Publisher: Days of Wonder
Year Published: 2007 (with Pilgrim expansion) / 1996 (originally)
Number of Players: 36
Play Time: 90 to 120 minutes
Set-up Time: About 5 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Table Size: Medium
I recently had the joy of trying out this “who done it” game with some friends who I gave it to as a Christmas gift. A buddy of mine and I were trying to pick out a game that would make a great gift for a couple, since both have varying tastes in board games and were looking for something that would be good for a larger group. After much deliberation, we decided to go with Mystery of the Abbey because it seemed like it would be a simple game to pick up and play with new crowds — great for bringing it out at a party or family gathering — which is just what they were in the market for. We were very impressed by the game and feel that this mission was a success.
Mystery of the Abbey is, as its name implies, a mystery game suitable for up to six players. The basic premise is simple: one of the monks at the abbey has been murdered, and you must figure out who the culprit is before the rest of the players. WHile it may seem a lot like Clue at first, the game is far more complex and the goal is not quite as straight-forward. Instead of simply trying to find out who, where, and with what weapon, players must simply determine who the culprit is. While that goal may seem simpler than Clue’s at first, the process of eliminating all other culprits is far more difficult. Each of the 24 suspects has 5 different aspects that can help identify them, and players must think outside of the box to sift through the suspects and find the murderer.
Though this was our first time playing, we were able to get the game set up and started within about 15 minutes, which includes reading the rules and taking time to answer some of the initial questions that popped up. Someone who is familiar with the rules would easily be able to explain it to other players in a small amount of time, and a group of familiar players could likely get the game set up in as little as five minutes. This adds to the game’s credit as a party game, since it doesn’t slow the pace of the party with slow set-up and tedious board management.
Each player is dealt a few suspect cards at the beginning of the game which show the vital information for each of the game’s suspected murderers. The cards indicate the suspect’s sect in the church (Templar, Franciscan, or Benedictine), their rank (Father, Brother, or Novice), whether they are hooded or unhooded, bearded or unbearded, and fat or skinny. The cards also give the suspect’s name, which makes it easy to identify them on your personal record sheet. Every player marks off these suspects on their record sheet — monks whose cards are in play are not guilty; the goal is to determine, through process of elimination, which monk card is not in play and thus find the culprit. The culprit card is drawn at random before the cards are dealt to each player initially, then hidden underneath the board until the end of the game.
On each player’s turn, he may move one or two spaces (or up to three, depending on special circumstances) and navigate the game’s beautifully designed game board. There are several different rooms the players can enter and each one has a special benefit. In some rooms you mmay draw action cards which can be played later, in others you can pick up a card that allows you to take a free turn, and in others you can take suspect cards directly from other players.
If you enter a room that already contains another player, you must question them about the murder. You may ask questions such as “how many Templars do you have in your hand?”, “do you have any fat, bearded Novices in your hand?” and “have you been able to determine the innocence of Father Matthew?”. The other player must answer any question honestly unless he opts to take a “vow of silence”. Characters who opt to take a vow of silence need not say anything in response, but then they forfeit their right to question the other player in return — something the player would get to do for free if he chooses to answer the question.
After each player has taken 4 turns, all characters return to the Chapel space on the board and Mass is held. Turns are tracked by moving a bell along a numbered path on the board, and the bell is rung by the player who begins his turn when Mass starts (the bell is an actual, functioning bell that is included with the game; it makes a nice prop and was definitely a unique addition to the game). During Mass, players pass a given number of cards to the player on their left and an Event card is drawn from the Event Deck. This card changes the way the game is played in some way and can drastically alter the outcome of the next few rounds of play.
Once you have an idea of who you think the murderer is, you can opt to make a Revelation or an Accusation. A Revelation reveals one aspect of the culprit’s nature; for example, you can say “the murderer has a beard!” You record this as a revelation and will refer to it again at the end of the game. When a player chooses to make an Accusation, he calls out a specific monk as the culprit by saying, for example, “Father Matthew is the killer!” At that point, other players must check the cards in their hands and, if they contain the card showing the accused’s name, they reveal it to the rest of the players. Revealing a card in this way proves that monk’s innocence, and the accusing player loses 2 points and must pay Pennance by losing a turn. If nobody has the card of the accused monk, the card that was hidden beneath the board is revealed and, assuming it’s the accused monk, the game ends.
Victory does not always go to the person who successfully accused the culprit, however. At the end of the game, each player tallies up their Victory Points and the person with the most points wins. Making a successful REvelation nets the player 2 points, while successfully accusing the culprit earns him 4 points. However, players who make a false Revelation lose 1 point and players who make a false Accusation lose 2 points. It is therefore possible to win the game without being the first to positively identify the killer, so long as you have achieved enough points throughout play to put you ahead. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between Mystery of the Abbey and similar “who done it” games.
Our first experience wit Mystery of the Abbey was definitely positive. Not only is the game easy to pick up, fun to play, and unique in many aspects, it encourages players to enjoy themselves and not be too serious. We played the game while listening to a CD of Gregorian Chant in the background and referred to each other as Brother/Sister X, which added to ouroverall enjoyment. The game’s manual even makes sure to not take itself too seriously, stating something to the effect of “any player who spills sacremental wine or whiskey on the game board must pay Pennance”. It’s nice to see a game in which a sense of humor is encouraged from the get-go.
I look forward to playing Mystery of the Abbey again and will bring you a full review once I’ve had some more experience with it.