guard Room is to go down the drain located at the center of the tile. A flipspace icon is located on the space containing the drain. All of the Rat Warriors have been disposed of and the 4 mice heroes have moved onto the drain.
It is now Nez’s turn and he chooses to Explore in an attempt to advance to the next area of the scenario. By using the Explore action, the tile is flipped and the mice have now dropped below into the Sewers below.
When Heroes encounter a new tile, a new Encounter card must be drawn from the Encounter deck to show what new enemies appear on the tile. In this example, the new Encounter card drawn will bring out 5 Roaches onto the Sewer tile.
The Roach minion initiative card is added to the 4 Hero initiative cards and shuffled together to reveal a new turn order for the new room. You’ll notice that according to the new Encounter card, if the Cheese Wheel fills up activating a Surge, a Centipede minion will appear in the Sewers.
Scurry – Sometimes, players may wish to move their Heroes more than they would normally be allowed to with their regular Movement. As an Action, the player may choose to do a 2nd Movement, following the normal steps used when normally moving. Since this is used as an Action, taking this 2nd Movement will end the Hero’s turn after resolving.
Recover – During the game, certain minions (mainly bosses) can Stun or Web a Hero. These will incapacitate the Hero until he has recovered from the effect. A token is placed onto the initiative card of the Hero, referencing the current Effect, and the Hero’s miniature is placed on its side to show that it is out of commission.
While Heroes take turns following the Initiative Track on the Story Board, it will eventually become the minion’s turn. All minions of the same type resolve at the same time when their corresponding initiative card takes effect. For instance, if there are 2 Rat Warriors and a Spider in the room, and the Rat Warrior minion initiative card is active for its turn, the 2 Rat Warriors will take their actions and movement, while the Spider will have to wait for its own initiative card to take effect later.
Unlike heroes, minions only have 2 actions on their turn. They will always move first, and then attack. Movement is performed exactly like a hero’s movement, except that the minion has no base movement. Therefore, whatever number is rolled on the Action Dice is the maximum amount of spaces the minion will move. The minion will also move to the closest Hero to its position. The only time a minion will not move is if it is a ranged minion. A ranged minion will only move if it has no line of sight to a Hero, and is required to move in order to gain line of sight for an attack.
After moving, the minion will attempt to attack a Hero if able. It will always attack the Hero closest to it that has not been attacked this turn. If more than 1 Hero is the same distance from the minion and none of those Heroes have been attacked this turn, the minion will attack the mouse that is highest on the initiative track. Attacking and defending works exactly the same when performing these actions with minions as they do when performing them during the heroes turns. Each minion initiative card has an attack value and each hero’s character card has a defense value (“shield” icon) that can be increased with certain equipped armor. If the minion rolls a Cheese facing with the Action Dice when attacking, a Cheese token is added to the Cheese Wheel. If the defending Hero rolls a Cheese facing when defending, a Cheese token is added to his Character card.
According to the Initiative Track, it is now the Roaches turn. The Roach closest to a Hero will take it’s turn first, then turns will continue for the other Roaches. An Action Dice is rolled for this Roach’s movement, rolling a 2.
This Roach will move 2 spaces to the closest hero, which happen to be a space containing Nez and Tilda. It is now time for the Roach to attack. Since neither Hero has been attacked this turn, and Tilda is highest on the Initiative Track, the Roach will be attacking her.
Roaches can roll 2 Action Dice when attacking, while Tilda has a base defense of 1, however she does gain another defense point from her Leather Breastplate, meaning she will roll 2 Action Dice to defend with.
A player rolls the 2 dice for the Roach and rolls a ranged icon and a sword icon, meaning that the Roach makes 1 successful hit. The Tilda player rolls her 1 Action Dice and rolls a Cheese icon and a Sword icon. Tilda would normally take 1 Wound since she could not successfully defend the attack, however the Roaches special ability is that they will steal a Cheese token from the Hero, rather than give them a Wound, if able. Since she gained a Cheese token this turn, she would add 1 Cheese token to her Character card, and then immediately discard it for the Roach’s attack.
Free Hero Actions:
There are 3 different Actions that Heroes can perform on their turn for free, at any time. These Actions do not count against as the single allowed Action that a Hero can take before or after their movement. They consist of sharing, equipping items, and leveling up.
Sharing – When 1 or more Heroes are on the same space in a room, they are allowed to share Cheese Tokens, Weapons, Armor, Items, etc. This can be quite useful when a Hero has obtained an item that they cannot equip or something may be more useful for another Hero. Heroes can also perform their special abilities by spending Cheese tokens, so gathering Cheese from other players to perform a powerful maneuver may be useful to the party.
Equipping – Heroes can equip armor and weapons as a free Action. Each weapon and armor card will show where on the mouse it can be equipped. For instance, a Helmet will show that it can be equipped on the Hero’s head, referenced by the highlighted portion on the mouse icon at the bottom right corner of the item’s card.
Obviously, Heroes are limited to only a single item in each slot. Each Hero also has a pack in which it can hold items that he is not currently using. These items are placed face down next to the Character card so as not to confuse them with equipped items. A Hero can hold up to 3 item cards in its pack at one time, however any “trick card” such as Tail Link do not count against this limit. Trick cards are one-time use actions that once used, will be discarded.
Leveling – At any time a player may spend 6 Cheese tokens in order to “level” his Hero. Doing so allows that Hero to gain an additional special ability from the remaining special ability cards. The class type on the new special ability must match the class type of the Hero. It is important to note that while a Hero can have multiple special abilities, that Hero can only perform 1 special ability per turn.
Surges – As mentioned before, when the Cheese Wheel is completely filled, a Surge is activated. Players will need to place new minions into the room according to the Surge effect on the current Encounter card. Every Surge will also advance the Hourglass marker 1 page space closer to “The End” marker. Therefore, Surges will not only add more minions to the current room, but will also advance the Hourglass token one step closer to the party’s failing of the scenario.
Being Captured – While allowing the Hourglass token to reach “The End” marker on the Story Board will cause the Heroes to fail, players can also fail the scenario if at any point, all of the Heroes have been captured. When a Hero gains as many Wounds as available spots on his Character’s card, that Hero is considered Captured.
The Hero’s miniature is removed from the current room tile and loses all collected Cheese tokens and equipped items that were not part of its starting equipment. Once all minions have been cleared from the current room, the Hero or Heroes captured are then automatically Rescued. As with a Surge, being Captured will move the Hourglass token 1 space on the Story Board track.
Each of the 11 Chapters found in Mice and Mystics have various scenario victory conditions as well as particular defeat conditions. If players can complete the scenarios victory condition before the Hourglass marker reaches the “The End” or before certain defeat conditions take effect, players have completed the scenario successfully. Mice and Mystics can be played as separate scenarios or as a complete campaign, with Heroes able to keep some of the gained equipment and abilities earned from previous scenarios.
Mice and Mystics provides a completely streamlined and cooperative dungeon-crawl experience that’s refreshing for experienced gamers while being simple enough to pick up by those new to the genre. The multi-use icons on the facings of the Action Dice are a well designed feature that provides a wealth of gameplay functions without the need for 10 different types of dice. Scenario setup is quick and easy, and the Story Book does a wonderful job of laying out all of the particular special rules and conditions of a scenario is a clear and organized way.
The presentations and artwork found in the box are quite impressive to say the least. Each miniature is created in amazing detail, as are the hand-painted style artwork found on the various room tiles. So detailed even, that special attention has been made to the lighting and overcast shadows of objects on each tile. The double-sided use of the room tiles really captures a 3-deminsional layout of the castle floors and surrounding grounds used in the narrative of the various story chapters. Each of the many components feel as if they were designed with sincere and deliberate focus on the thematic storytelling that is so integral to the game as a whole.
And that is where Mice and Mystics really shines. Above all the streamlined gameplay, beautiful artwork, detailed components, and intuitive mechanics, is the story. The narrative written by Jerry Hawthorne and Mr. Bistro is comprised of fantastic storytelling, and could easily be one that could be adapted into a novel (seriously Plaid Hat, something to think about). Additionally, with the way that the game tiles and storybook are designed, expansions can be easily incorporated with new chapters, new tiles and new minions. Even without its possible expandability, the narrative of Mice and Mystics is one that is complete and can be enjoyed by those not necessarily interested in adding anything else to the base game.
The Redwall-like theme will be an entry point for many fans, however Mice and Mystics is a great mix of the role-playing and board game genres that can stand amongst some of the best in the industry. The story arc is probably the best I have seen from any board game that I have been fortunate enough to play. I look forward to what Jerry and the guys at Plaid Hat have in store for Mice and Mystics going forward in the coming years.