Buzzworthiness: Mind MGMT

Thanks to Off the Page Games for providing a review copy of Mind MGMT.

I had never read Mind MGMT, the graphic novel series by Matt Kindt, before getting this game. I have read a bit of it now, and it’s…pretty challenging. So is the game, which is appropriately titled

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Ming MGMT: The Psychic Espionage “Game” is a new title from designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, published by Off the Page Games. The game, for 1-5 players, is a hidden movement one-vs-many game where one player is trying to recruit new agents for Mind MGMT, and the rest are rogue agents trying to stop them. Mind MGMT is an agency of spies who use psychic abilities to prevent crises. Beyond the seeming benevolence is a sinister undercurrent, and that’s why some think it needs to be stopped.

The game comes with a large board, as well as a miniature dry erase version that the Mind MGMT player, called the Recruiter, uses to move secretly around Zanzibar to collect recruits. In the training game, the Recruiter chooses a starting location and lets the Rogue Agents know where that was. The Rogue Agents place their character pieces on the edges of the map, and then the Recruiter gets to move four more times before the game actually begins.

image by BGG user jcormier

On the map, you see that every space has two icons, each of which you’ll see several times on the board. These are features that are used by the Recruiter to collect recruits, and by the Rogue Agents to figure out where the Recruiter is. The only exceptions are the two Temple spots. These spaces have a statue and eight paths. There are no feature icons there.

Play works like this. First, the Recruiter takes a turn, then the other players will take turns with two of the four Agents (all four will be in every game). Then the Recruiter takes another turn, followed by turns for the other two Rogue Agents.

On a Recruiter’s turn, they will move one space in an orthogonal direction from their current spot. The exception is if you are moving into or out of a Temple spot. They cannot move through any spaces they have already visited. During setup, the Recruiter got three feature cards telling them where they are able to collect recruits. If the Recruiter lands on a space with one or two of those features, they automatically gain one or two recruits.

The Recruiter has one Mind Slip token that can be used to make a special move. In the basic game, this is to move two spaces, either orthogonally or diagonally. When used, the Recruiter places the token next to the time where it was used. The Rogue Agents don’t know which one was used. The Recruiter ends their turn by advancing the time token. If it lands on an alert icon (odd numbered turns), the Recruiter must reveal how many recruits they have collected.

On the Rogue Agent’s turn, they first pick which Agent will move. That Agent can move 1-2 spaces, and also do one other action. They can move first, or do the action first. There are three basic actions:

  • Ask. Choose one of the two icons on the Agent’s space and ask if the Recruiter has visited any spaces with that icon. If they have, the Recruiter places a foot token on one of their choice as long as it doesn’t already have a foot token.
  • Reveal. If an Agent is standing on a space with a foot token, they can ask what time the Recruiter was there. The Recruiter answers using a confirmed mental note token. (By the way, Agents can use Unconfirmed Mental Notes to mark spots whenever they want).
  • Capture. If an Agent thinks they are on the same spot as the Recruiter, they can attempt to capture. If the Recruiter is there, the Agents win. If not, the game continues.

The Recruiter’s goal is to collect nine recruits, or to make it to the 14th turn without getting caught (which is really the ninth turn since the first five were done during setup). The Agents need to catch them before this happens.

image by BGG user jcormier

But Wait, There’s More!* I just described the Training Game. The full game adds a few things. First, the Agents don’t know where the Recruiter starts. Also, during setup, Mayhem tokens are placed by the Agents and Recruiter. These are basically walls no one can pass through. Agents now have abilities, as well as an Ally. An extra Mind Slip token is in play, which the Recruiter can pick up from the Temple where it was placed. The Recruiter now needs 12 recruits to win, and the game is two turns longer. But the big addition is the Immortals. The Immortals are extra agents belonging to the Recruiter that both sides can use to their advantage.

The Recruiter moves as normal, but on their turn, they can also move an Immortal one step in any direction, in any direction. Immortals do two important things for the Recruiter. First, if two Immortals stand on spaces that show one of the icons on their two feature cards (which are face up so the Rogue Agents can see them), then a Recruit is collected and placed on the track. That feature card is discarded and replaced so the Immortals can’t use it again.

The other thing Immortals do for the Recruiter is block the Ask action for the Rogue Agents. RAs can’t ask about a feature that is in a location occupied by an Immortal, nor can they Ask at all if they are in the same space as an Immortal.

The Rogue Agents get an extra action, called Shakedown. Here, if they are in the same location as an Immortal, they can ask the Recruiter about any feature on the board. If that feature matches one of the Recruiter’s feature cards, they reveal it and cannot use it any more to recruit. The Rogue Agents also then get to push the Immortal into an orthogonally adjacent space.

When the game is over, the losing side is able to open a box matching how many losses they have. This will give them new options, and is called the Shift System.

image from amazon.com

The components in this game are pretty great. Everything seems like it is designed with the theme in mind. Part of this is that Matt Kindt created a lot of new art for the game, so everything is very evocative of the comic. I like how the feature cards look like little advertisements for different things. The standees that come with the game are double sided with an indicator on the back that helps you remember who belongs with which team. The wooden pieces that represent the recruits are, I think, supposed to represent the silhouette of a face, but it’s hard to tell. The dry erase markers included work extremely well, and there are a number of components that can be written on and erased pretty easily. Plus, there are secret messages all over the place. Overall, the components are fantastic.

Mind MGMT is what is known as a one vs. many game, which means one player is operating on their own while all the others are working against them. In this case, the game uses hidden movement for the one, as in other games like Fury of Dracula and Letters from Whitechapel. I haven’t played either of those, but I have enjoyed previous hidden movement games I’ve played, like Specter Ops, Clue: The Great Museum Caper, Pandemic: On the Brink, and Pyramid of Pengqueen (which had hidden movement for the many instead of the one).

The hidden movement in this game has the Recruiter moving from space to space in an attempt to collect recruits. The very strict rules for movement (one orthogonal space unless moving through a temple) make it a challenge to develop a path that is going to keep you away from the rogue agents AND get the recruits the Recruiter needs. Meanwhile, the Rogue Agents get two turns for every one of the Recruiters, and on each turn, they can move two spaces. So the Recruiter seems like they are at a disadvantage.

And yet, the Rogue Agents have no idea where the Recruiter is. They can try to determine the path and make a guess about where the Recruiter is going to be, but they realy have to use their own logic and deduction skills to make that happen. One small mistake could mean the difference between catching the Recruiter and letting them slip away. Plus, the Recruiter has that all-important Mind Slip that can let them move two spaces, possibly diagonally. As the Rogue Agents, you just don’t know, so you have to keep your wits about you at all times.

The game is really well balanced, and I think that each side has a roughly equal chance to win. The game gets very exciting as time ticks down and the Rogue Agents close their net, and the Recruiter tries to find that perfect path to help them elude capture. Even if you’re not familiar with the original IP, the game works really well as a kind of spy cat-and-mouse type game.

Compared to other hidden movement one vs. many games I’ve played, I think Mind MGMT stands out in its use of reusable components for both sides (including a note taking system for the Rogue Agents), as well as how tight it is in what everyone is able to do. There’s not a lot of luck in the game, and the deduction element is very cleverly implemented. It’s one of my favorites in the genre at this point.

At this point in the review, I must confess that I have only played the training game. The friend I initially played the game with is very interested in trying again with his son, and hopefully that will happen at some point soon. But we did REALLY enjoy the training game. And the game has an app so you can play as the Rogue Agents against an AI Recruiter, which I’ve played a few times. But as of now, it’s just the training game. I think the full game is coming in the future.

With that in mind, I can only give some thoughts based on what I’ve seen. The mayhem tokens look like they add a nice obstacle element that isn’t good for anybody. The Immortals – I’m really going to have to see them in action to know, but I think it’s interesting that they simultaneously give the Recruiter a different way to pick up recruits, and also give the Rogue Agents information about what the Recruiter is NOT looking for while moving. The Shift system seems like a really cool way to add more stuff to the game and give the losing team an advantage in the next game, and I look forward to digging into that.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I’ve already recommended this game to a number of people looking for a good one vs. many game, and I will continue to do so. I think it’s a very good game, and even if you don’t know the original material, I think you’ll have a good time with it.

Thanks again to Off the Page Games for providing a review copy of Mind MGMT, and thanks to you for reading! Quick programming note – I know I have been off the grid for a few weeks. I probably will be for the rest of the year, other than a couple of other reviews I have coming and (hopefully) the post-holiday gift guide. We’re moving to a new house pretty soon, and there’s a lot going on with that, so it’s probably better for my sanity if I’m just not doing too much blog stuff. Hopefully, this will help me recharge a bit and come back stronger in 2022. We’ll see. Until I see you again, stay safe, and have a happy whatever holiday is next!

*But Wait, There’s More! is another game by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim. Just in case you didn’t get the joke.

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