The Mind: Don’t Stop Believin’

By Andrew Joyce

This review is a summary of an audio review by Get on Board. Feel free to click here for the full audio review (from episode #23) ›
Most people reading this review have probably already heard of the Mind. One of the nominees for the German Spiel Des Jahres award this year, The Mind comes from little-known designer Wolfgang Warsch, published by NSV (Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag). Here’s what the publisher has to say about their own game: “The Mind is more than just a game. It’s an experiment, a journey, a team experience in which you can’t exchange information, yet will become one to defeat all the levels of the game.” Far out! Let’s take a look:

This game is so simple, but it has that magical quality that’s propelled other winners (Hanabi, Codenames, Dixit) and sets them apart from so many other games. What sets the Mind apart is innovation.

Here’s how to play the game: There’s a deck of cards numbered 1-100 and each level players will receive a certain number of these cards (1 each on level 1, 2 each on level 2, and so on). Their task is to play all the cards from their hand, in order, on the table, without playing any out of sequence, and without communicating. This means that The Mind is a game of reading hesitation, impatience, and nervousness to gauge when the proper time to play the next card is. To win the game, players must progress a certain number of levels, depending on player count, and prove that their mind-reading skills are up to snuff! There are some shuriken that let everyone discard their lowest card from hand, and you start with a certain number of lives depending on the number of players. That’s it — that’s the whole game!

At first glance, this seems too simple to even be a game. Really? That’s it? Play the cards in order. . . that’s it. I’ve had two reactions when I’ve introduced this game. Some people think it’s so hard that you’re essentially just guessing at random, and that doesn’t sound fun at all. Other people think it’s trivial to count off seconds in your head or some other strategy to get around the spirit of the game and just mechanically play all the cards in order. Does that make the Mind a failure?

Let me tell you a story. I played this just on Saturday with three good friends: Stephen, Josh, and Nathan. Stephen and Josh had already played before, and Nathan was new. With four players, we had to get through 8 levels. After one or two levels, Nathan grasped the challenge — and he was grinning when we successfully navigated an 88/91/93 logjam at the end of level three. It really did feel like magic — as if we were psychically in tune with each other as we played. Cards flowed quickly and effortlessly. We were zooming through levels and rarely making a mistake.

By level six, we were down to two lives. Everyone had six cards in hand — 24 total — a quarter of the deck. We played a few cards, then I raised my hand for a shuriken. We discarded, around the table, 55/31/33/34. Everyone was freaking out at how we’d dodged that bullet: adjacent cards are super hard to time well, after all! Then, in sequence, we played a run of a dozen cards that was utterly perfect. We whizzed through the rest of the level in about twenty seconds, without even a mistake.

On a very tough seventh round, we made it almost all the way through before we lost our last two lives, and the game. Even so, this was magic. We were thrilled to have done so well! We were reading each other so well. We were flying — flying! — through this game, and it just felt magical.

This is a fifteen-dollar pack of cards, and some of you may be doubting that it’s even as special as I’m claiming it to be. And look, I’m not saying this fires every other game for me, or that this will be the filler game I’ll play for the rest of my life. Still, the Mind does something interesting, fresh, and unique, and it’s certainly worth your time for at least a couple dozen plays. The cost is reasonable, and the stories you’ll get from this shared challenge are great. This is one of my favorite ways to hang out with friends, and I anticipate we’ll probably still break this one out even after we beat it (after nineteen plays, I have yet to win a game!)

If there’s one tragic moment that I can level against it, it’s that this is group-dependent. My friend Stephen and I played it with our wives, both of whom were tired, and the game didn’t come out nearly as magical as it did at other times. That’s not the game’s fault, though — like Skull and other very interpersonal games, your mileage will vary depending on who you play with. That’s OK! But still, you might not have the group for this — or you might not even want to experience this game.

It is, after all, a bit of a glorified activity. But man, the shared camraderie around this simple action, the grins when we sail through a level, the endless analyzing after we finally bit the dust — this game is straight-up magic. If any of what I’ve described sounds fun to you — if you have friends in mind who would love this — pick up The Mind! It can be proxied with a little creativity, or it’s available on today. It’s releasing in the US (through Pandasaurus Games) on July 25th — so by one of these methods, pick up this game and try it out. You will not regret it.

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