Board Game Review: Mystery of the Abbey

Since my experiences at the GenCon Trade Day I’ve been thinking about how to use board games in Catholic education and faith formation. There aren’t a lot of board games with explicitly religious themes (outside the tired “Bible Trivia”-style games), so I’ve focused on using existing, high-quality games in a catechetical way.

Fortuitously, Days of Wonder has just reissued one of its classic games with a religious atmosphere: Mystery of the Abbey  by Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget. Loosely based on the novel The Name of the Rose (more in flavor than in plot), Mystery of the Abbey is a deductive game (think Clue) set in a medieval  monastery. The players take on the roles of would-be investigators tracking down clues as to which member of the  monastery  murdered one of their own.

To narrow down the list of suspects players use suspects cards (like Clue, one card is placed under the board; the suspect on that card is the killer) and travel to the different rooms of the monastery, each of which allows the player to take a special action, For instance, going to a Confessional allows the player to take a random suspect card from the last player to visit that Confessional while taking a book from the Scriptorium will give the player a special ability to be used immediately or saved for later.

Every four turns the players must return to the Ecclesia where suspect cards are traded and an “Event” card is drawn. These events add more effects from the mechanical (all the players are immediate sent to their Cells) to the whimsical (everyone must sing “Frère Jacques” in a round).

Players track down the perpetrator by narrowing down the list via character traits. Was the killer fat or thin? Was he a Franciscan, a Templar, or a Benedictine? A priest, a brother, or a novice? Once the list of suspects has been narrowed, a player can choose to declare an individual trait or guess the perpetrator. Points are awarded for correct guesses (guessing the perpetrator nets more points than just a trait); whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

Components

Days of Wonder is known for its high production values and Mystery of the Abbey is no exception. The board, which features a map of the monastery, is beautifully rendered with lots of color. The instructions are short and easy to understand.  The six monk pieces and three custom dice are made of wood and the cards are sturdy, standing up to plenty of shuffling and handling. My favorite touch, however, is the little metal “Mass Bell” used to call the players back to the Ecclesia at the end of every round — it’s a small touch that adds another layer of whimsy to the game.

Educational Objectives

Like Clue, Mystery of the Abbey helps students hone their reasoning skills — although with 24 suspects and five different traits to identify the game is a little more involved that its predecessor. Younger students will have opportunities to practice reading comprehension skills and following the directions on the Scriptorium and Bibliotheca cards.

Catechetical Objectives

There are actually a few ways in which Mystery of the Abbey can be used to touch on areas of the faith. The map of the abbey itself can be used to talk about consecrated religious life (it includes a church, confessionals, cells, a scriptorium, and the cloister). The game uses the Liturgy of the Hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, etc.) as a pacing mechanic. And, of course, there are the three religious orders represented in the game.

Mystery of the Abbey plays with 3-6 players (recommended ages 8+) and lasts 60-90 minutes. The new reprint does include misprints on the Mass cards; an errata has been posted and replacement cards will be available soon.

Starting a Family Game Night: GenCon Trade Day Report – Part 2

A few weeks ago I attended the GenCon Trade Day, a workshop for teachers focusing on the educational use of tabletop games. One of the  sessions  I attended was hosted by staff members from the Indianapolis Public Library on how to start a family game night. This can be a great event to build community at a parish or Catholic school — here are some of the tips I got from the presentation:

  • There are four basic types of games you can offer: card games, board games, role-playing games, and  video games.
  • Don’t offer regular playing cards — the risk of poker and other gambling games is too great. Get cheap “Crazy 8” or “Old Maid” decks instead. Uno is also very popular.
  • Cheap board games can be found at second hand stores.
  • If you offer role-playing games, advertise for game masters in advance.
  • If parents have religious questions about role-playing games, recommend the FAQ from the Christian Gamers’ Guild.
  • If you offer video games, be sure to review them for content ahead of time. Don’t offer games rated M!
  • If you have electronic games, keep extra batteries on hand.
  • Makes sure someone at the event has at least a working knowledge of the rules of each of the games you offer so that you can answer questions that will arise.
  • Post rules. The most important: whoever is in charge has the final say on rules disputes!
  • Get help from local gaming stories. See if they would be willing to demo a game or offer prizes.
  • Contact game companies and see if they will send playtest versions or door-prizes.
  • Ask families to bring or donate games.
  • Package and label your games carefully, including a list of all the pieces.
  • Have options for all ages.
  • Offer snacks!
  • Market your event through flyers, newsletters, and social media.
  • Remember: it’s about having fun and building community!