Posted by: gschloesser | August 9, 2011

Mystery of the Abbey

Design by:  Bruno Faidutti
Published by:  Days of Wonder
3 – 6 players, 60 – 90 minutes
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter Magazine #22 

Brother Adelmo is dead and foul play is suspected.  You are charged with the task of discovering which of the resident monks in this formerly quiet and peaceful abbey is responsible for this evil deed.  

Welcome to Mystery of the Abbey, the entertaining “who-dunnit?” game from Bruno Faidutti.  The game was originally released back in 1996, but has undergone a new face-lift by Days of Wonder.  And what a face-lift!  This new edition is beautiful, with fantastic artwork and wonderful components, down to the highly detailed monk tokens and the tiny little bell that is rung when mass is called.  

The attractive appearance of this new edition was enough to entice me to finally give the game a try.  You see, I’m not normally a fan of deduction-style games.  Oh, I used to enjoy Clue, but games such as Code 777, Black Vienna, Sleuth  and other deduction oriented games are just not my style.  Thus, when opportunities arose to play Mystery of the Abbey in the past, I always shied away.  However, who could pass up the opportunity to play this beautiful new version – especially when it was being taught by the designer himself!

The board depicts the Templars’ Abbey, which is comprised of numerous buildings and rooms.  Players represent visiting monks who are charged with the task of solving the recent murder of poor Brother Adelmo.  Only one of the 24 monks has committed the deed, and players spend time visiting various rooms and questioning each other in attempts to discover his identity. 

Players each receive a colorful suspect sheet, which contains illustrations of all 24 monks – in full color!  Monks are divided into several different classifications:  Fathers, Brothers or Novices and Templars, Franciscans or Benedictines.  Further, each can be further identified by other characteristics, including beard vs. clean-shaven; hooded versus no hood; or fat versus skinny.  It is these characteristics that are often inquired about when questioning other players. 

The deck of monk cards is shuffled and one is placed face-down by the board.  This is the villain.  Players then each receive a certain number of monk cards dependent upon the number of players (with four players, each player receives 5 cards).  The remaining monk cards can be obtained when players visit the Parlatorium.  Oh, yes … since this an old Catholic monastery, the names of the room are all in Latin! 

When players receive their monk cards and obtain information concerning other monks during the course of the game, they should mark this information on their suspect sheets.  There are small little icons to assist with this record keeping, but each player is free to devise whatever recording method they feel serves them best.  The idea is to obtain information about the monk cards that are in play and eliminate as many monks from suspicion as possible.  Keeping concise and accurate record of the information obtained is essential to playing this game well – but there’s the rub.  You see, cards change hands so often that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of which players have which cards.  There are so many random factors and hidden card switching involved here that lovers of pure deduction games will find themselves quite frustrated.  However, if you can handle this healthy dose of randomness, the process is quite enjoyable and entertaining. 

Players begin the game in the chapel, a place they will return to often during the course of the game.  On a turn, a player may move his token up to two spaces.  If he lands in a room with another monk present, he may ask that player a question.  The question can be phrased in just about any manner, with the notable caveat that it must be able to be answered in a fashion that does not give the suspect’s name.  Some examples of valid questions: 

“How many bearded monks do you have in your hand?”

“Have you eliminated any hooded Benedictine fathers from your list?”

“Do you have the Father Sergio card?”

 

The player may either decline to answer the question – pleading a vow of silence – or answer it truthfully.  If he does answer the question, then he may then ask a question of the phasing player in return, which MUST be answered truthfully.  It is this questioning process that is at the heart of the game and usually reveals the most information about the various suspects. 

Most of the rooms in the abbey allow the player to execute special actions upon entering them.  Several of them involve the drawing of cards, which can be used to somehow affect game play.  Yes, this does inject quite a bit of randomness into the game, but, hey … it’s a Bruno Faidutti game, so what did you expect?  A few have expressed concern that one or two of the cards may be a bit too unbalancing.  If you feel that way, it is an easy matter to remove the cards that you feel are too powerful.  

Here are a few examples of the room effects: 

Cells:  Geez … no wonder monks are so somber:  they have to live in cells!  If a player enters the cell of an opponent (a “no-no”, according to monk code of honor), the player gets to take one suspect card from that player’s hand.  If, however, the owner of a cell moves into the cell and catches you invading his private domain, he must return the stolen card and is then sent immediately to the chapel for penance.  

Scriptorium:  These cards have a wide variety of effects.  Some of them must be played immediately, while others can be saved and used at an opportune moment.  Extra turns, taking of cards, rearranging the turn order, etc. – all are possible effects of the Scriptorium cards. 

Crypt:  Entering the crypt not only gives you the creeps, but rewards you with a card allowing you to take an extra turn when you desire.  Players may only possess one Crypt card, however. 

Bibliotecha:  A player may only enter this sacred domain if he possesses the fewest suspect cards.  Further, a player may only enter this room once during the course of the game – it is that sacred!  The player is rewarded with a powerful card that often grants riches of Biblical proportions.  Since cards change hands so quickly in this game, it is wise to enter the Bibliotecha as soon as you meet the conditions.  Otherwise, the window of opportunity may close quickly and you will never be able to enter. 

Confessorium:  There are two confessionals, each containing a color-coded die.  When a player visits the confessorium, he randomly draws a card from the hand of the player whose color is face-up on the die.  The die is then turned to reveal the color of the player who is currently occupying that confessional.  I tend to spend a lot of time in the confessional, which takes me back to my youth as a Catholic! 

Capitulum:  This is the great meeting hall and the only place (without a special card) where players can make revelations and accusations.  It is also located at the far-end of the abbey, so a player usually has to make a bee-line for it at the beginning of a turn. 

The game is played in cycles of four rounds per turn.  One player is given the deck of mass cards and a tiny bell is moved to the appropriate number on the card with each passing round.  A player’s turn consists of moving his token, asking questions (when appropriate) and exercising the powers granted by entering a room.  After each player has taken a turn, the bell is moved to the next number on the card and the process is repeated.  After each player has completed four turns, the bell is rung and all players return immediately to the chapel for mass.  

At this point, the effects listed on the mass card take effect.  This involves the passing of suspect cards to the player on your left.  The number of cards passed increases by one with each passing turn.  It is wise to attempt to keep track of which cards you possess that the player on your left has already seen.  This way, you can pass those cards to him at this time and thereby not help him in his sleuthing.  After the cards are passed, an event card is drawn and its effects occur.  Finally, the bell and deck of mass cards is passed to the left and a new turn begins. 

A word of caution for the “keeper” of the mass cards.  If he fails to remember to move the bell following a round of play, he is forced to return to the chapel and do penance, thereby forfeiting his turn for that round.  Silly, but still fun. 

During the course of the game, players may make revelations.  To do so, they must travel to the Chapter Hall (Capitulum) and state aloud ONE characteristic that they feel the murderer possesses.  For instance, they might claim that the murderer has a beard, or that the murderer is a Brother, etc.  These revelations are recorded and points will be awarded or subtracted at the end of the game, depending upon the accuracy of the revelation.  2 points are awarded for each correct revelation, while 1 point is subtracted for each incorrect revelation.  No two players may make the same revelation, but one player may make contradictory revelations.  

When a player feels confident that he knows the identity of the murderer, he may travel to the Chapter Hall and make an accusation, stating flatly the identity of the monk that he feels is the murderer.  If another player possesses the card for that monk, he reveals it and the accusation is proven false.  The accuser loses 2 points and is moved to the chapel for penance.  If, however, no one possesses the card, the accuser looks at the hidden murderer card to verify his accusation and reveals it to everyone.  He is rewarded with 4 points for his brilliant detective work. 

At this point, scores are tallied for each player, verifying the accuracy or inaccuracy of previous revelations.  The player with the most points is the master detective and is rewarded with a Gregorian chant CD by the Abbey prelate.  

Much to my surprise and delight, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the Abbey.  The game if fun to play and not too taxing on the brain cells.  Yes, there is deduction work to be done and players must exercise their brains a bit, but there is also enough randomness involved to keep everyone involved and competitive.  The brilliant detective in your group will not always win.  The randomness may shake things up a bit too much for the purist, but will make the game more accessible and enjoyable for most folks.  It has gone over well with folks both in my gaming group and with my wife and casual gaming friends.  Although I have no desire to enter a monastery permanently, I’m certainly looking forward to further visits to this one!

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Responses

  1. The empty rooms of the Abbey (and there are many) seem designed just to slow player’s movements and stretch the game to a meaningful length. That is annoying. But the game suits a sociable crowd and that can be very valuable in small party situations. As far as actual deduction goes, there isn’t very much. This is more of a game of hand management and wild revelations. (5/10)

  2. I like this a lot. No, I do not chant. However, like any of these clue finding games, it is fragile if players do not answer correctly. 6/10


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