Dale Yu: Review of Mind MGMT

Mind MGMT

  • Designers: Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim
  • Publisher: Off the Page Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age: 13+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by the Publisher

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MIND MGMT is a new secret movement game from a new company, Off the Page Games – but the people behind it are well known veterans of the gaming world.  This game is designed by the team of Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim – who have had other hits such as Junk Art, Belfort and Akrotiri.  The game is apparently based on a comic book – but not one that I had heard about before – some cursory Wikipedia research taught me:

MIND MGMT is an American comic book series created by Matt Kindt and published through Dark Horse Comics. The story is about Meru, a true crime writer who searches for the truth behind a mysterious airline flight and discovers a secret government agency of super spies, espionage, and psychic abilities. Henry Lyme, the former top agent, has gone rogue and is working to dismantle the organization.  MIND MGMT is a government agency of spies, formed during or after World War I, who have psychic abilities. Henry Lyme is recruited as a child, and becomes their greatest agent. The work exhausts him, and Lyme is retired to Zanzibar. While there, he has a breakdown and loses control of his abilities, causing the city’s inhabitants to murder one another. Lyme decides MIND MGMT is too dangerous to exist, and flees. In an effort to cover his escape, he accidentally causes everyone aboard a plane with him to develop amnesia.  Meru, a true–crime writer, investigates the amnesia flight two years later. She finds a lead in Mexico, where she meets a CIA agent named Bill. They are attacked by two former MIND MGMT agents, but escape. Meru eventually locates Lyme, who tells her his story. Meru learns she was a child in Zanzibar during the massacre and was saved by Lyme. He erased her memory of the event and arranged a foster family for her. During her investigative career she has located Lyme several times, but he continuously causes her to forget. She leaves determined to expose the truth about MIND MGMT, but falls asleep instead. Waking in her apartment, she decides to uncover the truth behind the amnesia flight… (There’s more, but hey, this is convoluted enough for you to get a feel for what is going on – or not going on – or what they want you to think is going on – or what you are supposed to see though you know what is going on, but they know that you know what is going on, so they have disguised everything as something else)

MIND MGMT the game is set in the city of Zanzibar, now broken up into a 6×7 grid.  On this very busy board, you’ll see icons for 16 different features scattered around the grid.  To play, one player is the MIND MGMT recruiter and the other players form a team of Rogue Agents.  The goal is simple.  The Rogue Agents are trying to capture the Recruiter.  They have a limited number of turns to be on the same space as the Recruiter and then perform the Capture Action.  The Recruiter, on the other hand, has two possible goals.  First, he can simply avoid capture through the specified number of turns to win.  Second, he can recruit enough new agents (at specific Feature icons on the board) to win the game immediately.

I’ll explain the rules here, and you’ll note that I will use the term “generally” a lot.  I’m trying to explain the basic rules to the game, but the rules can change (sometimes drastically) depending on which SHIFT packages you are using in your game.  For now, pretend I haven’t said anything about the SHIFT thingies and read about the basic game knowing that a lot may be different in a game for experienced players.

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The Recruiter starts with a smaller secret map on which he can write down his movements. He also gets three feature cards, which he should circle all of the matching icons on his secret map.  He also gets a recruiter card – this gives him a one-time special ability that can be used when he needs it.  The Recruiter pics a starting location secretly, and then takes 4 STEP actions to plot out the first 5 moves of the game.  These steps are marked on the map with “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, and “5” written in the corresponding grid squares.  The Rogue Agents sit on the other side of the table.  Their available action cards are placed under the board on their side.  Each player takes control of one or more of the 4 agents – they should always all be in play.  Each of them has a special ability written on their character board.  Each Rogue Agent is started on a space that is on the periphery of the board.  A MIND SLIP token is placed on a space that is adjacent to either of the Temple spaces.  Any Allies that are in play are also set up on the Rogue Agents side.    

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Mayhem tokens are placed on the board; these will be obstacles to movement.  The Recruiter places 4 Immortal Figures on the board, with each being in a different location and also not being on the outermost spaces of the board; as those are reserved for Rogue Agent starting spaces.  2 Feature cards are dealt out and placed under the Immortal Recruiting area of the Rogue Agent board.  The Time Token is placed on the lowest spot on the track, “01:00 – 05:00” (representing those first 5 moves of the Recruiter), and the game is ready to start.

The game is played in a series of rounds, each corresponding to an a group of 2 hours on the time track. There are four phases in each round:

A] Recruiter – 1st turn  (take a turn, advance the time marker)

B] Rogue Agents – Any 2 Agents take a turn and perform an action

C] Recruiter – 2nd turn (take a turn, advance the time marker)

D] Rogue Agents – The remaining 2 Agents take a turn and perform an action

On a Recruiters turn, he actually has a few options, which can be done in any order.  He must move (either a STEP or a MIND SLIP), he must move an Immortal, and then optionally, he can place a STEP token to move an Immortal again.  

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To take a regular STEP action, the Recruiter simply moves one space orthogonally adjacent, unless he is moving to or from one of the 2 Temple spaces (where you can see the diagonal paths) in which case he can move diagonally.  The Recruiter cannot move through a Mayhem token.   The Recruiter may not re-visit a space he has already been to.  Be sure not to trap yourself – if the Recruiter is unable to make a legal move, he loses the game automatically!  For each icon of the three Features which the Recruiter has been dealt, the Recruiter will get a Recruit.  Keep this number secret for now.

To take a MIND SLIP, he uses the special MIND SLIP action printed on his Recruiter card – for instance, move to a location 2 spaces away in a Diagonal line.  You may pass thru locations you have visited before, but must end on a space that is new.  You generally start with a single MIND SLIP token, but you might be able to get a second one if you have previously visited the space on the board where the Rogue Agents have left one for you.  You don’t have to tell them when you picked it up, but once you use a second MIND SLIP, the Rogue Agents will know for sure that you’ve been in that particular space at some point in the game – so while you get a bonus second action, you’re also giving away a clue to your path…

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You also can move one of the 4 Immortals, they can move orthogonally OR diagonally at all times, but never thru a Mayhem token.  Immortals are useful because they can limit the actions an Agent can take if the Immortal is in the same space as an Agent – Agents can not ASK, REVEAL or CAPTURE nor can Agents ask about any Features shown in that location.  Additionally, if you have 2 different Immortals standing on spaces that both have one of the Immortal Recruiting icons on them, you can discard that card to gain a Recruit.

At the end of the Recruiter turn, move the time marker forward.  If you are on an odd numbered space (i.e. at the end of your second turn of the round), you see the Red Alert Icon, and this means that you need to reveal the number of Recruits you were able to pick up in this round, that is the previous two turns.

On a Rogue Agents turn, in any order, you get a chance to move, take an action, possibly use your Agent ability (once per activation) and possibly employ an Ally (see the power as printed on the Ally card).  When you move, you get to move up to 2 spaces, generally orthogonally, but you can also go diagonally when going to or from a Temple space.  You may not move through a Mayhem token.  There are 4 Action options

ASK – choose one of the features in your current location and ask the Recruiter if they have been in a space with that feature. (remember that you can’t do this with an Immortal in the same space)  The Recruiter now looks at their secret map, and if they have been to a space with that feature, they must choose one of those spaces and place a red STEP token on the board to show where they have been.  Only one STEP token can be placed per grid square.  Also, if there is a confirmed mental note on a space, you cannot put a STEP token there (because the Rogue Agents already know when you were there!).  If the Recruiter has not been in a location with that icon OR there is no way to place a STEP token on any of the spaces that he has been to – the Recruiter simply states that he cannot place a STEP token.

REVEAL – If an Agent is on a space with a STEP token (and there is not an Immortal in the same space), the Recruiter must put a Confirmed Mental Note on that space showing which Step number in his path was used on that space.

SHAKEDOWN – If you are in the same space as an Immortal, you can Shake them down.  Choose any feature on the board, and ask the Recruiter is it is one of the 3 cards they were dealt.  If it is, the card must be revealed and discarded, and the Recruiter can no longer use that feature to contact recruits.  Then push the Immortal to any orthogonal location, though not thru Mayhem.

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CAPTURE – If there is no Immortal in the space, you can try to Capture the Recruiter in your current space.  If the Recruiter is there at that exact moment, he is caught and the Rogue Agents win instantly.

After an Agent has taken their turn, lay their figure down so you know they have had a turn.  In this way, you won’t mistakenly have an Agent take two actions in a Round!

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The game continues on in this fashion until one of the sides meets a game end condition.  

  • The Recruiter wins if it can get to the last space on the time track without being caught
  • The Recruiter wins is it collects 12 Recruits
  • The Recruiter loses automatically if it can’t make a legal move
  • The Rogue Agents win is one of them captures the Recruiter

So, that’s it for the basic game – but where the game really gets complicated is with the SHIFT system.  In the Deluxe version of the game which I was given, there is a nice foldout portfolio with 7 SHIFT packages for each side.  As you play a series of games, each time a side loses, they get access to the next numbered SHIFT package for their team.  Each of these packages offers new elements to the game, ostensibly to give that side an small advantage – which is only fair since that side lost the most recent game, and therefore they need a bit of help to even things out.  Without spoiling things (as the discovery of the new bits is a lot of fun) – suffice it to say that you could get new actions, satellite imagery, characters, allies, snacks, obstacles, secret moves, ninja costumes, 3D glasses, sonic screwdrivers, or whatever else you could think of.  In the next game, the teams agree on how many SHIFT modules to use.  If there are new rules in those chosen modules, they obviously supercede anything I’ve described above – but the main goals remain the same for the two sides.

My thoughts on the game

I have always been a fan of the secret movement genre; in fact one of my first forays into TGOO was Scotland Yard, and I have always been a huge fan of that game, and it remains in my alltime top 10.  Since that first game, I have continually tried other games in the class – and each brings its own set of plusses and minuses to the table.

Here, in MIND MGMT, there is a lot of extra stuff going on.  Yes, at its heart, the Recruiter is moving around secretly, and the team of Agents has to find him/her.  They can try to track him through the number of recruits that are revealed.  They might be able to come up with a path by deducing based on those recruit numbers.  They can also use the ASK and REVEAL actions to get a whiff of the path, and knowing that most movements must be orthogonal, you can try to suss out where the Recruiter is. 

Of course, the Immortals are super annoying to the team and constantly get in the way of the agents, limiting their actions – most notably hampering what features that can be asked about.  And… trust me, as you get into the SHIFT modules, there are plenty of other tactics that will be available to thwart the team of Rogue Agents.

It’s definitely not as elegant as say Scotland Yard, and not even as clean as Whitechapel – but this higher level of complexity is something I haven’t seen before in the hidden movement games, and when you’re really looking for a meatier game of this type, this is probably the most complex that I’ve seen.  Again, made even more complex as it changes with the different SHIFT modules which can be added in.

An added bonus for this game is that it comes with both a solo and strictly cooperative mode (something which most other hidden movement games simply can’t offer) – there is an app which can be downloaded which plays as the Recruiter, allowing you to play the game on your own or in a team against the app-based player.

The game is complex, and all of the basic rules are fairly well explained in the rulebook, but I’ll admit that I had a pretty hard time getting through it on the first pass.  There is an introductory game which helps you learn the basics, and all the rules for that are highlighted in green in the rules.  Unfortunately for me, this is midstream with all the other rules, and any rules specific for the main game are highlighted in a pink box.  I have heard other gamers not have issues with this, but I found it difficult.  Obviously YMMV.

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The artwork is supposedly very true to the comic series, and man, it’s pretty wild.  The designers have put little spy-like touches all over the place – little hidden notes in margins, anaglyph text (though they include a red filter so you can read it).  The board is super busy.  In our first few games, it took a bit of time to see the game-important icons.  The cards which tell you about the feature icons are filled with flavor text, and while they certainly push the theme, they also make actually identifying them a bit tricky.  And don’t get me started about the swimming pool which has a different shape…  I would strongly suggest that you place all the pieces on the outer corners of the grid spaces so that you don’t obscure the icons on a space for the Rogue Agents.  (The Recruiter doesn’t need to worry about this as he has his own secret map which doesn’t have anything but his writing on it).  

As with all secret movement games, I generally feel that ultimately the game is best with 2 players – one on each side.  For the Rogue Agents to play at their best, they really need to have a concerted game plan at all times, and from my experience, this means that everyone ends up agreeing with the single quarterback.  Sure, groups always say that they can collaborate and work on a joint plan, but I just haven’t seen that much in reality.  So, for me, let’s cut out the discussion and go mano-a-mano.  And in that regard, this game is an awesome challenge.  Again, it’s way more complex than my favorite game in the genre, Scotland Yard, but it also brings a lot more to the table, so it deserves its own slot in the game collection.    Furthermore, the ability to play it solo is something that is pretty unique to the genre for me – though I don’t know for sure if there are other hidden movement games which offer a solo variant, this is the only one that I own.

I have been really impressed with the game so far, and it is by far my favorite game from Off the Page Games, and also my favorite Cormier/Lim game.  It is both familiar in concept but offers many new challenges.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes the hidden movement type of game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Steph H, Brian L
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Mind MGMT

  1. Todor says:

    Thorough and excellent review as always, thank you!

    Only “..it is by far my favorite game from Off the Page Games” struck me as a bit odd – I believe this is the first and only game by this publisher.

Leave a Reply to Todor Cancel reply