Friday, 27 May 2011

Mystery of the Abbey - Days of Wonder

This is more of a game review than a game session summary. Only managed to play one game last night and that was Mystery of the Abbey by Bruno Faidutti & Serge Laget, it is produced by Days of Wonder. Six of us sat down to play, the game is recommended for 3-6 players aged 8+ with a playing time of 30-60 minutes.

The unnecessarily Deep Box
First the Box, it measures 29.5cm x 29.5cm x 7cm within which there is nothing but air in the bottom half of the box; over-packaged? Certainly, which is pain to those of us with an eye on shelf space. The board depicts an Abbey with a central courtyard split into 4 zones and various rooms around the edge.

The Board
The rest of the contents are shown below; the rules are clearly written as are the crib sheets which are very useful if not essential, in game play.

Various Decks of Cards, Pawns, Crib Sheets, Dice and Bell
When reading the rules I felt the game was an elaborate form of Cluedo crossed with Guess Who. The game setting is an Abbey within whose walls a monk has been murdered. We as players, have to deduce the murderer. There are 24 suspect cards, one of which at random is placed under the board, the others are dealt out evenly to players, with the remainder placed in the Parlour, each card has 8 different traits, i.e. which order they belong to, their rank, bearded or clean shaven, cowled or uncowled, thin or fat. During the game you can make a delaration that the suspect has a specific trait for which you gain positive points if correct and negative if wrong. Successfully naming the suspect also gets positive points.

The Rule Booklet
The play is simple, on your turn you must move either 1 or 2 spaces (3 in a 6 player game), you may then ask a question of any other player in that space, they can either choose to not answer, or they can answer for which they can then ask you a question in return. After this you get to interact with the room you are in. Some of the rooms have power cards namely the Library (one use only) and Scriptorium, also the Crypt has a double turn token (player holding limited to one). Whilst in others you get to take cards from other players hands, namely the player cells and the confessional, however if caught in a cell by the resident, you miss your next turn. Lastly the Parlour allows you to take a Suspect card from those left over after the deal, or if empty, to ask any player about 1 or 2 traits and they must show you a card that fits if they have it. Finally after every 4th turn (3 in a 6 player game) all playing pieces are returned to the chapel for Mass, a sort of game reset, an event card is turned over, and depending on the round, everyone passes a set number of cards to the player on their left.

So how did it go for us? As can be seen, there is a lot of card movement and it needs a good memory to keep track of where the cards you have already seen are, in fact in reality you can only really track cards between Masses. Conversely the card movement also ensures that the game does not drag by ensuring that eventually all suspect cards will be seen by most players. A couple of players felt limited by being only able to move 3 spaces (the longest journey is 8 spaces) however most players during play were able to reach a room and gain a benefit every turn – though it may not have been the room they wanted at that time. The power cards in the Scriptorium were on the whole weak, but seemed to help those players who collected them. The greatest imbalance I found was in the Library, other players who went there had the advantage of seeing up to 5 cards held by other players, whereas mine only permitted me a free guess at a trait, I was no better off information wise and I had little information upon which to base my guess.

What I have not covered yet is questioning other players, in a 6 player game this did create a level of dead time, if there was a lot of questions and answers, then it seemed like forever before your turn came round again, this was especially so if you got caught in another’s cell and had to miss your next turn. To be its most effective you had to plan a chain of questions (or chain your question to another players question earlier in the round) and ensure you got to ask them all before the next Mass moved all the cards on. Questioning someone on your right was likely to result in them remaining silent as they knew what cards you had from the last Mass.  Question phrasing was often important, however the answers did not often help (or that’s how I felt).

One of the Suspect cards
So how did we all do, Most players got down to the last 2 or 3 suspects when Joe made a successful accusation. I still had 9 on my sheet! So where did he go right and I go wrong. Joe made good use of the Scriptorium cards, pre-planned a lot of his moves and had structured questioning. I on the other hand was met with a fair few “no’s” to my questions, though to tell the truth they were just shots in the dark. I suffered from a bad Library card, I was also an early victim to thievery, so although I already had the information from those cards and thus no real loss other players also had that information in addition to their own.

Conclusion. It was an interesting game and played within the time, I felt I was a victim to the chaos of card movement, however I know there is more to the game than that and if I had gone to the right rooms at the right time then I would have fared a lot better, I still wouldn’t have won, but I would have had a better sense of achievement at the end. We had a few laughs and jokes during the game, but I don’t think it will get another airing with 6 players as there were times (due to the games structure rather than the players) when it dragged a bit. I would love to give it another go as a 4 player game where your turn comes round a bit quicker and you are more likely to be involved in someone else’s turn.


  1. Well summed up Kevin though you diplomatically avoid mention of the time some players took to decide on their questions! I think one improvement would be to place a time limit on this element of the game.

  2. Steve, there were times I agree when time seemed to drag and although some players may have been a bit slower than others in formulating questions, I found that when I was phrasing a question it was difficult to phrase it so that it A) Covered the parameters you wanted to get specific information and B) Did not give as much informatiob to the other players. In the end I gave up and just went for naming suspects in the vain hope of hitting one. It certainly saved on time, but little to advance myself in the game. I would still prefer to drop to 4 players than resort to an egg timer - and have you seen the price of chess clocks?