Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Jerry Hawthorne


No. of Players:
1 - 4



I have wondered why games which feature heroes in a dungeon are referred to as Dungeon Crawlers, and I came to the conclusion that the term crawler is used due to the fact that the players usually explore the different parts of the dungeon step by step, sometimes even placing new corridors and rooms along the way. However, the new game Mice and Mystics by Jerry Hawthorne gives the term "Dungeon Crawler" a quite new connotation, because the heroes in this game are a group of mice which quite literally crawl through the dungeon…

The different mice characters have not been mice from the beginning, but the storybook of Mice and Mystics tells the story of a young human Prince who has been incarcerated by his evil stepmother after the death of his father. His friends, the King's wizard and the Royal Cleric, still stick with the prince, and the wizard turns the whole group into mice so that they can flee from the castle and plot revenge against the evil Queen. However, the process of shapeshifting could not be reversed, and so the Prince and his friends have to face their upcoming tasks in their new bodies. When the Queen learns about the Prince's new appearance, she turns a major part of the Royal guard into Rats in order to hunt for the Prince's party, and so the players will not face Orcs, Minotaurs or Beholders on their dungeon adventures, but instead they will be confronted with small but nonetheless nasty enemies like rats, centipedes or - arg - a cat!

Apart from this rather unusual background story, the game offers many features which are well-know from other games falling into this category. So, the game offers a turn-based movement mechanism, a combat system with melee, ranged combat and sorcery, and a deck of treasure cards which may be drawn by the players into order to find weapons or other useful items. As the introductory story indicated, the mice-characters can be divided into different hero-classes, and so we get fighters, rangers, clerics, wizards and rogues. This all will sound all too familiar for seasoned dungeon explorers, and so I suggest to have a look at the more unusual features of Mice and Mystics


Considering the role of the Dark Overlord (or here: the evil Queen), Mice and Mystics takes an approach which is known from Warhammer Quest, so that none of the players has to take the role of the dark Queen, but instead all players will cooperate as mouse-heroes against the mechanisms of the game. The appearance of hostile creatures is determined by a deck of enemy-cards, but the greater structure and story elements of each mission can be found in a storybook from which the players have to read at different times during the game. Each mission starts with an introductory text and additional passages which have to be read upon entering new locations, and here Mice and Mystics stands out because the stories have been written with a lot of imagination and care for details. In comparison to a straightforward dice-roller like Heroquest the reading certainly slows the game down to some degree, but on the other hand the players much more get involved in the general story of the game. This does not go as far as a full RPG because the players still have to follow the general path outlined for them in the storybook, but in a way it feels like the players are taking part in a (sometimes dark) fairytale, and this actually provides for a playing experience which feels much more complete than in many comparable games.

Looking at the rules themselves, the combat system stands out because it uses a special set of dice featuring swords, shields and bows, and depending on the kind of attack chosen by the players or the enemy creatures fitting symbols for attack and defense must be rolled. Quite interesting is also the determination of Initiative in combat, because all characters and creatures have Initiative cards which are arranged in a ranking to determine the Initiative for each round of combat. To put some pressure on the players, the game also features a mechanism which simulates the passing of playing time which results in the movement of a "chapter"-marker on the general overview board, and if the chapter-marker moves too far the players will lose the game because they run out of time. The challenge is not as tough as the sometimes lightning-fast "storyteller"-figure in Legends of Andor, but still the players may feel the need for a bit of haste especially of they make a series of unlucky rolls which may result in a triggering of a new chapter.

Very neat and really unusual is the dungeon itself, because the players actually explore the castle from the perspective of mice. This means the modular gameboard features passages within the castle walls and the cellars, but each board section also offers a possibility to exit to one of the castle locations like the kitchen, the courtyard or the Queen's chambers. When the players use such an exit, the board section is turned over to its other side, and the players' figures now are positioned in this new location in order to continue their quest from this point. Quite interestingly, the players sometimes are forced to change locations in this way, because an entrance to the next board only may be found on one side of the board section. This stands in contrast to all other dungeon crawlers I have played so far, and it greatly helps Mice and Mystics in its efforts to set itself apart from its peers.

To sum it up, Mice and Mystics is a fantasy game which succeeds in capturing children and grown-ups alike, and if the players allow themselves to get involved with the story of each mission the playing atmosphere is simply outstanding. This experience is supported by a manageable set of rules which includes enough details for varied gameplay but does not overwhelm the players. However, while the gamebox recommends the game to children aged seven years or older, I would recommend the presence of at least one older player if children of this age want to participate. Some minor rules tend to be forgotten, and in addition the players will collect different items, skills and spells during the course of the game, and it can get a bit fiddly to keep an overview of all these extras during play. Here some guidance from an older player is necessary to keep the game afloat. All other gaming groups with a liking for fantasy games should have no problems at all to plunge into the world of Mice and Mystics, and with one expansion already released the game promises many interesting hours of gaming. Go on and join the cheesequest!

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany