The Mind (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Publisher: NSV
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 20 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 5

TheMind.jpg

The Mind is a newly-released cooperative card game from publisher Nurnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag (NSV) and designer Wolfgang Warsch.  The Mind sold out quickly at many German game stores, and critics across that country have been praising its innovative gameplay.

I noticed The Mind after a friend pointed me to Eric Martin’s preview.  The game looked vaguely reminiscent of The Game, another NSV title which received a SdJ nomination back in 2015.  I imported a copy of The Mind, and it’s gotten quite a few plays with my groups in recent days, with several of my friends ordering copies.  The gameplay is tense and addictive, but most of all innovative. I could see this getting some recognition from the SdJ jury this year.

The Gameplay

The Mind is cooperative and played over a number of rounds depending on the number of players.  In the two player game, you play over 12 rounds, but you only play 10 rounds with three players and 8 rounds with four.  

In the first round, all players receive one card from the deck, which has values 1-100.  The players must put down all of the cards face up in increasing order, but the players need not take turns in any particular order.  Whoever thinks they have the next card simply puts it down. Then, after everybody has put out their cards, they are returned to the deck, which is shuffled, and then the second round begins with two cards for each player.  The third round will have three cards per player, and so on and so forth.

MindCards.png

The cards are vaguely reminiscent of The Game, also published by NSV.  Photo credit to Brandon Kempf.  

It helps if, before gameplay, everybody “syncs” by putting their hands on the table and agreeing to start.  This is suggested in the rules, and it is important that everybody knows exactly when gameplay is ongoing, since timing is everything in The Mind.  

The trick is that players can’t discuss anything about their own cards, or as the rulebook says, “no sharing of information, no secret signs.”

In the event of a misplay — because a player has a card in their hand lower than the card just played — gameplay stops.  All lower cards are discarded, and the team loses a life. You start with a number of lives equal to the number of players, and you can earn additional lives as a reward by completing levels 3, 6, and 9.  Everybody syncs, and gameplay continues.

MindComponents.jpeg

The other components.  Throwing stars up front, level cards in the middle, and the lives in the distant back.  Photo credit to Brandon Kempf.  

Another helpful tool are the throwing stars.  You start with 1 of these, but you can earn additional ones by completing levels 2, 5, and 8.  To use one, a player interrupts play and suggests the use of a throwing star. If there is agreement around the table, players each play their lowest card face up.  Everybody syncs, and gameplay continues.  This is exceptionally helpful: not only does it get cards out of the game, but it also can give you significant information about what your fellow players hold.

The game ends when either the team has run out of lives (a loss) or has completed the last level (a victory).  

My Thoughts on the Game

I watched Eric Martin’s preview, and then I read the rules.  I have to be honest: I didn’t think the central mechanic would work that well.  But it does, and the first time we played it, I found it novel and fascinating. The Mind is one of those highly addictive games that you’ll want to play again and again.  

The best line I’ve heard about this game comes from Eric Martin: “Playing it feels like you’re participating in a magic trick without knowing it.”  It’s a sentence that perfectly summarizes gameplay: I’ve played with several groups, and it is an amazing show of human perception that the cards flow as easily as they do.  People naturally sync up, and it is engaging to watch.

Timing is everything in The Mind, and how well you judge the internal clock of your other players will determine whether you’re successful.  If the 35 was just played, and you have the 37, you should play it relatively quickly, while still giving just enough time for the 36 to be played if it is out there.  We’ve had a lot of sliding cards onto the stack just in the nick of time.

The first few rounds are easy.  The real challenges come in later rounds when — despite there being a large chunk of the deck in play — there’s a jump of 10 or more numbers between cards that need to be played.  That’s when you’ll find yourself using lives or, better, a throwing star. The throwing stars were an exceptionally nice mechanical touch: they reveal more information than you’d expect, since you get a sense of everybody else’s hand when the lowest card is revealed.

You can find the English-language rulebook on NSV’s site, and it is especially well written.  I like the art on the cards — much better than I like the art on The Game — and the cards are high quality.  

It’s fun to try this with different groups.  Some groups play fast, some play slow. Some groups have a bit of awkward laughter as they’re getting ready to make a big play, some groups sit stone faced.  Every group I’ve played with strategies how to use the throwing stars differently. Some groups may not like this — I’m not saying it is for everybody — but it is unique and worth trying, and regardless, you’ll learn a lot about your teammates with The Mind.

I love this game, and I could see it getting a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres.  If The Game can garner a nomination (which it did in 2015), so can The Mind, which is every bit as innovative, addicting, and tense.  Every group I’ve played with has enjoyed this, and every group has asked to play it again.  It looks like NSV and Wolfgang Warsch have a hit on their hands.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Eric Martin: I’ve played The Mind more than thirty times in the first month that I’ve owned it, and I have no doubt that I’ll be introducing it to dozens of other people over the course of the year. The experience of playing it is unlike anything else that I can recall, and it’s a great way to show people how different games can be from what you perceive them to be.

Patrick Brennan: (4 plays) The aim is to play your cards in correct sequential order as a team, without knowing what cards your teammates are holding in their hands. Which sounds implausible until you twig that the gameplay involves repetitively repeating a mental countdown clock inside your head, playing your lowest card when your countdown clock goes off (eg play your 63 ten seconds after the 53 was played, or whatever other pace your team is playing at) and you’ll win if the pace of that clock is attuned and identical to your teammates. That’s not a skill I need to have, nor is it that enjoyable doing it time after time after time, so it won’t be a game I seek out, but will play if someone wants to experience what it has to offer. Which to its credit is different from the norm, and worth playing for that alone. The game has good moments, like when a particularly iffy range of close-ish cards gets played perfectly, with lots of smiles and smug ooh-ahhs. But you can just as easily lose a life when there’s a jump in numbers to a close raft of cards, at which point (unless there’s perfection), it’s easy for them to come out just out of sequence (which may be a good time to call for a throwing star where everyone discards their lowest card!) and it all seems rather random. It plays the same at all player counts, but is probably more fun with more players due to the wider sharing of good moments.

Matt Carlson: After hearing interesting feedback from the writers on this site, I’ve given the game a go.  I’ve played half a dozen times with another experienced gamer. We added in a third (non-gamer) player for a few more, and later played a four player set with my family several times.  I’ve yet to “win” a game but I find the game interesting and fun. The two player game seems quite hard to complete. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of tension that arises out of the game.  Much of my enjoyment lies in trying to get the “feel” of the other players as when to play and when to wait. Mis-plays are usually just as fun as plays that seem to just go right. As Patrick mentions, one can try to succeed by managing to synchronize every player to the same timer clock and attempting to see if everyone can count at the same rate.  While that may end up being the best strategy (and I’m not yet convinced it is) I feel that it goes against the spirit of the game. By that I mean against the spirit of the game I want to play. My eldest tried this route (I tried to explain 2 seconds per number is way too slow) and I found myself trying to convince him to speed up his delay time. The bottom line is that I found it enjoyable with all three player counts as a game where we were all trying to play by our gut intuition alone.  I would not enjoy being forced to play it as a cooperative counting game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Eric M.
  • I like it.  Matt Carlson
  • Neutral.  Patrick Brennan
  • Not for me…

 

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9 Responses to The Mind (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    Counting seconds with 1 second=1 number seems not only to go against the “spirit of the game you want to play”, but also the rules against such conventions (“no secret signs”). Like you said, Matt, it just becomes a counting game, then.

    • Ori Avtalion says:

      The rules explicitly say you’re not supposed to count seconds. This is from the “spoiler” section at the end of the English rules:

      >It should be emphasised at this point that this is not a question of counting off the seconds. There is no counting. Of course, time passes by “in the head” of each player, but this is normally quicker than one second per number and it changes depending on what level is being played. The secret of the game is developing that collective feeling for “now is the moment”. The team has to work in harmony. The team must become ONE!

  2. reixou says:

    This is a hell of a game and one of the strongest gaming High Concept seen in the past years (the closest coming to mind was Hanabi a few years ago). This is a game giving emotion of the highest level when everything goes fine and played in the right spirit.
    I was convinced Azul would get the SdJ this year before I played The Mind. Now I am not so sure.

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