The Mind Board Game Review
Is it worth Bear Duty?
Because I jumped the gun and played a 64 right before my daughter laid down a 63 on top of it, I was forced into Bear Duty for ten minutes. This means I was on my hands and knees, lumbering around the house with my 7-year old little girl riding on my back while I solemnly intone "I'm a bear, look at me, I'm a bear". This was her designated punishment for me blowing our last life on level nine of Wolfgang Warsch's absolutely brilliant card game The Mind. It was the furthest we had ever gotten. I deserved Bear Duty.
My daughter loves this game like no other she has played before. It's a daily thing - "can we play The Mind?" We dutifully take out the cards (using a deck of The Game and a couple of dice to track levels, stars, and lives) and sit across from each other. I tell her to synch up. She's learned the etiquette of not picking up your cards before they are all dealt. We look at that first card, and virtually every time we get the sequence of playing them right. We scale the levels, missing the order a couple of times. By level six or seven, we are sometimes down to one life and maybe zero stars - hanging by a thread. But then The Mind works its magic and we get back in rhythm and blow through two more levels, with heroic runs of cards flashing out on the table as if we just know what to play when.
I'm not going to get into the superficial, idiotic debate over whether The Mind is a game or not- the problem with it is that there actually is no valid debate, as it is a game and anyone who refutes that is not qualified to provide a definition of what a game is or is not. Not only is it a game, it's one of the best card games I have ever played, and it's one of those simple and simply smart designs where you kind of have to wonder why nobody has done it before.
Cards, numbered 1-100. On level one, everyone gets one. Without signals or communication, the goal is for those cards to be played on the table in sequence. At level two, everyone does this with two cards. And so it goes for a prescribed number of levels based on the number of players. If a card in the players' hands is played out of sequence, the team loses a life. That's all there is to it other than a single resource, a throwing star, that can be spent to cause all players to discard their lowest value card- crucial information that you can use to determine when you might want to play or hold. At certain checkpoint levels, you gain an extra star or life.
Here's what makes this all so brilliant. In a very subtle way, the game actually gets easier as you get into the higher levels and this creates a very effective illusion that the players are synchronized and playing as a single unit. With only one card in hand, the decision to play or to wait to see what others do is difficult unless you are holding a very high or very low card, and if your card is somewhere in the majority percentage of the range, you are at low odds. But with more cards comes more information, so later levels give you more to work with and more to analyze. It's still a challenge because the opportunity for error also increases with more cards, but the exponential growth in data can lead to better decisions.
But there is still the twitch element at work, as well as the social one. It may feel like you need to throw down the 35 right after someone plays a 30...but is there a 33 out there? If you play too quick, you might play over someone else. Wait too long, and someone may play over you. It's all in the timing. Do you know your partners' reflexes enough to know when they are subtly- maybe even subconsciously- signaling? There are any number of hilarious, almost awkward moments in any given game of The Mind where nobody really knows what to do and everyone just kind of shrugs and grins.
This is another element that makes The Mind brilliant. The tension of cardplay is unmatched in any other game in its class barring gambling games involving real money. It takes the breathless moment of playing a trump card in a trick-taking game and amplifies it. When that awkward silence is broken by the thwip of a card tossed onto the stack - and everyone sees that it was correct, it's awesome. It's even more awesome when that play opens the floodgates and a flurry of cards starts to hit the table.
Did you really synchronize minds? Or is it just the wonderful illusion of intuition this game creates? Maybe it is both.
This is a pure game in the way that a classic Sid Sackson or Alex Randolph or Reiner Knizia game is. There is a central mechanism around which a simple concept is built. The rest of the game comes from the playing of it, not from the rules or processional elements. The design is wetware rather than hardware- squishy, soft, and human in a way that few games really are. I love that this simple game that is really just a deck of numbered cards is about staying alive - it's almost subliminal, but having "lives" makes the stakes feel extremely high.
It's also a supremely accessible game that anyone can play, and with concepts that anyone can immediately grasp and enjoy. It's not arty or cerebral. It's not some kind of minimalist exercise in reductionist design. It has the same qualities, fundamentally, as any successful or perennially popular card game.
But Scarlett likes this one the best.
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