Get Your Kids Into The Mystery Business

A way for kids to dip their toes into horror without going too far in this Scooby-inspired game.


“Spoopy” has become one of my favorite new words in recent years. It describes stuff that has the trappings of horror like haunted houses or skeletons but plays those things for cozy vibes and humor. Scooby-Doo is a perfect example of this. The kids wander into a location allegedly haunted by a ghost, run into manifestations of the spirits and eventually piece together what’s behind it all. Designer Greg Leatherman wrote an RPG love letter to these stories with The Mystery Business. Was the crusty old amusement park owner behind the whole scheme? Let’s play to find out.

Play in The Mystery Business is structured around a group of teenagers or young adults and their talking animal companion as they travel around solving mysteries. Players choose one of five character archetypes that sound familiar to anyone that’s watched Scooby-Doo or any of the other attempts by Hanna Barbera to copy the formula. There’s the Athletic One, the Social One, the Intelligent One, the Cowardly One and the Unusual One. The archetypes set the players skills and abilities and how they’ll best go about contributing to solving the mystery. The system is a percentile roll over with skills framed as difficulties to help keep things straight. One of the most important stats that goes down is the character’s Fear. As the players pick up clues, their fear of the monster goes down. If they encounter the monster before their fear gets to a manageable level, they have to hide from it. If they’ve got enough clues to remove their fear, they can chase the monster and lead it into a trap.

Here lies one of the most interesting concepts of the game. It’s not structured around combat. Instead, players chase (or get chased) by the monster. If they get caught, they spend a near miss point to describe how they get captured or trapped but not harmed by the monster. It’s an interesting way to frame conflict resolution. One of the advantages of being The Cowardly One is that you have more near misses than everyone else. Fortune favors the fool, after all.

The game also does some interesting things to emulate the genre and encourage teamwork. Larger groups are encouraged to choose a preferred partner to work with when everyone splits up to look for clues. Working with your partner gives you a bonus to rolls while mixing things up gives everyone more luck to spend to affect dice rolls.Players also work together to build the trap that catches the monster at the end of the game. This offers whoever is playing the Intelligent One a chance to shine but everyone contributes ideas and rolls to get the monster into the cage.

While the game is laid out in simple terms it also discusses rules options for players who want a little more depth to their characters. These options include ditching the archetype structure for more specific character creation, adding real monsters to the mix instead of just people pretending to be monsters all the time and even some meta options like episodes where the gang solves a mystery with the help of a real-life celebrity either as an NPC or as a visiting player sitting in for a session.

I really liked The Mystery Business as a way for kids to dip their toes into horror without going too far. Kids love spooky stuff but as a parent I want to be able to explore this in a way with my kids that isn’t going to cause them to stay up all night. I could spend time hacking Call of Cthulhu or something like that for these purposes but this game has done a lot of the heavy lifting. For adults, this game offers a chance for a one shot or two that’s a little less serious when the full group can't show or as a way to change things up between longer campaigns. Heck, it could even be a guilty pleasure that your vampires and werewolves watch when they aren’t scheming against each other.

The Mystery Business provides the resources for Scooby-Doo spooky gaming that both parents and kids can enjoy together.

If you found this review helpful, please consider purchasing it using one of the affilte links above. Thank you for supporting your Friendly Local Game Reviewer.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

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