The mind (2018) review
I very much enjoy perusing the shelves of a gameboard store. Searching, discover new games, admire the illustrations, seeing the content of a game, take my time ... And sometimes, in the middle of a shelving, I discover games to which I would never have stopped otherwise. This is the case for the game I'm going to talk about.
It is a small box, quite sober, which does not look like, and which, if it were not put forward, would seem quite somehow. This game, it's about The Mind.
The Mind comes from the brain of Wolfgang Warsch (Fuji, That's Pretty Clever). Wolfgang is a fairly recent Austrian designer. His first game arrived in 2015, Dream Team. A year later, he created Shadows Master. Then in 2018, he returns with no less than four games: That's Pretty Clever, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, Illusion and The Mind. And among these four, three are nominated for the Spiel 2018! Yes, you read correctly. That's Pretty Clever and Quacks for Kennerspiel, The Mind were potential Spiel des Jahres. The latter failed to win "the supreme title" against the Azul machine, but the The Quacks of Quedlinburg won the Kennerspiel. All this will tell you that this molecular biologist is an author to watch very closely. His latest game Fuji, released by Feuerland, and soon to be published in French by Supermeeple, has already received a warm welcome.
The Mind came out in 2018, published by Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag. Since then, many publishers have added it to their catalogs. In France, Oya takes care of its distribution. Right away, the game produces an effect. To tell the truth, it clearly divides the players and left no one indifferent. It’s success is unstoppable and already has a good track record with it’s Spiel des Jahre nomination and victory at the 2019 Cannes International Game Festival.
The box is small, and this is understandable because inside there are just a deck of cards. 100 of them, numbered from 1 to 100. Each card is unique. You will also have level cards, from 1 to 12, life point cards and shuriken cards (or “star” following the interpretations). And that's it (well there are also the rules of course, otherwise you must immediately notify your dealer).
Oliver Freudenreich's illustrations are clearly minimalist. Strange (does it look like a rabbit straight out of Donnie Darko?), but really sober and abstract. We could even believe that the art is a little too light. Yet, it works. After all, that's not why we bought this game. This almost non-existent illustration makes the readability better (to the detriment of a potential immersion).
Now let's focus on what interests you the most... How do you play it?
The rules are extremely simple and fit on a small sheet of paper included in the box. The Mind is played by 2 to 4 players and is a cooperative game. Everyone wins or loses together. A bit like a the game, “The Game,” you must play sequences of numbers in ascending order according to the cards you have in hand. There is no order of the turn per se, everyone plays when they think that they have the next card in this sequence. But beware, you can only play one card at a time. So, if you have twenty-two and twenty-three, you will have to first put one down, then play the other from your hand. Which of course can give another player time to play something else in between. At the beginning of a level, each player receives as many cards as the level value. In other words, in level one you will receive a card; level two, two cards... For now, everything is straightforward, nothing foolish or original.
When you are able to complete a level, that is when all players have managed to get rid of their cards, depending on the level, you will win a bonus: a new life, a new shuriken, or nothing.
Too simple? Ah, but I did not tell you about the specificity of the game. It is forbidden to communicate. Yes. No words, no gestures, no mimes, no foot movements, no blinking the numbers as you have (if you have the 100 it must be tiring I guess) ... No, nothing , Nada, Rien, you do not speak! Even worse than Hanabi. There, it is not funny anymore. Well, it can be funny, but in other ways.
You will have to be careful. Everything will be played with intuition, with sensation, with the gaze. It will not be easy I grant you. But when you get there it's so enjoyable.
To help you, you still have the right to use a shuriken. When all players agree by raising their hands (we do not speak I already told you!), they can use a shuriken. This allows all players to show their smallest card from their hand and discard it. Phew. Except that shurikens are like lives, they are rare and precious. To win, you will have to reach a certain level, depending on the number of participating players. Good luck!
To lose, easy, just lose all your life cards. When a player has played a card, if no one has a smaller number in their hand, everything goes well. Otherwise, the game is paused, discard all the smaller cards and especially a life card. It costs dear lives, so be careful.
The game is extremely fast. This makes it possible to override the defeat, following stinging, and to take pleasure to start over again and again. A kind of Die & Retry. Except that necessarily the conditions are never the same. You are clearly in an abstract game. Replayability can quickly be questioned. If you play always and often with the same group, then yes the game will seem quite limited and you will quickly leave it aside. On the other hand, with different groups or with the same but less often, the game continues to surprise, amaze and make you laugh.
With its ultra-simple rules, The Mind goes well beyond the game. And that is what will finally divide players into two camps.
Some see it as a game based solely as luck, without an interesting idea, and an easy to rule bend the difficulty. After all, it would just be enough to count the cards played, or memorise what numbers have passed and hope the following numbers would be easier to play. Yes, it can be if you have a very mathematically synchronized group. But that would be completely missing the point of game.
The goal of The Mind is not so much to win as to overcome this handicap, this imposed silence between players. It can be disturbing in your first game, you will be jumping, hesitant and surprised. Once the rhythm is taken, everything will become fluid, tense and fun. Because yes, getting past the potential frustration that can occur in many people, you will eventually let yourselves be transported by this playful other plane of existence.
Example of a turn: Level two, in my hand I have a three and a sixty-six. The round begins, I logically say that I must play the three very quickly. So, I put it on the table without hesitation. And “boom”, there is the drama. My partner had the two. We lose a life less. So now, I hesitate. I have just the sixty-six left. I tell myself that I have time. I wait. Nobody plays. The third player after a while launches the seventy, telling himself that because everyone waited, the numbers were necessarily high. And “boom”, a second life gone.
The Mind is a game apart. Certainly not the best game of all time, but for the party game category it has found its place and stay there for a long time. A fun experience open to all, young and old, players and non-players. Will you be lucky? Are you a budding telepaths? Will you be sure of yourself? Short games, contrasting feelings. What frustration it gives in not being able to control anything, but what a joy when everything goes together perfectly. And the crazy laughs when it goes into a spin. For some of you, you’ll take to the game right away. For others the magic will never work.
Technical Score 5/10
Nothing extraordinary, everything is simple but functional.
BGG Score 8/10
(Very good game)
For me, magic has transpired. Fun, fast, simple. It's a pleasure to play with the right people.
Combined Score 6,5/10
And now it's over to you…
Barry’s first impressions.
This game is a giggle. It gives a sense of a team sport, where every player is trying to achieve this objective collectively. There is some blind luck and some blind guessing but all of that adds to the fun and enjoyment that comes from trying to divine when players are planning to play or not. And you will probably find yourself bending the rules a little bit as your body language starts to exaggerate your intentions. This happens generally when you’re playing with younger players.
I can see why this wouldn’t appeal to everyone, as it is a childish notion to put numbers in order. And I was guilty of that sensation when I first heard of “The Game.” But it is the simplicity of this game that makes it accessible to everyone, much like sitting around a table doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle together. Played it once and found it addictable and I now have my own copy.