07 September 2018
Struggle to be understood while gesticulating wildly
At this point it’s probably safe to say that 'working things out based on infuriatingly vague clues' is one of the best-established concepts in gaming. Between Dixit, Mysterium, Codenames, Concept and this year's Decrypto, there are plenty of options for anyone looking for a dose of light, brainy, sociable deduction.
That hasn’t stopped designers coming up with their own takes on the formula, though, and this latest offering throws an intriguing new element into the mix.
In essence, Muse plays a lot like a team-based variant of Dixit. Each round sees you and your partners draw a set of six cards, each showing a different piece of whimsical, ambiguous or just plain odd artwork: goats performing ballet, cats fighting over a poker game, a U-boat periscope emerging from beneath a field of cabbages. You’ll choose one card from your selection and pass it to a member of the opposing team, who then has to describe it to their partners, allowing them to accurately identify your selection from the full set of six.
What makes things interesting is that they’ll have some tough restrictions on exactly how they can convey information to their teammates. Alongside a picture card, you’ll pass them an ‘inspiration’ card dictating exactly how they’re allowed to communicate. These range from the straightforward (“Say a word with exactly six letters”) to the outlandish (“Strike a pose using any part of your body”) and add some extra elements for both teams to consider.
If you’re choosing the cards, you’ll look for impossible combinations of artwork and inspirations, or similarities between pictures that could trip your opponents as they attempt to make their guesses. If you’re on the other side of the equation, you’ll have to do some creative thinking to convey your meaning; at times it feels like trying to explain the theory of relativity through the medium of interpretive dance.
This leads to some triumphant moments when you manage to point your team in the right direction in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds. But while it has its high points, the game also suffers from a pronounced tendency towards overanalysis. Picking cards to hand to your rivals makes for some involved discussions between teammates. Collectively attempting to decipher clues fosters speculation and disagreements. Although it’s entertaining for the people involved, it means that at any point in the game at least one team will be left with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs and check their Twitter feeds.
Muse would become far more compelling simply by including a sand timer in its box. The added time pressure would introduce a welcome spike of tension and eliminate the stultifying, one-sided deliberation that causes its pace to drag. Fortunately, that’s easy enough to house-rule with the aid of someone’s smartphone, but it’s a little bewildering that its creators didn’t think to incorporate it into the game themselves.
Muse will appeal to fans of games like Mysterium and Codenames Pictures, and it generates some real head-scratching moments as you try to decipher your teammates’ cryptic clues. But it has some big issues with its pace, and mechanically it’s not a million miles removed from the likes of Dixit. If you already own any similar games, there’s no compelling reason to run out and buy this one as well.
Designer: Jordan Sorenson
Artist: Andre Garcia, Apolline Etienne, Kristen Plescow
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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