GAME STORIES (PART 5)

In this continuing series, I am detailing and reviewing the various stories presented in many of the board games on the market. Turns out, most aren’t particularly good, but there are a few exceptions…

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: JOURNEYS IN MIDDLE EARTH

& MANSIONS OF MADNESS

Two games for one entry, these titles have perfected the use of an app assistant—a digital Dungeon Master that weaves the story for players to encounter. The app supplies music, dramatic storytelling, and even connected adventures where players keep their growing characters between sessions…just like any other dungeon crawl. Admittedly, JIME is the weaker narratively thought the more exciting simply because it offers so many different options. That being said, Mansions of Madness tells the better story with adventures inspired by HP Lovecraft’s’ famous mythos. It’s the better-told narrative…even though it’s still incredibly simplistic, coming off as an Uwe Boll adaption of better material. Players will explore a building, kill monsters, solve a mystery and escape before going insane. I’ve played numerous video games following that formula. Both titles are wonderful, easily in my top twenty, even maybe my top ten.  But narratively, they are hollow.

Story Quality: 4/10

MOURNEQUEST

This will come off as a bit of a cheat, as MourneQuest is based on an actual book, though I am going to slap money on a barrel right that none of you have either read or even heard of the novel in question.  MourneQuest, by Garry McElherron, is an obscure book that will only appear on Google if you enter the title and then follow it up with “novel”, as any other variation brings up multiple links to the board game. 

In the book, young Jack Turner leaves his home in post-famine Ireland and stumbles upon an enchanted realm, long since forgotten by mankind. He befriends a fantasy friend, Cobs, and they embark on a quest throughout the Kingdom of Mourne, a realm walled in against encroaching demons fighting to break in. And in case you’re wondering, the board game’s publisher Backspindle is also located in Ireland…so that’s how it works.

The game involves Jack, Cobs, and various other friends attempting to acquire items from across Mourne to lock out a series of seals connected to the peripheral wall that will release thralls of a greater threat, the wicked Shimnavore. Spoiler warning, you cannot prevent the invasion of Shimnavore, but by keeping the outer seals locked, you can make the final battle with him a lot easier.

I must admit that MourneQuest is delightful to play despite somewhat mediocre art in places. The concept is solid, and the story is interesting, and yes, once again, I admit the cards were in its favor as it was based on an actual novel.

Story Quality: 7/10

MYSTERIUM

So goes the game’s claim, in the 1920s, Mr. MacDowell, a gifted astrologer, detected a supernatural being upon entering his new house in Scotland (it’s never explained HOW he did this). He gathered eminent mediums of his time for a séance, and gave them seven hours (not sure why the time constraint) to make contact with the ghost and investigate any clues that it could provide to unlock an old mystery…how it was killed and who is responsible

Unable to talk, the amnesiac ghost communicates with the mediums through visions, which are represented in the game by illustrated cards. The mediums must decipher the images to help the ghost remember how he was murdered: Who did the crime? Where did it take place? Which weapon caused the death? The more the mediums cooperate and guess well, the easier it is to catch the right culprit.

Mysterium is a fun game with a notable and essential flaw—it has two phases of the game, with only the second determining if players win or lose and the first only having a marginal impact in the second. Yes, this is a game where you can do everything right in the first phase but make a single mistake in the second and have the entire game collapse. Like other games on this list, there is no preconfigured conclusion to the game with each session randomizing culprits, locations, and weapons, but how many different horror films begin with a setup like this. Undoubtedly not good ones, but it does give Mysterium a unique angle on the tired Clue formula, and they did make a film of that game.

Story Quality: 5/10