How to Play the Mystery Express Boardgame
Playing the Board Game Mystery Express
I love heist movies, I love whodunnits, and I love board games. The Mystery Express board game takes all three of these things and blends them together with a unique and extremely complex take on Clue. Your train is going to make five stops, and at each stop another piece of the puzzle is going to be revealed. In true Clue fashion, you have a few things you are going to need to figure out to be the winner. Gone is the simple 'Who did it with what in the where?' - and now you have to know 'Who did it with what in the wear, why and when?'
It can get very confusing.
How to Play Mystery Express - Rules & Instructions
The Mystery Express game comes with a lot of pieces, which can be daunting, but if you know about Days of Wonder, you expect it. Days of Wonder is known for giving visual representations of everything that might appear in the game, and even something as simple as moving a marker down a track needs its own special representation.
Take a moment to enjoy the decor of the game. Mystery Express might be the prettiest game that they have ever published, with a fantastic 1930s flair that brings you right into the dark themes of a murder mystery. All of the card detailing and miniatures fit right in, and as far as the gaming experience goes, it couldn't be more perfect. Where you might not mind that a game comes with the standard pieces, and only the cards and board are unique to the game, you should walk away from Mystery Express recognizing that it was created with painstaking amounts of awareness to the little details.
The game play of Mystery Express is a little different than that of Clue, its natural boardgame grandfather. In this game, there are two of every answer in the deck of clues, making this game a lot more difficult without a system. In Clue, you can usually narrow it down to one or two definites, but it becomes a lot harder when you have to remember that you've seen THAT weapon before, but did it come from the same source?
Also, each player is given seven cards, and the rest are put off to the side. They don't come into play until later, meaning that it is impossible to gather the answer until later in the game. A tricky addition to the whodunnit genre, but I definitely appreciate it, since the game has a set time. A time-release aspect really ups the stress when you are down to just a few chances left to gain information.
On each player's turn they have a set amount of time in which they can do things. Most players have 4 hours, and one of them has the special power of a 5th hour. During their block of time, they can go to any of the train cars and do a specific mini-game that each room dictates. Almost all of these actions causes cards to begin to get shuffled amongst players or be shown. Once they are shown or exchanged, they are put down into your own personal 'discard pile' until the end of this round. This means that once you show a card to someone, they are the only one that is going to see it this round, which makes the Clue strategy of holding back a card a little harder.
After everybody goes through their turn, the train moves to its next destination, and everybody collects up their discards to begin again. This happens five times, with only a few minor exceptions, and then the mystery is revealed.
The two extra aspects that I haven't really detailed are the conductor, and the Time Cards.
The conductor is another pawn on the board that moves from car to car throughout the game, and if you happen to hang around him, you get to look at his three cards, exchanging one of yours for his. That's right, another set of cards that you have to figure out.
Time is the one aspect of the game I'm still not sure on, having played the game both with it and without it. The fact that you can just remove it entirely makes me feel that it isn't such an important game dynamic, honestly. At a few of the jumps between towns, the clock deck is revealed in a variety of strange ways, such as flipping one card over on top of each other one at a time. The players have to identify which card is missing, because that is the one that tells you WHEN the murder happened. It's an interesting mini-game unto itself, but can be ignored if you just aren't interested in it.
At the 5th stop, the game ends, and the player who has guessed the most things right wins!
Ending the Game: The game ends at the fifth stop. Each player makes his final guesses as to the five elements of the crime, then the cards under the board are revealed. The player who guesses the most elements correctly wins. In case of a tie, the telegrams sent off on turn four are used as tiebreakers.
Mystery Express Strategy
One Thing At a Time - The real crux of the game comes from the idea that only one person is going to see a card each turn, as it is then put into the discard pile. So the best thing you can do is go after one type of card at a time. If you see that too many other players are going after the 'Motive' then switch gears and start going after the 'Weapon'. If two or even more of you are going after the same thing, then the piles of those cards are being depleted faster, and the chance for you to see two of the same is potentially gone.
Use the Conductor - The conductor's job in the game is two-fold. The first is to give a couple extra cards to people that care to go for them. The other is to help you sow dissent in the ranks. Have you shown a specific card to almost everybody? Next time you are using the conductor, drop off that card and pick up something else. The hope is that someone else will pick it up and think that they've now seen it twice.
Is this game Clue? No, it is much closer to a game like Murder in the Abbey, but a lot less luck is involved. With a determined strategy, you have a strong shot of at least getting one or two of the answers, and with players not out to make each other's lives a living hell, you usually can get all of them.
The game itself takes about an hour after you have gotten used to the rules, but can take twice as long your first few times out. Take it slowly, as there are a lots of bells and whistles in this game that can be confusing at first.
Express isn't a game we can pull out all the time, but every once in awhile somebody will say, 'How about we play Mystery Express?' and everybody takes a moment to look at each other and then nobody has ever disagreed. It's a fun conversational game, and an excellent addition to the library of someone who loves a good murder mystery.
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