Buzzworthiness: The Mind (for reals this time)

Hope you enjoyed my (ahem) review of this game on April Fools Day. Just in case you are not good at ESP, here is my fully written out review of

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The Mind was designed by Wolfgang Warsch and was originally published by NSV, and later in an English edition by Pandasaurus. It’s a 2-4 player cooperative game where players are simply trying to play all their cards collectively in ascending order. The twist is that you don’t know what anyone else has, and you can’t communicate.

The game comes with 100 cards, numbered 1-100. There are also 12 level cards, 5 life cards, and 3 throwing star cards. To set up, you shuffle the number cards, then organize the other cards depending on the number of players – with two players, you’ll include all 12 level cards, and begin with two lives and one throwing star; with three players, you’ll use levels 1-10, three lives and one throwing star; and with four, you’ll use levels 1-8, four lives and one throwing star. Unused lives and throwing stars are set to the side, but unused levels won’t be used in the game.

image by BGG user crayc30

At the start of each round, you’ll deal each play a number of cards equal to the level number. So, if you’re on level one, each player gets one card, while on level eight, each player gets eight cards. You can arrange your cards however you want to in your hand, but you cannot tell anyone what you have. When all players are ready, they put their palms on the table. If you ever want to refocus concentration, just say stop, and then everyone needs to put their palms on the table again before play resumes.

Once everyone is ready, start playing. You cannot speak, but if you believe you have the lowest available card, play it. If no one else has a card that is lower, then the player who believes they have the next lowest card plays theirs. If someone does have a lower card, they reveal it and the group collectively loses a life. All lower cards are discarded. Lose all of your lives, and you lose the game. If all cards get played in sequence, and you move on to the next level. Some levels give you a reward of another life or throwing star when completed.

Throwing stars are a lifeline. If one player would like to use a throwing star, they raise their hand. If the other players agree, they also raise their hands. If ALL players agree, discard a throwing star and all players discard the lowest card in their hands.

If you successfully complete all levels, you win. But then you can go into blind mode. This means that you go back to level one, and all cards played are played FACE DOWN, then revealed once all cards have been played to see how you did.

image by BGG user argentetbury

The components in the game are not particularly great. The cards scuff pretty easily, which is not good for a game where you really can’t know what other people have. The art is kind of non-sensical – the number cards are fine, but I have no idea what rabbits or ninja stars really have to do with anything. And also, I hate the box for this game. It’s a small box, much the same size and structure as Coloretto or Red7. The trouble is there are way too many cards to fit, even unsleeved. It would have been better in a larger box, or in a large tuck box. I complain sometimes about air in boxes, but in this case, I think it would have been nice to have some air and be able to fit it in.

There’s not much of a theme to the game, and there doesn’t really need to be. The game is just about the numbers, but more than that, this game is about the people who are playing the game. All games are group dependent to one extent or another, but this one is REALLY dependent on the people who are playing it. It’s not going to be for everyone. Some people are going to view this as merely an exercise in counting silently, and I feel like those people have missed the point. It’s a social game, but elevated above a standard party game.

Part of the discussion around The Mind is whether or not it’s actually a game. Each player has a hand of cards that is unknown to the others, and they just play those in order. Some people can’t see the strategy there, and just assume that the way to play is to count to 100 and play your cards when you get to your number. And you could play like that, I guess, but it doesn’t sound like any fun. Which is probably why those people hate The Mind – they care more about winning at all costs than about the experience.

What makes it a game for me is that there is a clearly defined win condition. For each round, you simply need to get all of your cards played. For the game, you need to win a certain number of rounds. The mechanics are incredibly simple, and sometimes it’s just luck – you played your 85, but I have an 84 in my hand. Still, that tension of looking the other people in the eye and determining whether it’s the right time to play makes this game incredibly fun.

Overall, The Mind is something that really challenges people’s perception of what a game can be. With no communication, it’s a pretty passive experience, and can get pretty intense. I’ve played with 2 and 4 players. 4 is really tough because you have to read three other people, and the game has more opportunity to fall flat. With two, you have to go deeper into the game to win. So far, the furthest I’ve gotten is round 11 with two players, and round 5 with four. I know the game is winnable, I just haven’t gotten there yet.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? When The Mind was nominated for a Spiel des Jahres in 2018, it raised quite a few eyebrows. As time has gone on, I think the game has solidified itself as a worthy nominee (though I’m still glad it lost to Azul). I think it’s the kind of game that can be fun over and over and over as long as you’re playing with people who are up for the experience.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!

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