The Mystery Hour Board Game review: it could save your Christmas
I listen to James O'Brien on LBC most days and truth be told he has really helped me through the pandemic while I have had to work from home. It helps that my leanings in politics, culture and seemingly in most areas seem to align with his, and in my opinion these leanings are to the side of good. Left vs right is how many describe it, but there are good and bad people on both sides of the political divide and it is unfortunate that our current UK government just happens to be way over to the right and stuffed full of nasty incompetents who are happy to deceive too many of our population every single day.
James understands the damage Brexit is doing and perhaps more importantly, he always did. He saw it early and he challenged those among us who needed to be challenged to highlight the bizarre situation we are now continuing to live within to this day. His show is about much more than Brexit, however, and I continue to be surprised by how often I agree with James, and I remain certain that it is not lazy agreement. I do think about the topics raised and I almost always find myself sat on James' side to the point that I would almost enjoy vehemently disagreeing with him and shouting at my iPad one day.
Once a week we are treated to something completely different and that is Mystery Hour, a very simple one hour slot that has hit the jackpot in terms of being easy to understand, fascinating to listen to and instantly educational. Throw in some hilarious moments through a cast of genuine callers and it is easy to understand why it has become so popular. The final bonus is James sometimes trying a little too hard to answer extremely difficult questions himself until an expert then pops up and he has to roll back on what he was sure was a correct answer. Nice to see that he is fallible after all.
And so we come to the Mystery Hour Board Game that has been released just in time for Christmas, an essential piece of timing for any board game. It is a market that is extremely difficult to enter and succeed at, and even some of the biggest titles have failed badly. The Pointless board game was awful when it was first released and that was based on a quiz show that never seems to get old. It is a simple game show premise that should work almost as well in board game format as it does on TV, but boy did it not do that. To be fair I believe it has been re-issued in a format that is now worth the time playing it.
The physical game itself is unusual; the box is a rectangle and smaller than I expected. The huge packs of question cards are reassuring to see as are the small pencils that could have been stolen from the local bookies. With a simple board and pieces of paper to evidence your answers completing the set there is a real sense of innovation married to traditionalism in the way it has been put together.
I knew that it had a chance when I saw how short the instructions were which is needed for any family where people have different attention spans. If it is simple to understand, but has the potential to be played in different ways which allow for individual strengths to be used it will be addictive.
After one hour playing the game with my wife I knew that Mystery Hour was different and that it would be a regular activity in our house. Throw in my kids, 17 and 21 years old, and it started to get very competitive in a way I did not expect.
The main mechanism is to pick up a card with a question on it, always a question that you immediately want to know the answer to. Below that you will see a correct answer and a false answer, and the idea is that the other player(s) need to guess the factual answer.
That sounds simple, and it is, but there are further layers to the game which bring the flexibility that makes it such a fun time suck, and a game where you are not wholly reliant on the roll of a dice or pure luck. It builds up to a combination of general knowledge, logical reasoning, bluffing and your ability to bllshit quickly. That last skill can be useful when playing this game and so far my son and I appear to even better at bullshtting than we thought we were previously.
If you believe you know the answer to a question you can jump in and grab yourself 3 points. If you correctly guess from the two options provided you are given 1 point. And if the host's made up answer is chosen he will get 2 points from each player, and the instructions gently suggest that they should be given a round of applause (listen to the Mystery Hour show to understand why that simple gesture is so important).
There are a set number of questions to ask depending on how many people are playing, for example 7 questions when 2 people are playing, 4 when 4 are playing etc and this makes it a time efficient game that will fill every minute with laughter, recognition that something new has been learnt and more interaction with those around you than may usually occur.
Other suggestions in the instructions add to the friendly experience, such as giving people time to make up answers, and overall it achieves the goal of the very best boards games. It is fun, educational, timed just right to cater for those who have a low threshold for doing anything over long periods and it genuinely will bring people together.
I really am struggling to find any fault here. The player tokens could be more substantial in my opinion because pop-out card doesn't quite work, but they are consistent with the rest of the contents which, as I said before, have a traditional look and feel to them. Question cards, paper, pencils and a game board make for a carefully thought out game that just works, as Apple would say.
I appreciate my daily radio fix from James and I appreciate the varied viewpoints it highlights, and most of all I appreciate that he always comes from the side of 'good', but if I thought this was a cash grab or a lamentable effort I would be more than happy to say so.
For £19.95 it is one of the most interesting board games I have played and also good value. In a time when PlayStation and Xbox games wow us with their depth and visual splendour and when carrying around hundreds of games on your phone is perfectly normal, it is often more than worthwhile to sit down with your family and friends, and just experience being together and doing something communal and competitive at the same time.
On 25th December, when we have eaten more food than we needed to eat and when we are all a little too drunk we will now sit down and have a bit of Mystery Hour. No more playing Monopoly to the point where I would happily give away my real house just to finish the game, no more arguing about politics (just for one day maybe) and the hope that it will be replaced by something more convivial, more gentle and much more educational. A deserved round of applause…