The Mind ★★★★ | Review
The Mind is, above all, a funny game about failing to do a simple task. It’s not a complex, multilayered experience or a deep, strategic brainburner. No, it’s a short filler where you try to play numbered cards in order. There’s only one catch: You cannot talk or show your cards. All communication is forbidden. Good thing you are a psychic, right?
The Mind has a deck of cards, numbered from 1 to 100. Our goal is to play them from the smallest number to largest. We can play them any time we want and, if we succeed, we do it again at a higher difficulty level. The only limitation is that we may not communicate in any way, not even with gestures. Denied any objective basis to play our cards, the easiest mission in the world becomes a challenge.
If we want to win, we need to understand other players. How fast are their reactions? What feels like a seven to them? Are we up in the 40s in our internal count or lost in the 80s? It’s a strange experience and much closer to mind-reading than one could ever explain in text. The only game that comes close is Hanabi and that’s much more heavily rooted in logic.
More importantly, it’s truly cooperative. Players must work together to win. They need to synchronize and understand each other’s instinct. Everyone’s internal clock ticks differently and it’s by understanding those differences and bringing them together that we are able to coordinate without a single word being spoken. It’s the opposite of bluffing.
Too many cooperative titles don’t require anything of the sort. Sharp players could play the whole thing by themselves, without requiring any input from others. The Mind is fun because it forces us to empathise. And also, because getting a basic task so wrong is inherently funny. The ridiculousness of it is inherently appealing. But there are a couple good design choices too, which improve the experience.
We start at level 1, which means we’ll have a single card each. If we beat the level, we start again with one more card in hand, and so on all the way up to 12. This creates a fair difficulty curve and lets you gauge your team as you play. Losing a level doesn’t result in total defeat, either, but simply consumes one of the available lives.
Lastly, if a certain combination of numbers seems too close to comfort, players can play a shuriken. You raise your hand and, if all players do the same, we can all discard our lowest numbered card and start anew. It’s a bit like screen-clearning bombs in a shmup and the fact that it requires all player’s input makes it tie into the whole cooperative process.
It may be possible to break The Mind given enough effort. Arranging a certain rhythm beforehand or mentally counting are often listed as a way to do so. But these methods don’t truly work. Each person follows a different pace, to the degree only an intentional attempt to break will be able to do it. It’s not something players will stumble upon by accident. As long as we approach the game in good faith, we’ll always have a good experience.
Ultimately, The Mind seems so simple that one wonders how nobody thought of it before. It won’t appeal to those seeking an intellectual thrill but it doesn’t need to. Sometimes all a game needs is to be fun and The Mind sure is. It’s perfect for those moments where you need to fill up an evening or just want to have fun between more serious titles.
|THE MIND (2018)|
|DESIGN||Wolfgang Warsch||ART||Oliver Freudenreich|
|NUMBER OF PLAYERS||2-4 (Best with 3-4)||SCORE||★★★★|