Board Game Review: THE MIND

Are you psychic? No? Well then good luck.

I honestly don’t know if the board game community draws a pedantic line between games with actual boards and card games, but I’m going to pretend it doesn’t. Simply put, I would like to review both but don’t want to come up with two different headline structures. Not in this economy, gang.

Besides, a game is a game, regardless of how complicated or simple it is to play. And it’s hard to imagine a simpler game than The Mind. In terms of mechanics, that is. Underneath The Mind’s easy conceit is a game that will drive you and your pals absolutely nuts with fun tension.

So here’s the deal. The Mind is a deck of cards numbered one to one hundred. Starting on the first level, each player gets one card. Look at your card. Put it in the front of your noggin. Players place their hands together in the middle of the table and think about that card as hard as they can. At the same time, set your motherfucker to receive their psychic transmission.

Or not. I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but it is fun. Once you’re done with your psychic commune, it is time to play the game. You have to lay your cards down in sequential order. That’s it! You are not allowed to communicate, verbally or otherwise, with the other players.

So let’s say I have a one and you have a hundred. Pretty easy, right? I know no card could possibly be lower than mine. You know no card could possibly be higher than yours. No psychic required on that one. But what if I have a forty-three and you have a forty-four? What if there are four players?

Well, you can use a throwing star. You don’t start off with many of these, but they allow the group to take a unanimous vote. If successful, everyone shows their lowest card. It can be very helpful, especially early in the game, but you can’t use them very often.

If someone puts down a card higher than a card being held by another player, you lose a life. So if I put down a sixty-four while you happen to be holding a sixty, we’re screwed. Luckily, you have more than one life to lose. And as you ascend levels, you gain back both lives and throwing stars.

Unfortunately, you also start getting larger hands. Each player gets one card for level one, two cards for level two and so on. A four-player game must beat level eight to win. A two-player game must beat level twelve. What I’m saying here is that this is not a game you are likely to beat. Other than extreme luck, the only way I can see it happening is by playing with the exact same group over and over again until you have even their most subtle “tells” totally memorized. You can’t overtly communicate your cards, but your reactions, your confidence and your nervousness all tell stories regardless. So no, The Mind won’t grant you true psychic powers. But it will teach you to read your friends like a conman pretending to have true psychic powers! Next best thing!

(I should add that the game’s instruction pamphlet ends with a secret upside down section called “How does this whole thing work?” that apparently reveals some major secret to the game. I can’t fathom what that would be, but I also haven’t read it and only plan to on my deathbed or if I ever decide to never play this game again.)

The Mind is a game I keep in my car’s glove compartment rather than my closet because it’s so easy to whip out in any given scenario where you and a friend (or friends) have some time to kill. It only takes a moment to teach, a second moment to practice and then a third moment to fully grasp it and go nuts. The game’s balance and design is just beautiful like that, perfectly simple and yet somehow impressively deep and engrossing. Of all the games I’ve forced my friends to play, this is by far their favorite, and when your group really gets on a roll, it’s difficult not to bother others with your screams of terror and shouts of triumph.