Review: Mystic Skull
Publisher: Ideal
Year: 1964
Tagline: The Game of Voodoo

how we met

I met Mystic Skull at the Chicago Toy Show in spring 2017. It was near the end of the day and most dealers were packing up. I saw Mystic Skull and fell in love (obvi). This dealer had two copies for sale. One was a mess of pieces everywhere, and the other was beautifully organized, stunning. I went for the beautiful one, like everyone does.

how it plays

The object of Mystic Skull is to fill your opponents’ voodoo dolls with pins and ultimately be the last one standing. You do this by stirring a cauldron in the middle of the board using a bone and then turning the spinner until voodoo causes a hanging skull to shake and then land on a space on the board.

The spaces on the game board will tell you how many pins you can place on an opponent and which specific opponent you can target (left, right or choice). You may instead choose to use one of your tokens, but only if you have one that matches the icon of the space you landed on.

several tokens
sample tokens

Each player receives a number of these tokens at the beginning of the game. They may be traded in for one of two deals – remove a number of pins from your own doll or increase the number of pins that you can target an opponent with. The tokens have different icons such as a snake, spider, shrunken head, etc which correspond to spaces on the board.

One of the tricks to Mystic Skull is knowing when to go offensive and when to go defensive using your tokens. When the tokens run out you have no choices or protection and this is your standard stir and move game.

how it went

It went beautifully – until I was taken out by my awful friends. I wish I had played more defensively. In my final move I could take someone out (and I did) but I could have also removed a bundle of my own pins and kept myself alive longer.

voodoo doll half filled with pins
about halfway before it all went wrong

Bill had a funny quip after he was the first to lose, saying, “No I win. I don’t have to play anymore.” But he’s just like that. This game is attractive and fun, just look at it.

voodoo never looked so pretty

When Mystic Skull starts out, you feel rich with tokens and no matter which space on the board the voodoo places you, you have a token that you may use. You have choices. Yet you have few enough tokens that before long you start to realize they will not last forever. And your choices had better be strategic.

The copy that I found is immaculate and works very well. Still it is not easy to stir the pot, and I understand why this mechanism frequently breaks. Once you get the hang of it the stirring is better. You have to catch it, just so.

Side note: I had read that in lieu of stirring the cauldron with the bone you can just spin the cauldron itself. This gave our group mixed results, and frequently it did not seem that the skull moved enough with that method. But also, surely voodoo is not an easy task and neither should stirring this cauldron be an easy task.

Mystic Skull does a great job of being mysterious and creepy. The game board is all sealed up, and you are not able to view the voodoo mechanism without destroying the board. You are encouraged to chant as you stir the cauldron. The primary colors and fuddy-duddy appearance of the voodoo dolls introduce a kind of garishness that is at odds with the nature of your objective. It just works, like a terribly good scary movie.

Finally I would be remiss not to mention that the insert for this game is nicely done, at least in my version.

a place for everything and everything in its place

play or pass

Play. This game is fun, novel and easy on the eyes. The mechanism is clever and wonderfully on theme. When autumn rolls around in my area and the leaves and light levels and my palette start to change and the weather becomes chilly, Mystic Skull is just the thing. In the fall give me tights, sweaters, whiskey, spooky decorations and Mystic Skull.

If you decide to buy Mystic Skull, be choosy and make sure the pot stirs properly.