I write a lot about the games I play with my students, but the fact remains that I do the vast majority of my gaming alone. Most of the time, I will not purchase a game if it doesn't have solo rules, because I know that I won't be able to play it. Ironically, although I have played board games for a long time, I began to get more serious about them as a possible way to spend more time with my boyfriend. As it turns out, he typically prefers to unwind by watching TV or playing a video game. Plus, he dislikes deckbuilding games but enjoys Munchkin. Woe.
Recently, however, I bought a game that we've played together more than once or twice: Mice and Mystics. Initially my boyfriend wanted to try it because he used to enjoy tabletop RPGs and because he thought the mice looked cute. Then, when we actually played it, we got really into the story. If you aren't familiar, Mice and Mystics is both a game and a story. At key moments, you read aloud from a "storybook" that propels the narrative forward and gives you setup information for the next "scene" in the game. Reading from a storybook feels corny at first, but then it adds a lot to the experience. And although Mice and Mystics doesn't have a particularly complicated combat system (move mouse, roll dice), it's fun to decide who will take on which roach or rat, or to help each other fight a giant spider. It's also easy to get attached to specific characters. Certain mice in the box are "mine" and others are "his" because we each have our favorites. (Lily forever!)
What is interesting is that I adore Mice and Mystics, but I'm not sure I would if my boyfriend didn't love to play it. The game is fine, but it's only fine. The idea of playing it alone doesn't have quite the same spark for me. Mice and Mystics is somehow both simple and very fiddly because there are so many specific rules. I often find myself improvising rules on the fly because I'd rather keep the flow of the game going than go back to the rulebook to see whether I am playing 100% correctly. Frankly, I'm not convinced it makes that much of a difference. None of the mechanics in Mice and Mystics are new or special, and there aren't any interesting tactical decisions to make. Also, because each session is part of a story, you really only play each scenario one time. Unless you enjoy revisiting the same story over and over, you can only get limited play out of the box. And to be completely honest, I wouldn't revisit this story over and over—it is just okay so far. We haven't come across anything that has blown my mind.
But now that Mice and Mystics is one of those things that my boyfriend and I do together, every time we play feels special, and the story means a lot more to me. We now have "memories" of the time we disguised ourselves as rats and gambled with our enemies to get intel, or of the time we thought a huge spider was going to get the best of us. Whenever we play this game, I know that my boyfriend and I are going to spend 2–3 hours of quality time together, without interruptions from the TV or cell phones. That alone makes this game magic, whatever its shortcomings.
I guess all of this goes to show that the "best" games aren't always the ones that win your heart.