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Mystery of the Temples Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Wei-Min Ling
Artist: Maisherly
Publisher: Deep Water Games, EmperorS4
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 20-40 minutes
Primary Mechanics: set collection, area control, engine building, worker placement, and variable player powers.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Mystery of the Temples is a beautiful worker-placement game where you will collect Crystals from various Temple and Wilderness locations and use them to break Curses, recover magical Runes, and ultimately score lots of points. It reminds me a bit of Splendor (30%), Sagrada (20%), and Great Western Trail (5%).  

Rules and Setup:

The rules are quick to read and easy to understand, with lots of pictures, a symbol chart, and all the other information you need to pick it up quickly. Referencing was a little less intuitive than some others, but it does the job.

Setup takes about five minutes. To start, place the Temples in a ring, then fill in the gaps with Wilderness cards. Shuffle the Rune cards and place four by each temple with the top one face up. Each player takes a meeple, six cubes in their color, and one crystal grid (determined by player order). Each player places one of their cubes on the 0 spot of the score track. Shuffle the five objective cards and place 2-3 by the scoreboard, along with the Rune objective card.

Theme and Mechanics:

You are a "Curse Breaker" traveling the countryside, finding magic rocks, and using them to form circuits of magic that override Curses placed on the various Temples. When you break a Curse, you are rewarded with points and a Rune (cards that give you a bonus ability at certain locations). Honestly, the theme felt loose to me. This could just as easily have been a farming game or any number of themes, but magic works just fine, and the result is a gorgeous game.

Mechanically, you move your meeple clockwise around the ring of cards collecting Crystals, swapping them out, and breaking Curses on Temples.

Each turn, you must do two things:

1. Move
You can move clockwise up to three spaces on one type of card (Temples or Wilderness), only counting the type of location you are moving to (i.e. no matter where you start in the ring, you can move to any of the next three Wilderness cards or any of the next three Temple cards). This means you have six options to chose from every turn. Any time you would land on an occupied space, jump over it and don't count it against your movement.

2. Activate the space you end on
In most cases, this means getting Crystals and placing them on your grid.  They can be placed in any space on your grid, but you have to chain them together in a certain order to break Curses. Some spaces let you swap your Crystals for different colors.

If you land on a Temple, you can either take the type of Crystal pictured or break a Curse by removing Crystals from your grid which are connected in the same order as they are shown on the Temple card.

You could break a Curse by removing connected Crystals from your grid. White Crystals exist to make chains easier. Several Wilderness spots let you trade them for other colors. If you are breaking a Curse, it is a free action to spend one white to swap the positions of any two crystals on your grid or swap four whites for one of any color.

If your grid was set up as below when you move to the above Temple, you could remove yellow-yellow-blue-green to score 5, or use this grid's player power (displayed at the bottom of your crystal grid) to discard two white Crystals and score 8. Without that power, you could trade four Crystals for one of any color, put the purple where the red was, and still score 8. This costs a lot of Crystals, but you could immediately start working on another chain with your new Rune card.

When you break a Curse, place one of your cubes on the number above the colored symbol corresponding to the last crystal you spent in the chain. If you spend 3 Crystals, you get 3 points, 4 gets you 5, and 5 gets you 8. Once that space is filled, that chain no longer offers rewards, but the uncovered chains are still available.

Any time you break a Curse, you take the top Rune card from that Temple's stack. From then on, you get its bonus every time you activate a location corresponding to that symbol.

In the above example, the first card gives you an extra yellow Crystal and clears the white Crystal on the space before you select what you want to trade. The second card permanently reduces the cost of the free trading action from 4 to 3. The third card provides an extra Crystal of any color when you visit the Mana Converter.

Once a player places their last cube, play continues until it gets back to the first player. Once everyone has taken the same number of turns, you will gain points based on your Rune sets. You get more points for different symbols (1=1, 2=2, 3=4, 4=7, 5=11). Then, Temple objectives are scored. The player with the most cubes on the specific Temple gets 4, and second place gets 2. Leftover crystals aren't worth anything.

Each grid has a powerful special ability that will greatly influence your strategy:

1a - Each time you gain a white Crystal, gain one more. Exchanging them costs 3 instead of 4.
1b - When stopping on a Temple, gain the Crystal AND break a Curse in any order.
2a - Gain 3 wild Crystals at game start.
2b - When you break a Curse, you can spend 2 or 3 white Crystals to score a spot 1 or 2 spaces higher.
3a - Take one exposed Rune from a Temple before the game. That symbol scores 0 at the end, though.
3b - During movement, you can move to any open space.
4a - Grants extra rewards when Curses are broken (crystals or points).
4b - Increases the number of Runes you can choose from after breaking a Curse. This also gives you one freebie Rune at the end so you get more points when scoring a set.

Game Play:

This feels a bit like Splendor. There's a lot of stepping on other players' toes while you race toward the same goals. You'll go for a chain for several rounds, only to have somebody snatch it out from under you at the last second. There are technically a lot of options, but everybody tends to go for the same two or three Temples shown on the Objective cards.

Since there are five chains you can do on each Temple, and each of them has a three-, four-, and five-crystal chain, you're not too put out if you get there second, but options dwindle as the game progresses, requiring increasingly sneaky and desperate maneuvers.

Rune cards can be very seductive. Gaining extra crystals or improving your conversions will provide a significant boost throughout the game. You have to decide if you want to break easy Curses for low points and build up your machine, or if you want to get those 8-point spots before they're gone.

Artwork and Components:

Mystery of the Temples is a beautiful game with high-quality components. The cards have beautiful art and a linen finish. It is also colorblind friendly. My only gripe is that the player colors are black, grey, white, and brown. I always play red, and that color is hardwired into my brain, so it messes with me a little bit when I have to play something else.

The Good:
Quick to learn and play. No luck element. There's a lot of strategy packed into these simple mechanics; it's harder than it sounds. It's reminiscent of many excellent games while maintaining its own identity. Beautiful art, high-quality components, and colorblind friendly.

The Bad:
No ROYGBIV player colors. Player interaction is very passive-aggressive, and gameplay can be tense and frustrating at times. The theme wasn't executed all that well.

Final Thoughts:
Competition in games can cause a spectrum of responses, ranging from jovial name-calling to screaming and table flipping. I've seen this game make people much angrier than is justified by its weight. Recovery isn't that hard, but there's something about the gameplay that makes every score feel vicious. Once you get a feel for it, though, it's not hard to plan your grid so that you have options.

This is a good filler, but not one that I see hitting my table all the time. The mechanics are solid but lack the elegance that the art implies. The box is pretty small, so it's a good one to keep in the glove box for unexpected gaming opportunities.

For Players Who Like:
Splendor, worker placement, quick games with depth, games where players foil each other's plans.

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Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Mystery of the Temples Review Mystery of the Temples Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on August 09, 2018 Rating: 5

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