Friday, 3 May 2019

The Mind

Plays: 3P & 4P x9.

The Game

Before starting to write about The Mind, the first thing I decided was I needed to write in a spoiler-free way. Now The Mind is no legacy game. Technically there is no story to be spoiled. However I find that a big part of the experience is discovering the tactics to play it well. So I'm not going to talk about what I've discovered and what tactics I have devised. I won't be talking about my thought processes when playing the game.

The Mind is a cooperative game. You win or lose together as a group. It accommodates 2 to 4 players. With 2 players, you need to survive 12 rounds to win the game. With 4 players, you need to last 8 rounds. In Round 1, everyone starts with 1 card. In Round 2, 2 cards, and so on and so forth. In Round 8 you'd be starting with 8 cards. There are 100 cards in the game, numbered 1 to 100. To complete a round, you need to play all your cards into a central discard pile. Cards must be played from lowest to highest. What makes this difficult, and this is the twist, is that players are not allowed to communicate about their cards. No talking numbers, no winking or eyebrow raising or coded hand signals. You don't know what cards your fellow players have. There is no turn taking in this game. Once a round starts, anyone may play a card at any time. If you have a low card, you'd better play it early. If you have a high card, you probably want to wait a while before playing, because most likely other people have cards lower than yours. Whenever a mistake is made, you as a group lose one life. A mistake means someone plays a card out of sequence, i.e. someone else is still holding a card that is lower. When this happens, anyone holding cards lower than the one just played reveals and sets them aside, and then the game resumes. When you lose the last life, you lose the game. You win if you manage to complete the required number of rounds.

You have a tool to help you - shurikens. You start a game with just one shuriken, but you may gain more during the game. At any time anyone may pause the game and suggest using a shuriken. If it is agreed, one shuriken is spent, and everyone reveals and discards his lowest card.

At the end of certain rounds, you get a reward, which can be a shuriken or an extra life.

That's all the rules. Every round starts with dealing cards out to everyone. Then upon an agreed signal, everyone goes into battle mode and the play begins. You will be watching one another and trying to guess who should be next to play his card. The whole experience is quite intense because you never know when a wrong card will be played. Almost every card play is a nerve wracking moment. Sometimes every correct card being played elicits a sigh of relief.

Having 43 and 44 in hand can be dangerous. Once you play 43, you need to quickly play 44. You are not allowed to play two cards at the same time, so you need to play them quickly one after the other. Someone else might have 45, or 46, and when he sees 43 being played, he might hurriedly play the 45 or 46. That's why you need to be fast in playing 44 after 43.

A 4-player game is set up like this. Four lives (top left), one shuriken (bottom left), and a stack of round cards (right).

The discard pile is a common pile. Cards must be played from lowest to highest.

The Play

The topmost card in the discard pile is 34. The lowest card I have in hand is 63. I probably can wait a while before playing the 63. It is likely someone else has a card between 34 and 63.

In later rounds, everyone will have more and more cards in hand. Having 23, 25 and 28 makes me rather nervous. I will need to play them with only short waits in between, but not too short. Someone else might just happen to have 24, or 26, or 27.

Back home, I taught my wife and children the game, and we played using our Category 5 (6 Nimmt) set. Category 5 has cards numbered 1 to 104, so I just need to remove 101 to 104 to be able to play The Mind.

I did need to print another piece of paper to keep track of the number of lives, the number of shurikens, and the round number.

When one player has 99 and another has 100, this seems dangerous, but is actually not at all. The person with the 100 just needs to insist on holding on to it until everyone else plays. The 99 will eventually relent. When one person has 98 and another has 99, that's dangerous. It is very difficult for them to judge the right time to play their cards.

The Thoughts

Some call The Mind a team building exercise. It is indeed like a psychological test, or a social experiment. A big part of the fun is seeing how your group explores the tactics and how you develop your ideas on how best to beat the game. It is even better if the group does not discuss tactics. Let everyone work out a method that works for him, and also works with the others in the group. Through failing, you gradually discover what works and what doesn't. That journey is fun. Having played 9 games with different people and at different player counts, I feel I have developed a decent technique. However I still have not yet won a game, so my technique might not be the best.

Playing The Mind is a fresh experience. One way I would describe it is: real-time Hanabi. You need to play cards in ascending order, and you have many nervous moments hoping the card you play is the right one. My gut feel is once you and your group work out an ideal way to play, there will be no more feeling of discovery. You are just executing and hoping you get lucky enough to go all the way through. Even so, the number of games you are going to play to get to that stage will already be good value for money. Even if you have developed a solid method, victory may not be guaranteed. It will still be an exciting exercise with surprises. The rulebook suggests variants to make the game harder if you find the default easy.

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