Mice and Mystics by @plaidhatgames – Rules Impressions
Obviously I have not had an opportunity to play Mice and Mystics, the upcoming board game from Plaid Hat Games designed by Jerry Hawthorne yet, since it is only now up for pre-order and does not have firm release date that I can find. However, just yesterday, Plaid Hat released the rulebook as well as a sample adventure for Mice and Mystics, which is expected to be released in August, 2012. And it has sword wielding mice. Ahem. Sword. Wielding. Mice.
Thankfully, the main thing that the rule book clears up is what kind of game this is: it is a simplified dungeon crawl (although not too simplified) without a gamemaster (it is all of the players against the game instead of one or more players against another player controlling all the monsters) and a heavier emphasis on story elements. The players play a group of mice (4 in the sample adventure) and try to achieve whatever the victory objective is for the scenario chosen. If you have too few players, you are expected to have one (or more) players control multiple mice. I mentioned the heavier emphasis on story and that is definitely true. The story part of the sample adventure is about two and a half pages before you get into the game proper. I like this, but I’m sure it will create some mixed opinions. Still, there is a lot going on with the game besides the story.
The combat is very similar to Descent: Journeys in the Dark, with the dice containing a number of symbols (Sword, Cheese, Bow, Sword/Shield, Movement numbers, and Bursts). When you attack, you add up the number Swords and Sword/Shields you roll (and get pieces of Cheese, which are used for leveling up and other activities for each Cheese you roll), add it to your attack value, and compare it your opponent’s roll of the enemy’s defense plus the number of Sword/Shields it rolls (as rolled by the player to your left). Much like Descent, the game is played on tiles, although the tiles can be flipped over to make the ‘dungeon’ longer than it initially appears. For instance, the sample adventure released requires that the mice flip the tile the are on at the start before moving to the second tile.
While there is definitely some streamlining from other dungeon-crawl games, I don’t see anything that I will miss, honestly. I’ve often found other dungeon crawls too fiddly for my taste for every day play, veering very close to roleplaying game complexity (which I don’t mind in that situation) without the narrative payoff. The tiles we can see for the game are also simplified, in a way. While they appear to be built on a 6 x 6 grid, many of them have branching or nonlinear paths that, while they shorten the board, also serve to make the game look more interesting.
It does not, however, appear that the game is too simplified. The rulebook is almost 20 pages and, while it contains a lot of art, it is pretty dense. There is a neat monster surge rule (a la Arkham Horror – in this case where new enemies are put on the board whenever the bad guys amass enough Cheese) and the minion movement rules appear to be pretty easy to follow. I am typically driven insane by line of sight rules but, given that this is a cooperative game, I doubt it will be as big of a deal as it is in competitive games where such things can get very contentious. Also, the initiative set up and boss characters (the cat in particular) is pretty cool, since it works in a completely different way than the rest of the game.I think I caught most things on my first read through and felt pretty comfortable by my second. Cool thematic touches (Especially a very cool needle and thread item that lets you cross gaps wider than you normally could) and a gorgeous, hand-painted art style bring the game together into something very nice looking form what I can see here. Granting achievements for doing certain things during play is really cool, especially with in-game effects, and something that I look forward to seeing more of in game. They help build the narrative of how your story has been told in your gaming group and give you an object around which to focus your reminiscing.
I can already hear people complaining about the game’s replayability and – while you may not want to revisit the same dungeons with the same group – this has been the case with every scenario based dungeon crawl ever, basically. Plus, with 11 scenarios and more to come, there’s a fair amount to go through here before you need to make your own (which doesn’t appear covered in the rules that we have, but – since the game is cooperative – you don’t need to worry about balance so much).
Man, that was a lot to cover, and I didn’t even touch on everything. Overall, I’m pretty excited about this game now that I’ve gotten to see the rules and look over an adventure. I think that this will be much easier to get to the table with my wife than Descent or Super Dungeon Explore and I look forward to holding onto it long enough that my sons are old enough to play it (About 4 years from now, since Mice and Mystics is listed as 7+, although I imagine younger kids could play with a little help). Oh, and the pre-order comes with two promo cards, is $49.95 – which is $25 off MSRP (shipping to me was just under $10, bringing the price to $59.30, shipped). It is presently up for pre-order directly from Plaid Hat Games. I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of this and getting you a full review in about three months.