#003 Mystery of the Temples (2017)
Designer: Wei-Min Ling
Artist: Maisherly Chan
Mystery of the Temples is a light and fast 2-4 player economic resource management small box game with a splash of area control and influence. Sound complicated? It's not. It's incredibly intuitive with some deep gameplay. And yes, it's fast. Even at a full player count of 4, it's still quit easy to finish in under 30 minutes.
On your turn, you'll do one of two things: (1) move and collect crystals or (2) move and spend crystals to score points. When you move, you'll move 1 to 3 spaces clockwise around the map. You can choose to move by the bigger temple cards or by the smaller wilderness cards. If you pass another player while you're moving, you'll simply skip over them as no two players can ever be on the same space. If you land on a smaller wilderness card, you'll either gain crystals or trade crystals depending on the card. Either way you'll place your new crystals on your handy crystal grid card. If you land on a temple, you may either gain the specific crystal of that temple or spend you crystals to "break the curse" and score points. After you "break the curse", you'll place your player token on the temple track and collect the top rune card from that temple. Play continues until one player breaks 5 curses. When that happens, the end game is triggered and play continues until the end of that round so all players have an equal number of turns. You add up your points and whoever has the most points wins Mystery of the Temples.
After several plays, I would say that not all of the unique starting variable player powers are evenly balanced; some are definitely better than others. Or rather, I should say that some strategies are easier to grasp and use than others. However I don't think it breaks the game at all. I'm not sure why the map had to be in a circle; it could just as easily have been in a straight line. Depending on your table size, the line might be better for you. I've heard a few complaints that the box is too small; however, I think it works better for this game in particular. No reason to go big if you don't need to. The score board inside of the box isn't the best, but it'll do. You only use it at the end of the game, so you shouldn't have to worry about cubes sliding from a dreaded table bump.
TL;DR & Final Thoughts
Let's just get right down to it. I like this game. A lot. This is one of my favorite kinds of games. Simple rules; deep gameplay. You'll mostly by hoarding up your crystals and then spending them as quickly as you can, but there's a good amount of strategy along the way. There are 5 temple cards, but only 2 to 3 of them will score bonus points for curing the majority of the curses there, so you'll be constantly looking at your opponents and guessing which temple they'll be heading for and which curse they'll be attempting to break. The game quickly breaks down into a race, and I love it! After you break a curse, you'll gain a rune card. And you want those rune cards! Each one offers a super power or discount on crystals. If you land on a card with a matching rune, which is quite easy to do in this game, the heavens will vomit crystals all over your crystal grid. The more curses you cure, the more rune cards you get. The more rune cards you get, the more crystals you get. The more crystals you get, the faster you'll be breaking curses. By the end of the game you'll by buying and selling crystals like crack cocaine. The game could have stopped here, and it would have been okay. However they added in this crystal grid card which forces you to harness and focus your OCD powers to 11 because every time you break a curse, the crystals have to be laid out and spent in one continuous unbroken line. No. No. No. We don't stop there. The crystal blue persuasion is still pumping through our veins. Toss in 8 unique starting super powers into the game (that's four double-sided) and now you've got a small box game exploding with possibilities and meaty decisions. Mystery of the Temples is the tiny small box game that could and did. If it weren't for my personal love for tight 2 player games, I would easily say this is the best of Emperor4s' small box line; however as it stands, Hanamikoji squeaks out just ahead of this. Of course, Hanamikoji doesn't play up to 4, does it?
The best part though is that even if you don't enjoy the game as much as I do, it's fast and easy. Fast and easy forgives a lot in my book. It's on and off the table in 30 minutes. You can even shove this bad boy in a bag quite easily for that destination game night. Mystery of the Temples is the hidden gem... er... crystal for your collection.