Tricky imperial mysteries at the KHM

I like both a good mystery and art.  So I was thrilled to be invited to join a new “mystery hunt” game at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna:  The Emperor´s magic circle (Der magische Kreis des Kaisers) – the title alone conjured up images of  conspiracies and bewitching secrets in my brain.  What would it take, to be admitted into the magic circle? 😉

The Mystery Makers, who have previously devised two museal mystery hunt games in Vienna and several more in Denmark, have just launched a brand-new game for the KHM.  I was among the lucky first to get to try it out, together with three friends (@daheimistlangweilig, @hellomissalexa, and @walmatwien).

A rather more handsome Rudolph II at the launch of the new Mystery Hunt game.

After being greeted by a semi-authentic looking Rudolf II, we were handed a box filled with envelopes, cards, maps, and the like.

Armed with these, our task was to solve puzzles and in the process learn some historic facts about Rudolph´s life and times, and the items in his extensive collection.  It was great fun, a nice way to engage with others and put your brain to work at the same time.  It really is a well-thought out puzzle that requires you to pay attention to clues,  open your eyes, and do some thinking.

The minimum team size is four, and for us it worked out perfectly, as we really benefited from each other´s sudden moments of  “aha”!  If you have a few more people on the team, you are likely to get more inputs and have a slightly easier time, but there are also hints you can look up if you get stuck.  We did not need them, but we did find some of the tasks a little challenging.


Suffice it to say, after a good hour and a half of puzzling, we safely made it to the end and were not eaten by lions (you´ll have to play the game to know what I mean).


The secrets of an emperor

Emperor Rudolf II (1552 – 1612) was a collector of strange and beautiful objects.  Rudolf’s interest was primarily in the arts and sciences of his time.  For example, Johannes Kepler´s Rudolfine tablets  were used to calculate the course of the sun, the moon and the planets.  He was busy exploring astrology, alchemy and other occult practices.  To him we owe many of the wonderful items we can now admire at the Kunstkammer, including clocks, sundials, compasses and much more.  He was also a bookish man, reading a lot, including Latin poetry and historiography.  So, an educated man of many interests, but not a great politician.   (Unfortunately for him, he was less interested in fulfilling his political functions and in getting married, so he was eventually disempowered by his brother Mathis and died without legitimate offspring in Prague – with emphasis on legitimate, because he actually had many affairs that resulted in children born out of wedlock.)

Rudolph, on paper and in bronze

Many of the objects collected by Rudolf can be admired at the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorische Museum Vienna.  This is actually my favourite part of the museum, as the eclectic collection is really awe-inspiring.  I wrote about it in another blog post last Christmas.  I definitely recommend visiting it, and don´t think you can absorb it all in one visit.


Who is behind the mystery?

The concept of the mystery hunt in Vienna is of Danish design.  It was devised as a game for adults by Mads Lind, who was initially just looking for an intellectual game experience as a wedding present for friends and eventually turned a hobby into an award-winning business concept: the Mystery Makers.  Their team now includes game designers, concept developers, historians, engineers, anthropologists and artists. Because it was the opening of the new game, some of the Mystery Maker team members were present, and I was able to ask the deputy director, himself an art historian, a few questions about the development process.  As it turns out, and not surprisingly, it takes a team of several people between five and nine months to develop a game like this.  They test the game extensively with volunteer participants (200, he said!) and file out any kinks based on the feedback they get until they have the finished product.

In Denmark there are titles like “The King’s Secret”, “The Killing Room”, or “The Ritual”, so when I make it to Copenhagen, I think I will sign up for one of them – suspense guaranteed…

Intense concentration on the task at hand is required 🙂

In Vienna you can book events (minimum 4 players) at the KHM and at the Albertina museum.   You can play in German and English.  Apart from the Imperial Circle game, there is also a “Secrets of the Sphinx” game in the antiquity collection of the KHM.  At the Albertina,   you can attend a mystery ball, of sorts – I am told it is a bit easier to play.


At any rate, I think playing a game together is a fun way to spend a birthday, or just to have a social gathering of a different kind – sure to yield laughter and amazement and make for interesting conversations.  I like the fact that it is an old-fashioned analog game, maybe those are making a comeback after all the ovearload with digital games.


P.S. Disclosure:  I suppose this is to be declared as “unpaid advertising” – I was invited to participate in the mystery hunt for free – thank you Kunsthistorisches Museum -, but I am not getting paid to write about it.


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