Mysterium | Using Board Games in Speech Therapy

Hello, everyone! Happy March! Things are going a bit crazy, aren’t they? I know the more common (maybe appropriate?) thing to do right now would be to post about universal precautions or no print (no touch!!!) therapy resources…. but I feel like there’s enough of that going around. I wanted to think of something a little more fun and lighthearted, so…

Let’s talk about a board game that I think is great fun and a delightful way to develop language and make mixed groups less hectic!

Have you heard of Mysterium? I learned about it last fall, approaching Halloween, when my family and I wanted to have a Halloween party, complete with on-theme movies and games. My husband had known about Mysterium for awhile and suggested it to us. We were immediately hooked and it has been a regular feature in game nights ever since.

Mysterium is a story-based game, somewhat similar to Clue, but the story is, admittedly, a little quirky! A group of mystics have been summoned to an old home experiencing ghostly activity from a murder victim years prior. The ghost is in a bit of a bind – his murder has gone unsolved and he (poor dear…) has gone mute and has amnesia. To solve the mystery, the group of mystics holds a seance in which the ghost provides visions that will hopefully lead to his murderer.

Quirky, I warned you.

Game play goes like this. A field of suspects, rooms, and weapons are presented to the group of mystics (up to 6 players can fill this role). The ghost holds combinations of these behind a screen (1 combination for each mystic). These combinations represent possible murder scenarios for the ghost (he has amnesia remember, so he isn’t sure which one is correct yet!). Each round, the ghost will give each mystic a vision card (or cards) to help them guess their designated suspect, room, and weapon in succession. The seance begins at midnight and ends at 7 AM, with each round taking an hour. The mystics get their vision cards and discuss as a group what the vision might be telling them. Mystics then vote and the ghost tells each mystic whether he is right or wrong. Play continues round by round until, hopefully, each mystic has determined his combination of suspect/room/weapon (If the mystics do not all choose the correct combination before the clock strikes 7, they lose the game.). If all mystics do achieve this, the combinations are laid out on the table. The ghost chooses one combination to be the circumstances of his murder (his memory, miraculously healed!) and provides 3 additional vision cards to help the mystics choose the correct circumstance. If the mystics can not come to a majority vote, they lose the game. So, the game is only won by cooperation, discussion, and agreement.

Although the game is highly visual, with communication between ghost and mystics taking place solely through pictures, communication between mystics is absolutely vital. The ability to make connections using the pictures is also vital, as both the ghost and the mystics must attend to details and look for evidence in order to win the game. Below, I’ve developed a sample vision based on game-play that I’ve experienced.

As you can see, the ability to make connections and express them is very important! Looking at these cards (which were very specifically selected – in a real games, the vision cards are much more limited and can become much more abstract), you can see how materials, shapes, object relation, and more comes into play. With that in mind, here are just a few ways Mysterium could be used to target specific language skills in a group therapy session:

1.Observing Key Details

Everything becomes important when you’re virtually clueless! The color of a ribbon, the size of a circle, the material used in a structure… anything could be a possible clue that the ghost wants you to pick up on!

2. Recognizing Word Associations

So, you’ve been given a vision of an apple and you’re choosing between a doctor and a mailman? It’s important to know that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”!

3. Communicating Reasons for Opinions and Providing Evidence (Including using “Because” and Other Clauses)

You’ll find yourself needing to say, “I think it could be the _____ because _____” over and over again, I assure you! The ability to embed a variety of clauses naturally plays out as you make your point.

4. Choosing Effective Vocabulary (Avoiding Vague Semantics)

Vague language doesn’t cut it in Mysterium! If you’re taking notice of details that could be linked, you’ll need to be able to communicate exactly what it is that you’re noticing. It’s important to use specific vocabulary and recognize nuances in meaning when making decisions and describing possibilities.

5. Listening to Others’ Opinions

Mysterium is very much a cooperative group game. Everyone is likely to have their own opinion on a vision and the ability to listen in turn is extremely important. Because you win or lose as a group, cooperation is key: no one player can rule the roost, nor can players self-isolate and hope for a favorable outcome.

6. Disagreeing Appropriately

In tandem with no. 5, disagreements will inevitably pop up. Players will find abundant opportunities to listen to another point of view and express disagreement (while using their specific vocabulary and embedded clauses!)

7. Practicing Compromise

And then, of course, a compromise will have to be reached. Many aspects of Mysterium rely on majority opinions, giving players ample opportunity to reach consensus and, sometimes, be voted down (as well as plenty of opportunity to refrain from “I told you so’s.”)

8. Expressing Opinions Effectively and Concisely

Mysterium can be played with a timer within each hour and is limited to the hours of 12-7. As such, there is a lot of communication to be had and decisions to be made within a defined time frame. There will be a lot players can say… but recognizing what is most important and how to express it in the most efficient way will become paramount.

9. Observing Non-Verbal Cues and Signals

I’ve noticed that this ends up happening naturally in Mysterium. When the group of mystics begins debating a card, at least one mystic will glance towards the ghost. A well-practiced ghost knows to limit any clues outside of the vision cards but…. you can often read their body language as they hear the discussions roll on and make some pretty good guesses using non-verbal signals!

10. Turn Taking + Other Conversational Discourse Rules

Because there’s a lot of discussion to be had and a lot of opinions to be heard, Mysterium offers up plenty of opportunities for students to practice taking turns, commenting on opinions, asking follow up questions, and more general discourse rules (such as those mentioned in the Common Core’s Speaking & Listening standards).

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