The Mind Review – Mental Maths
Every now and then a game comes along that blindsides you. It is a game that you didn’t expect, a game you didn’t necessarily feel attracted to at first, and a game that you go in dubious about. Then you play it. Two hours later you realise that you have played the game ten times and have loved every singe time. You find the game addictive, and within a day of buying it take it around to friends to play. They also enjoy it and so, although not a very attractive game, and although a game you are fairly sure others will judge like you first did, you feel compelled to write a review.
This is our review of: The Mind.
The Core Information: What is The Mind?
Nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, one of the most prestigious awards in the board game world, in 2018 – The Mind is a ridiculously simple game with a really simple premise.
Designed by German designer Wolfgang Warsch, and with artwork by Oliver Freudenreich, The Mind is a game for 2-4 players who work cooperatively. It takes anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes to play, depending on how successful you are as a group.
The Mind rules are provided in German, at least in our version of the game. We purchased it from the UK version of Amazon, and then found the rules in English here.
How To Play The Mind – A Very Brief Explanation
Well, in The Mind, there are 1-12 levels in a two player game, 1-10 levels in a three player game, and 1-8 levels in a four player game. The game is based around a deck of 100 cards, each with a number from 1-100 on it.
In Level 1, all players are dealt one card at random. Without talking about the cards, or hinting in any way what the cards are, or communicating anything about the cards using body language, all players need to play their cards in numerical order from 1-100. It may be, that with four of us, we are dealt 10, 38, 62, and 99 – in which case it is a simple task. Or, it may be we are dealt 42, 45, 46, and 51 – in which case it is a lot harder.
If you survive Level 1, you progress onto Level 2. At Level 2, each player gets dealt two cards each. These they must, using the same rules as before, put into numerical order, not communicating anything to the other players about the two cards in their hand.
At Level 3, all players are dealt three cards. At Level 4, all players are dealt four cards. At Level 5, all players are dealt five cards. You can see the pattern.
Depending on the number of players, you start with a number of lives. You also get, and this is where it gets a bit stranger, throwing stars. Yes, ninja style shuriken, which can be used if all players vote to use one by sticking their hand in the air. If a throwing star is used, every player discards their lowest cards. If you complete certain levels you get rewarded with more throwing stars and lives. That’s about it.
Our Opinions – What is The Mind Like To Play?
There are probably quite a few perplexed faces looking at the screen right now as, from the description The Mind, it doesn’t seem like much of a game. There isn’t really a theme, with the artwork being ninja stars and rabbits, and that’s about it. The cards are very simple and almost identical to the cards of a game (from the same company) called The Game (which I reviewed back in October 2017), although arguably with less artwork on the core cards and more on the surrounding cards.
What is it about The Mind that is so good? Why did it deserve a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres?
Well, yeah, if you are asking that, you have a very good point. It isn’t much of a game. It doesn’t have a strong theme and it doesn’t use any groundbreaking mechanics. This is not one of the best games I have ever played.
That being said, and this is really important dear reader, this is one of the best meta-games I have ever played.
Let me explain. The Mind is not about the game, but is instead about the group playing. It is about being in-sync with a group of people on a level past communication. You can’t talk about the cards, and you can’t really talk about the game whilst playing, that being said, you all need to focus really hard on what the other players are doing.
The Mind sells itself on the idea that you are becoming more mentally in-sync as you play the game. This is a clever tool, and one which is played on within the rules where they suggest everyone puts their hands on the table at the beginning of the game to help you concentrate – to get mentally in line with one another. However, unless you strongly believe in that sort of thing, The Mind is not really a game about getting mentally in-sync. Instead, I believe it works on a combination of things, some deeper than others.
Firstly, The Mind is a great game for practising to read facial expressions and the subtle little tweaks and looks people have when they play games (or even just in everyday conversation). You do notice slight nuances in the faces of your fellow gamers that help you play the game.
Secondly, The Mind is also about becoming mathematically in-sync. You find yourself working out odds in your mind as you play, simple calculations, to figure out if now is the best time. These merge to form a kind of “I have three cards, my co-gamer has one card, the odds are it is me but I’ll just watch their expression and body language to see if it is”. It’s not necessarily conscious mathematics working out the odds, but more of a subconscious calculus.
As a group you get better at both of those things. You get better at the odds, as The Mind is about odds at its very core. You also get better at reading one another.
The real question is: what is The Mind like to play?
The Mind is “edge of your seat” intense and that is a good thing. It is a good thirty minutes to an hour of entertainment, and can be a mind blowing experience. That is exactly what it is though – an experience. I keep toying around with calling it “a game” and “a puzzle” in my head, but the thing it keeps coming back to is that The Mind isn’t really either of those. It is an experience, and a collective one, revolving around a meta that is turned into a game. At its best it is mind blowing. At its worst it is frustrating.
It is, fundamentally, a enjoyable experience.
That being said, although we played it for a good couple of hours, it is not the game you could typically spend a whole evening playing. Instead, it is probably more of a warm up game for an evening of games. If you want to work on a theme then it is a warm up game for an evening of cooperative games.
TLDR: The Mind – The Good, The Bad, and The Neutral
In recent reviews (namely of Villainous, Ticket to Ride: Legendary Asia and of We Didn’t Playtest This At All) we have looked at Pros, Cons, and Neutral points to do with games. So, we’ll do the same thing here. What are the good, bad, and neutral points about The Mind in our opinion?
- The Mind is a challenge and can be addictive to play, especially the first couple of times you play it.
- It is one of the best meta-games on the market, where the mechanics don’t matter half as much as the people you are playing with.
- The rules are simple and incredibly easy to pick up. Just be warned that you will need to look the rules up online if you order it off Amazon in the UK.
- The Mind is only £9.00 in the UK.
- The artwork and personality of the level cards comes through.
- The artwork on the back of the cards and the cards themselves are very plain.
- The playtime can be unpredictable due to the nature of the game.
- The Mind isn’t really a game, but is more of a collective experience. This may put some players off.
- The concept, if not thoroughly enjoyed by all parties, can grow old fairly fast.
So there we have it – a breakdown of one of the most hyped small games of this year – The Mind, nominee of the Spiel Des Jahres. Is it a game? Well, maybe. Is it a puzzle? It could be. Is it an experience and one worth having? Yes, definitely.
So, what do you think? Have you played The Mind? If so, what do you think of the game? Let me know in the comments below.