By Carl Rosa, 11 July 2018
Mice and Mystics (M&M) is a game from Plaid Hat Games. It is designed as a cooperative game for up to four players (with the ability to squeeze a fifth in to maintain “the board”). The game features a fantasy-type setting where an evil sorceress queen named Vanestra is usurping the throne of an ailing king. The main characters turn themselves into mice to escape imprisonment, which prompts Vanestra to turn her henchmen into rats to catch them. Other foes within the core game include roaches, spiders, and centipedes. The default way to play the game is the included campaign called “Sorrow & Remembrance”.
Inside the candy-coated shell of the box for M&M is the following:
Character cards for the heroes included in this box
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Storybook
- 6 Mouse Hero Figurines
- 16 Minion Figurines
- 1 Story Control Board
- 8 Dual-Sided Room Tiles
- 28 Mouse Ability Cards
- 71 Search Cards
- 18 Encounter Cards
- 6 Mouse Hero Cards
- 5 Action Dice
- 3 Sheets of Markers/Tokens/Counters
For starters, the cards are (as expected) completely unique to the game and lend few uses beyond the intended. There is some solid art but nothing that couldn’t be found in other games. Additionally, the dice are game specific, featuring four images: one sword, two sword and shield, two bow, and one cheese. In the top left corner is a number from 1-3, and three sides have a star in the bottom right corner. If you need a “d3” in a pinch they’re useful, but otherwise not a resource beyond the game.
The tiles have a lot of versatility, though They have decently sized spaces and a fairly broad selection of “rooms” if you can look past everything being to mouse scale. The figures, as in most games, have the most use outside of the game. Sure, anthropomorphic mice and rats can require a very specific setting (maybe some Nezumi for Legend of the Five Rings, or for Mouseguard in general) but the other critters can definitely find a place in other games. To save on packing, the same figures work for the “mundane” and “boss” versions of any given monster, so there isn’t anything unique about which you’re facing other than the initiative card (see below) and possibly a marker to distinguish rats from the more powered henchmen. Amusingly enough, the largest villain, a cat named Brodie, simply has a marker for its paw but no figure due to his size.
Expansions are available that add a little bit of everything listed above.
Ant’s eye view of this mouse scale game
M&M is one of those games that looks more complex than it is. Unless the storybook overrides a rule, everything defaults to the following instructions.
Every hero mouse gets starting equipment, and may save one item between “chapters” of the campaign. Each mouse has a class or two that may come into play for special abilities or items, a way of getting cheese other than rolls, and an array of four stats: Attack, Defense, Lore and Move. Lore tends to only matter for story elements or items – especially spells. Move is used when a mouse wants to “Scurry”. This works by rolling one die, and adding the number value to their Move score and that’s the furthest they can go from their current space.
Attack and defense are a contested roll. Both attacker and defender accumulate a dice pool based on their stat and equipment (for heroes). Ranged attacks are not limited by range, only line of sight, and melee only requires adjacent or shared spaces. The attacker delivers a number of wounds to the defender equal to the number of sides showing a bow and arrow for ranged attacks, or a sword (including the sword and shield logo). The defender ignores a number of wounds equal to the number of sword and shield logos they roll. If a mouse rolls at least one cheese logo, they add a cheese slice to their record card, where minions add it to the “Doom Clock”.
The heroes may only exit or flip a tile if the whole active party is on a space touching the same exit, so sometimes you have to be strategic how you move during a fight. When there are no minions, you may spend an action to “search”, which allows the player to roll one die and draw a Search card if the result has a star on it. Most Search cards are new equipment or items, but some are traps and special events. For every round without a minion on your tile, add a cheese to the Doom Clock, and you cannot leave a tile with any minions left. There are two ways to move to a new tile: reach a blue or orange exit touching an entrance to another tile with the same color entrance touching it, or by reaching the flip symbol and turning the whole tile over.
Upon entering a new tile, whether by flipping or exiting, reveal the next Encounter card (depicted right). This card shows the minions that are added to the tile based on the “page” of the story, evenly distributed between any spaces with mouse footprints on them. When the Doom Clock gets its sixth cheese, it advances the “page” by one to possibly ending the game. If it doesn’t, then you get a “Surge.” A Surge adds whatever minions are listed on the bottom of the card. The game does limit the number of minions on a tile to what’s in the box. An example is if the spider is already in play, and a surge tells you to add a spider, you’ve lucked out because there’s only one spider in the box.
Now that the mice have left their tile by flipping it, there is an exit they can reach
Initiative is determined when the Encounter card is revealed. Shuffle all of the heroes’ initiative cards together with the minions to be added and deal them onto the Story Control Board’s initiative track. All units of the same type go on the same initiative number. Special version of the same creature type will have a separate initiative card. For example, all rats go on one number, but elites rats will act on their own turn, and further still Captain Vurst – Evil Queen Vanestra’s lieutenant – has his own card. Minions always attack or move to the closest hero to them, and if two heroes are equally viable, it attacks the least recently attacked hero.
Beyond that, everything follows the typical RPG and board game convention of specific rules supercede general ones.
The general gameplay works by following through the storybook (a page of which pictured left), and having someone read off the narrative text and then resolving the tiles one by one until the story “Ends”, there is a total party kill, or the objectives are met.
Both co-op and solo capable games are a positive aspect to me. There is no minimum requirement for play, but the game is full of teamwork. Boosting the co-op factor is that this board game pushes for a more tabletop RPG flavor than most others. You can ignore the story and sail through everything, but the story is engaging, even if the starting hook is a bit cliche.
The gameplay is easy to learn, and after multiple times playing I have yet to have players who are lost after their first couple turns. Setup is fairly quick other than some shuffling through the ‘deck’ of tiles and decks of cards, and the game is surprisingly light on number crunching for how much depth is provided. Every character is genuinely useful, and there has yet to be a game where there was exactly one right/perfect setup to win. You can start on any chapter you want with minimal lost time for character development.
Art is always a factor, and this game delivers consistent art that plays to the mood of the setting, and even the smallest tokens don’t skimp on a genuine attempt.
While a party wipe is game over, as long as one mouse survives the only cost for running out of health is to lose an item if they have one beyond the starting equipment, and they rejoin you when you reach the next tile.
In combat, with the exception of the large monsters, one hit eliminates a minion. The minions meant for the biggest boss fights have more than one initiative card allowing for multiple attacks in a round. The trade off for this substantial health is they lose the attack with the card once it is removed.
While the game is fairly tidy on space, the biggest issue comes from clutter. Starting equipment, despite being a given, still requires the cards to be dealt. Some of them have special rules, and it keeps the record cards from having to include unwieldy blocks of text. What it does not protect against is more small parts that need to be kept track of. Not to mention the cheese tokens on the sheet (six are required to buy a new skill), any status indicators, and health tokens. Factor that in for four heroes, and this game is a huge cat hazard.
Max was rather upset that he couldn’t play Brodie. This image also shows how much space even the starting equipment takes up.
The “time” mechanic is a useful aspect because it forces a game to escalate. A stagnated combat could experience a “surge”, which advanced the time token a chapter and usually adds more enemies. Even missed attacks against highly specialized parties can add cheese to the Doom Clock and run the story out, so no enemy is too small to create a challenge. That said, there have been a few sessions where dice rolling has led to more than one page being advanced early in the game, forcing predestined failure just because the law of averages played to an Encounter with six roaches, paving the way to a surge of two rats. A one in six chance to roll a cheese suddenly goes out the window when the attack and defense rolls lend to dozens of chances to turn one up. Combine that with a poor run of luck on player attacks, and that number increases many fold.
Continuing in this vein, the game lives and dies by the dice – literally. Players determined to get loot will run the Doom Clock up for every failed search attempt, bad attack or defense rolls can lead to a party wipe at alarming speed. The pacing and escalation can make certain scenarios impossible without lucky searches or special items hidden in other tiles costing time, therefore cheese.
On a personal note, I succumbed to buying extra dice for the game, doubling my total to ten. It is rare for a single roll to exceed five dice, which is forgivable, but a problem arises when the players want to make their attack and defense rolls at the same time. Five dice rarely covers both attacker and defender beyond the start of the game.
Lastly, there is always the concern for quarterbacking (when one player tells others what to do with their turns), especially in a game that is designed to be playable by one person. This is more cautionary and meta than it is a problem, however.
Above all, my first question for every game comes down to “is it fun?” And yes, it is. Despite times where the dice seem out to kill the players, the table always experienced a thrill. The game was never over until it was genuinely over, and once or twice we have even ignored the first game over to fully play out the story of the chapter. It’s a good story, and the visual aids are both appropriate and well done.
Mice and Mystics is an enjoyable product with some well meaning mechanics that can hamstring the players. The game still appears to be available through its developer, Plaid Hat Games. The core set as described here retails for about $75.
Final score: 3.5 Buns.