Every now and then a game comes along that is different to everything that has gone before, and I’m sure you’ll agree, The Mind is definitely different!
- Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
- Artist: Oliver Freudenreich
- Publisher: Coiledspring Games
- Year Released: 2018
- Players: 2-4
- Playing Time: 20 minutes
- Ages: 8+
- Recommended Retail price: £13.99
The idea sounds simple: A deck contains cards numbered from 1 to 100. Level 1 sees one card dealt to each player, level 2, two, and so on up to level 12. The players then attempt to place all the cards down, one at a time, in the centre of the table in ascending order. There are no turns; players play their cards as, and when they think theirs is the next in sequence.
The catch? Players aren’t allowed to communicate with each other!
Inside the box, along with the deck of 100 cards, there are 12 level cards, 5 life cards, and strangely, 3 shuriken throwing star cards. I say strangely, because most people fail to see the connection between the shuriken and the rest of the game – I’ll come to this a little later.
The number of life cards you start with is dependant upon the number of players – the more players, the more life cards. Irrespective, you’ll always start with one throwing star.
The level cards indicate your reward, if any, for completing the current level. Some will give you another life, some another throwing star, most will simply give you nothing but the satisfaction of completing that level.
If at any point a player plays a card, and someone else has a lower one in their hand, then the game is paused, a life is lost, and all players discard any cards lower than the one currently in play. The game then resumes (if you have any lives left, that is!).
At a particularly sticky point, a player may raise their hand and suggest playing a throwing star. If all players agree, a throwing star is discarded and all players discard their lowest card face up, besides the playing area. Play is then continued.
Once every player has successfully played their cards, then they have completed that level. The cards are gathered together and shuffled, and the next level card is revealed – not forgetting to claim any reward on the completed level card. Cards are dealt and it all starts again.
How does it work, Is it fun, and can you cheat?
The first couple of games that you play will probably end up being rather short. You can guarantee someone will be hold back for far too long before playing their ’25’ after a ’10’ has been played, and so a ’40’ gets thrown down first, and you all lose a life.
You see, this game is all about your sense of timing, or more precisely, the whole groups sense of timing, and as we know, everyone has their own ideas about time.
Let us take, for example, the very first card to be laid down. Now, it’s great if someone has a really low number, say a 4 or a 5, but if the lowest card in your hand is a 20, then things start to get tricky.
How long do you give someone to lay a card that is lower than your 20? You look at the other players, who are all doing the same, apart from Aunt Bess who’s put her cards on the table and elected to take a snooze – clearly she’s holding numbers in the 90’s. Now Jack, he’s got a single card in his hand and is looking anxious – wanting to play it, but then maybe not, as he slips it back in with the rest of the cards in his hand – has he got something similar, around the 20 mark?
Jenny, though, she’s making her eyes bulge, as she looks between you and Jack. What does that mean? Is she sure one of you has lower numbers, or is she trying to read you mind and it’s all getting a bit much for her!
So, you play your 20 – surely you’ve given everyone enough time to play something lower?
‘Damn!’ Exclaims Jack, ‘I’ve got an eight!’ At which point you all try to throttle him at the same time!
Yes, during your first few run throughs the above will happen more than once, but the more you play together in a session, the better you get. You start to understand what Jenny’s bulging eyes indicate, and that Jack’s hesitancy actually means he’s got something within 10 of the last card played, but, more importantly, you all become attuned to a single timeline.
Once this happens you start to advance through the early rounds quite quickly, and things really start getting meaty when you get to four cards each.
Things really get difficult when the chances of a couple of players having numbers that are consecutive, or near enough, increase; your team timeline needs to slow down as the number of starting cards increases. Say you play your 20, and also have 26. If you only started with 2 cards each, then there’s a good chance this is the next card to play, but, if you started with four or five cards each, well, that’s a different matter. Someone may well have a card that goes before your 26, so how long do you pause, and is everyone else of the same understanding? Take too long and someone jumps the gun, playing a 33 – let’s hope it isn’t game over time!
The throwing stars come in to play in those moments when nobody is willing to play a card. This can often be the case right at the start of the level, when nobody has a particularly low card in their hand, but more often than not it will occur mid-game, and again, is usually caused when players don’t have a card in close proximity to the last one laid.
Playing a throwing star causes all players to set aside their lowest card, and you need to pay attention here, because hopefully it will give a hint as to what the next card down will roughly be. If you hold a card lower than all those the other players cast aside, then you’re quids in!
Why throwing stars, aren’t they a weapon? A common misconception regarding the traditional use of shuriken is that they were primarily used as a weapon, when in fact, they were more commonly used as a distraction or to cause misdirection. And here you get the link to the game; you play a throwing star to distract everyone from the current game situation, causing all players to discard their lowest card, which, in itself, often causes some misdirection! Okay, maybe it’s a tenuous link, but it makes sense to me!
Of course, as you may have twigged already, it is possible to cheat. If all the players count in their head to a steady beat, a bit like a metronome, then they will probably progress through the levels a fair way. Or, you could tap or nod your head to keep everyone in time, but this really isn’t in the spirit of the game, and why would you want to anyway?
The greatest thing about playing the mind is when you all sync-up together, and complete a level you’ve never managed to beat before – it’s a very satisfying experience. You’ll probably go through a number of, “It was all your fault” finger pointing moments to get there, but when you do, it’s like you’ve just pulled off some amazing magic trick!
But, is it fun? Well, it isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. About 40% of the people I’ve played the game with didn’t really mesh with it, and for them a couple of games was enough. I can see why. It isn’t a gamer’s game; there are no pieces to play with, no strategies to build, and no points to garner. There is no theme, no story to tell, and certainly nothing to kill. But, it does have its own charm, and it certainly gives you a buzz when it all comes together and you manage to reach that elusive level 7 (a sticking point for me)!
I enjoyed playing The Mind. I found it fascinating watching the other players, looking for their little ‘tells’ as they ponder whether now is the time to play their card or not; it’s a bit like playing poker, but you’re all on the same side. The moments of hesitancy, as two players obviously think their card is next, coupled with the well balanced number of lives and throwing stars, brings a tension to the game, as nobody wants to let the team down by being the one to lay the wrong card, and you often find yourselves laughing when you manage to complete one of the higher levels with some perfect play.
I found it to be quite addictive, and always wanted to see if we could push it just one more level. But, to the contrary, it doesn’t quite have that staying power, as I found that once you get past a certain number of games you start doing really badly, as though the group has lost focus, and at this point it’s time to put it away, back on the shelf.
With its quick set up, simple rules, and quick play time, it makes a great filler game, and being pocket size, it’s great to take out and about, especially down the pub. But, for me, the best thing about The Mind is that it’s different. It sits on my shelf in a genre of its own, somewhere beyond that of abstract games and just before you get to the category of magic tricks!
Official site – Coiledspring Games
Recommended video review – Marnaudo
BoardGameGeek page – HERE