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Subject: Mystery of the Abbey - A Review rss

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Craig Hargraves
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Mystery of the Abbey

Designers: Bruno Faidutti & Serge Laget
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Year: 2003
Players: 3-6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

The Idea
In Mystery of the Abbey, players take on the role of monks in an abbey the day after another of the monks has been murdered. Through careful observation and questioning the players try to deduce which out of 24 different monks committed the crime.

To win the game you need to have made the most points through making statements (revelations) about the killer. These statements may, or may not, include actually identifying the killer at the end of the game.

In the Box
As is typical for Days of Wonder’s games the production values of Days of Wonder are exceptional. The plastic insert is made perfectly for this game and every piece has its own space where it fits perfectly.

The 8 page rulebook is well illustrated and explains the game quite clearly. After a quick read through of the rules it is very easy to quickly reference any particular rule for clarification (although this is rarely necessary). The rulebook also has suggestions for changing the game or to speed up play with 6 players. As is standard with Days of Wonder games, the back cover also has a unique code which allows 6 months access to online play of some other Games of Wonder’s games.

The game board is a well illustrated view of the abbey as seen from above. Various rooms are shown on the board such as the chapel, confessional booths, the library and the monks living cells. Areas on the board are actually labelled in Latin but this isn’t too big a problem as the 6 Deduction Notebooks show the map with English labels. The board is quite spacious and never feels crowded by playing pieces or cards. The board also has space for all the various decks of cards required.

The Deduction Notebook is a sheet of paper folded in two and can be used to hide the suspect sheet on which you’ll make notes during the game. The Deduction Notebook acts as an excellent player reference sheet as it contains all of the information pertinent to the game (such as what actions can be taken in the various rooms) so you don’t have to refer to the rulebook during the game. The Deduction Notebook also has some suggestions on a few different strategies you can use during the game which is a nice touch.

The game comes with 50 single-sided colour suspect sheets which are fairly practical in their lay out. My only complaint with them is that 50 sheets isn’t a lot. To get around this I highly recommend making sure everyone uses a pencil so you can erase the sheet after the game. Alternatively you could laminate 6 of the sheets and use erasable markers on them. If by misfortune you do use up all of your sheets then you can download a copy from the Days of Wonder website and print more.

There are 102 cards in the current edition of the game which are split into a number of different decks. The most important set of cards are the suspect cards which have nice illustrations of the various monks in the abbey. The suspect cards form an important part of the game as the cards in play represent the innocent monks. The different monks are identified by a number of characteristics which include their order, rank, whether they are fat or skinny, bearded or clean-shaven and finally hooded or non-hooded.

The other cards include book cards which allow players to perform some special actions, event cards which add a lot of flavour to the game, some crypt cards which allow a bonus turn and finally some Mass cards which are used to track the progress of the game.

There are 6 coloured monk miniatures to represent the different players. The miniatures are nicely sculpted but are identical apart from their colour. There are 3 wooden “Monk” dice and a small bell.

A Brief Summary of Game Play
Setting up the game is fairly quick. Each player chooses a coloured monk and puts their piece into the chapel. One suspect card is chosen at random and put under the board. That is the culprit whose identity you’re trying to discover! A number (which depends on the number of players) of other suspects are then put aside on the board face down. Players will have the opportunity to get those cards during the game. The remaining cards are dealt out to the players. The rest of the cards can then be placed on the appropriate spaces which are clearly shown on the board.

From then on the players take turns going around the table. On their turn a player can move one or two spaces and then take an action according to where they finished their move. The details of these actions is clearly explained in the rules and summarised on the Deduction Notebook. Some examples include being able to draw a Scriptorium book card while in the Scriptorium or stealing a suspect card from another player while you’re in their cell.

In addition to the actions you take in a room, if you finish your movement in the same room as another player then you must ask that player a question. The question you ask can be almost anything provided it can be answered without giving a suspect’s name. The other player then chooses to either make a vow of silence (refusing to answer) or they can answer your question and ask one in return (which you have to answer). These questions are all asked openly so other players can listen and draw their own conclusions from what is said. There is a lot of strategy which can be found in the asking of questions as you try to find the information you need while also trying to throw red herrings to your opponents.

Every four turns (which is tracked with the Mass cards and the small bell) the bell is rung and all players return to the Chapel for Mass. At Mass, all players pass a number of suspect cards (which increases throughout the game) to the player on their left. In this way you will gradually see more and more of the suspect cards as they are passed around allowing you to eliminate more suspects from your investigation.

After this an event card is turned up and the instructions on it followed. These event cards often add a lot of flavour to the game. For example one card requires players to speak in plainsong (the Gregorian style chanting). However there is the chance that some of these cards could become tedious after some time so you could choose to leave some cards out to avoid them. These cards will often reveal more innocent monks or change the style in which the game plays.

A nice extra rule which can be enforced as strictly or as lightly as the group chooses is the Penance rule. By this if a player makes a mistake during the game and breaks a rule they can be made to do penance. They immediately return to the chapel and skip a turn. It’s a nice little thematic rule which can serve to really keep people focused on the game.

As mentioned earlier, the aim of the game is to get the most points by making revelations about the culprit. Revelations are made in the Chapter Hall and must specify one characteristic about the culprit such as “The culprit is skinny”. At the end of the game a correct revelation will earn you 2 points while you will lose 1 point for an incorrect revelation. You can also make a final accusation by stating the name of the culprit. If you are correct then you will get 4 points while being wrong will cost you 2 points. As you can see it isn’t necessary to actually name the culprit to win the game if you can make enough correct revelations. However those 4 points will help a lot!

This is a quick run down of the rules. The rulebook is available for download from the Days of Wonder website if you want to read it for more detailed rules.

Who Would Like It?
Obviously if you enjoyed the deductive classic Clue(do) then you’ll probably love Mystery of the Abbey with its extra challenge, much richer theme and more contemporary game play.

Fans of the novel and subsequent movie “The Name of the Rose” will also likely be able to get right into this game. The “Brother Cadfael” mysteries (both novels and TV series) also share this theme and fans will enjoy the experience Mystery of the Abbey offers.

This is also a great game for kids to develop their deductive reasoning skills as they try to find the culprit. It’s also a good way for kids to practice developing plans and strategies as well as the careful use of language through the questioning and answering.

Where to From Here?
If you want more deduction style games then you could try out an older game called Sleuth (currently published by Face 2 Face Games). Mr. Jack (published by Hurrican) is a simpler two player game of deduction which may better suit children. The forthcoming “The Name of the Rose” game (published by Ravensburger) may also provide a similar style play experience.

Finally games which contain “traitors” in the game such as Shadows Over Camelot (also from Days of Wonder) and Battlestar Galactica from (Fantasy Flight Games) can also provide a satisfying deductive experience.
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Homo Ludens
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Nice review Craig. How difficult have you found it to ask good questions? If I remember correctly, this is one of the main criticisms of the game, that it's just very difficult to ask questions without giving too much away to third parties.
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The Galaxy is Just Packed!
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cvandyk wrote:
Nice review Craig. How difficult have you found it to ask good questions? If I remember correctly, this is one of the main criticisms of the game, that it's just very difficult to ask questions without giving too much away to third parties.


I'm surprised that is a criticism, as I find it the whole wonderful point of the game.

My only suggested addition to this game is some form of color-coded marker to place in front of each player so you can remember which player is Brother Green.

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Jim Nave
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cvandyk wrote:
Nice review Craig. How difficult have you found it to ask good questions? If I remember correctly, this is one of the main criticisms of the game, that it's just very difficult to ask questions without giving too much away to third parties.


I don't think its difficult. My only thing would be to say that maybe its difficult to come up with "brilliant" questions. The vast majority of our questions are of the "How many brothers do you have?" variety.

There is a nice tension in some games towards the end when you HAVE to ask a question and you want to ask something that your opponent wont want to answer (because you dont want to have to answer his question).
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Craig Hargraves
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cvandyk wrote:
Nice review Craig. How difficult have you found it to ask good questions? If I remember correctly, this is one of the main criticisms of the game, that it's just very difficult to ask questions without giving too much away to third parties.


Thanks. I don't think you need to stress too much about how you ask questions. It's something that will evolve as you play the game. You're almost bound to give away information sometimes but creativity can muddy things if you want. For example straight after the first Mass you could ask the person on your right a question like "How many Fathers of the same order as the monk you gave me last Mass have you eliminated from your search?" It can get a bit convoluted but there are ways to confine information to yourself and the person you're asking.

Is it worth the effort? Depends on your group. There's honestly so much grey information out there that often times the information you give out through your questions only serves to further confuse them rather than enlighten them. But there could people out there who can think through things well enough to make sense of things. Personally I'm happy to not push the art of question asking too hard and just enjoy the game. But like poker you can take the game to higher levels if you want.

In the end the shared information simply serves to speed up everyone's investigation and making sure that the game doesn't stretch on too long. And that's a good thing for most games in my opinion.
 
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Homo Ludens
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Thanks for the response - I also find that asking more subtle questions like you mention can make things convoluted - on the other hand it also makes the game more fun and is, I think, more in the spirit of things.

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Jim Nave
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Kind of a twisted way of throwing people off and making them ask keener questions (i think it kinda goes against the spirit of the gameplay though) is to not mark all the people off your list.

That way when someone asks you "How many brothers" you have marked off your sheet, your answer will be true but misleading.
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Craig Hargraves
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gjnave wrote:
Kind of a twisted way of throwing people off and making them ask keener questions (i think it kinda goes against the spirit of the gameplay though) is to not mark all the people off your list.

That way when someone asks you "How many brothers" you have marked off your sheet, your answer will be true but misleading.


That's why I prefer the "eliminated from your investigation" wording.
 
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