Time: ~15 minutes
Times Payed: 10+
The Mind was nominated for the 2018 Spiel des Jahres from hot on the scene designer Wolfgang Warsch and just like the German audience, it took me and my play group by storm. Our first playthrough saw us attempt four games (and a level twelve game just to see the difficulty) in a row. The design, the intrigue, the tension, the suspense…all of it packed into a game that lasts no more than twenty minutes. Each play was highly addictive and downright fascinating. That doesn’t mean The Mind is without its detractors however as the debate rages between whether it should even be classified as a game or if it’s more of a social experiment in playing card form.
So what is The Mind?
It’s a cooperative game played between two- and four-players. For a two-player game, The Mind lasts twelve levels. For three-players, ten levels and for four-players, only eight levels. A level is equivalent to a round.
On the first level, all players receive one card from the deck, face down. The deck is composed of cards numbering 1-100. There are no duplicates. The goal of the game is to place all cards in sequential, increasing order. The players play simultaneously as there is no set turn order. If a player thinks they have the next card, they play it face up for all to see.
The trick here is that players cannot communicate in any way, shape, or form with their teammates. No verbal communication, no coughs, no winks, no gesturing. Each player is alone with their own thoughts.
After succeeding at the first level, players move onto level two, where they will receive two cards. The deck of cards is shuffled between each level so while you may have played a ’50’ card in level three, it very well may appear again in level four. Play commences exactly the same. The amount of cards a player will receive to start a level is equal to the level being played (so level seven means each player starts with seven cards).
Before each level begins, players can place their hands on the table and have an agreement to begin the game when they lift their hands. This helps keep everyone on the same page and regulates the gameplay.
If there is a misplay (as someone has played a card higher than a card in another players hands), the gameplay comes to a halt as the player(s) with the lower card says ‘stop’. All cards lower than the previously played card are discarded and the team loses one of their lives. Players start the game with lives equal to the number of players participating and can gain additional lives by completing levels three, six, and nine. Once the cards have been discarded, player re-sync themselves (by placing their hands on the table) and play resumes.
The game also offers Ninja throwing stars that allow players to discard a card from their hand when all players point to a Ninja card. This can help get players out of a stalemate as they’ll discard their lowest card. It’s a decent way to gain additional information about all players but look at them as lifelines from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?; there’s only a finite amount of them and they should really only be used in a pickle.
Play commences until players either finish the final level or run out of lives.
Introducing The Mind will have those joining you looking around asking “that’s it?”. It feels like theirs a twist or reveal waiting after the rules are explained but there isn’t. To simplify this game even further, players are placing cards sequentially without communicating. That’s it.
The central theme of The Mind is timing. When someone plays a 55 and you have a 59, how long do you hold onto the card? Do you think one of your teammates has a 56, 57, or 58 in their hand? Have you waited too long as you over-analyze everything and someone has started to play something in the 60’s? Do you try and cut them off?
This is a fast game. At most, you’re looking at twenty minutes but if you lose early, games will be a fraction of that. That being said, this is a game that we’ve never played just once. If we play and don’t win, we obviously want to play again. When you do win, it’s such a rewarding feeling.
The game gets progressively harder as players complete levels. Managing a hand of one to three cards is relatively simple. When you’re juggling six or more cards and trying to time your placements with the other players is where the depth of challenge appears.
Regardless of depth or challenge, The Mind succeeds at doing something that most games strive to do: provide a memorable experience in a short amount of time. It’s a talking point and a game that players will chat about long after the game has finished. When Rachel and I won our first two-player game and posted it to social media, our friend that played with us initially immediately couldn’t believe it.
The Mind provides an immediate out of the box experience that few games can replicate. There’s little to no set-up and the rules explanation takes thirty seconds. It takes longer for me to get the game from the shelf than it does to explain it.
Learning how to play The Mind is easy and fast. Introducing The Mind is interesting because players will immediately ask “is that all?” and make assumptions regarding the skill of the game. How hard can it be to place cards in sequential order?
The answer is that it’s not very easy.
A common complaint is that it’s just a puzzle with a social experiment feel, making The Mind feel more akin to an activity as opposed to a game. The major argument for viewing The Mind as an activity as opposed to a game can be summed up “as there’s no strategy”.
I disagree completely as The Mind asks players a few questions as soon as they begin playing:
Can you predict the groups pacing knowing that you only have access to a limited number of contributions?
How do you go about working around that restriction?
How can you change course on the fly if you’re incorrect?
Those questions, coupled with the fact that there are rules and a clear end goal scenario, clearly plant The Mind in the category of being a game for me.
That being said, this is much more of a skill game as opposed to a strategical one. It feels like a conversation I’m having at a work conference. There’s the initial feeling of getting to know the other person and gradually it clicks that you’re there for the same purpose so you migrate towards enjoying the others company.
I do worry that once we have gotten in-sync with our play partners that the game won’t be as difficult but then maybe we’ll try going in reverse from 100 to 1. But this is a game that I will definitely bring around to introduce to new players and new groups when we get introduced. It’s quick and easy and will provide a completely unique experience depending on who you play with.
What I also love that isn’t replicated in many (or any) other cooperative games is the lack of blame when a decision goes wrong. It’s never “I/You played my/your card too soon/too late” it’s more “Of course someone had 76 while I had 77.” There’s no ill will or resentment; the game pauses as the course is corrected and then it begins again. The lack of animosity (not even at each other but even at the game in general) is amazing.
What’s brilliant about The Mind is how the game is dependent on the players. Any other game that I think of that involves that kind of designation means I need to know my audience before introducing the game. The Mind isn’t like that. If anything, it works better with a random assortment of personalities. Unlike social deduction or role-playing games where you have to be in the right mood, The Mind is the demeanor for the players.
But make no mistake here, The Mind is a filler game through and through. You need players that not only don’t mind short filler games but also don’t mind the weird mechanic offered by The Mind.
Lastly, it’s worth talking about the components just so everything is fully covered in this review. The components of the Mind are standard cards and the artwork is light and fun. Everything is easy to read no matter where you’re sitting and the images are large enough that they are visible as soon as they’re played. Our cards have shown some wear already as we near our tenth play but with the amount of shuffling needed in the game, sleeving just seems to be a bigger hassle than it’s worth.
The Mind is another game that I’ve taken from the original box and moved to a deck box. While it doesn’t take up much room as is, it now takes up even less room and is more uniform in our collection. This won’t obviously be a solution for everyone but it’s helpful for us.
The Mind is a game that I think everyone should play at least once. They don’t necessarily need to run out and buy it and they may not even love it but if someone in your group has it or you’re at a convention and a demo is centered around the game, it’s worth checking out for the sheer novelty of it. I’ve spent so much time trying to explain what The Mind is and how I think it’s good that I don’t know that I’ve accomplished either. This isn’t a game I’m going to play over and over again like Loonacy but like Loonacy, it will fill a hole in my collection. The Mind will find itself on my table a few times a year to warm us up or give us a break from heavier games and that’s perfectly alright.