24 September 2018
It’s the year’s most controversial game, and it’s mental
The Mind is that rare thing: a game unlike almost anything you’ve played before. It’s too early to tell if it’s the harbinger of a new style of gaming or a one-off curio. And it divides people: some love it, and some refuse to admit it’s a game at all.
It sprang from the mind of newly-crowned wunderkind designer Wolfgang Warsch, who landed an unprecedented three Spiel des Jahres nominations this year, and small publisher NSV, best known for 2015 nominee The Game – not the ‘You just lost the Game' The Game, The Game that’s 100 cards that must be played in order. (You just lost the Game.)
Like The Game, The Mind is also 100 cards that must be played in order. It’s a co-op with 12 rounds. In round one the players each get one card and, working as a team, they have to put them on the table in order: low to high. If you screw up you lose one of three lives; if you don’t screw up you move to round two, now with two cards each, and so on. But you can’t confer or show the others your cards before you play them. That’s it. That’s the whole game: trying to work out when to play your cards.
“And that,” you are asking, “got a Spiel des Jahres nomination?”
Listen, my friend. I was like you. I was a sceptic. Then I tried it.
The Mind is extraordinary.
It’s not like any other game. It has similarities to The Game and to Antoine Bausa’s brilliant Hanabi, but it’s so stripped back and rules-light that it’s an utterly pure experience.
It’s all about trying to read the other players and gauging whether a long pause means that nobody is holding a card between the 51 on the table and the 68 in your hand. There’s almost no strategy; instead it demands abilities that feel almost psychic. And the more you play, the more in tune your group becomes. Play speeds up. Confidence grows. Something strange happens.
Because the style of play is so simple, the highs and lows are amplified. Playing a single card in the right place feels like a victory. Finishing a round is a triumph. Completing all 12 stages of the game is… I’ll let you know when we finally do it. And hearing someone shout “Stop!”, meaning they hold a card lower than the one you just played, is a punch in the guts.
It’s a unique experience, but is it a good game? That depends where the boundaries of your definition of ‘game’ lie. In his 1938 book Homo Ludens Johann Huizinga, the first person to seriously study games and play, laid out the theory of the magic circle: a temporary space for rituals or play “within which special rules obtain… dedicated to the performance of an act apart”. Most games take place within the magic circle, but only a few contain magic. If Huizinga could have played The Mind, he would have wet himself.
There’s a little bit of magic in The Mind. It’s the simplest and freshest idea for a game you’ll see this year. It’s not for everyone, and we’re not convinced of its longevity, but it will show you abilities you didn’t know you had.
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Artist: O. Freudenreich
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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