The Magic That Is The MindJanuary 7, 2019
The hype train for The Mind was full steam ahead throughout 2018 and I did my best to ignore it, despite all of my board game Twitter buddies losing their, ahem, minds over it.
I had to admit, though, that the idea of The Mind was intriguing: a cooperative game of playing cards from your hand in ascending order with no communication whatsoever with the other players. Interesting, yes, but I thought there was no way this simple game could be that good.
I was wrong.
The Mind is brilliant, a game that you’ll want to play over and over. It’ll also have game designers scratching their heads in amazement while asking themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Inside the small box is a deck of 100 cards, each numbered 1-100. The goal of the game is to get through a predetermined level depending on the number of players before you burn through all of your lives (you begin with three, but can earn more).
After shuffling the deck, each player receives cards equivalent to the current level (so on level 1, everyone gets one card, level 2 is two cards, etc.). Everyone looks at their cards, but keeps them hidden from the other players. Players place one hand on the table, indicating they’re ready. They remove their hands and the game begins.
Players play one card face-up at any time, attempting to play them in ascending order. There’s absolutely no communication allowed; no talking or hand or facial gestures. You’re simply trying to read the other players’ minds and playing your card at the right moment.
Yes, it’s not really mind-reading, but there is a little gaming magic in The Mind.
How long do you wait before playing your card? Obviously, if you have the number 1, you’re playing immediately. But what if you have a 20? Or a 56? Or a 72? How long do you wait to play your 35 after someone else has played 21?
Thankfully, you get a little help via the throwing stars. During game play, players may indicate that they want to employ a throwing star (you begin with one, but can earn more). If everybody agrees, then everybody discards their lowest-valued card face-up.
If cards are played out of order, players lose a life. However, if players successfully play their cards in ascending order, then they move on to the next level. They are awarded with that level’s awards, if any, which may include a bonus life or throwing star.
The game ends when the players have no more lives or when they complete the predetermined level (level 8 for four players, level 10 for three, and level 12 for two).
With any popular game there’s about a two-second wait on the Internet before the haters pop up and with The Mind they arrived in droves. They wondered whether The Mind was a game or an activity. Folks, it’s a game. You have a goal and a set of parameters/rules while trying to achieve that goal: can you and your partners complete the required number of levels to win?
There’s also the talk of counting to yourself and playing your card when your number comes up; the designers point out that everyone has their own internal clock and advise not to do it. For me, though, this goes against the spirit of the game. Why not just watch a clock and have each player play their card when their number ticks? Because then it’s an activity, not a game.
One of my favorite things about The Mind is it solves the quarterbacking problem of a lot of cooperative games. While The Mind is a cooperative game, because of the no-communication rule, you’re saved from that alpha player telling every player their optimal move. Instead, you’re all alone in deciding when to play your card.
Of course, you’re not really alone, as you try to mind-meld with the other players. And if you play a card out of order, the reaction is usually about how tough of a play you had. You’re all under the same pressure of trying to figure out the best time to play a card, so it’s hard to blame somebody for playing out of order, especially when consecutive cards are held by different players.
The magic of The Mind is in these moments where you feel truly in sync with the other players, playing cards in the right order to finish a level, but also when you share that collective groan of just missing a chance to move on. While The Mind not play well with all groups, it’s one of the best gaming experiences I had last year and I’ll continue to play it in the years to come.