Cooperative games are not a tabletop genre that I tend to find compelling. To me, efficiently solving a puzzle as teammates is not near as fun as attempting to outwit my fellow humans as adversaries. Enter The Mind, a little cooperative card game from 2018 that made a big splash in the hobby, even receiving a nomination for the esteemed German Game of the Year award. Unlike most other games in the cooperative space, the goal of The Mind is not efficiently putting out fires, but rather performing a magic trick.
Magician Wolfgang Warsch invites 4 participants up on stage to experience the magic trick for themselves. Warsch elegantly shuffles a deck of cards and places the stack on the table. “Ladies, and gentlemen,” Warsch begins in a booming voice, “the 100 cards before you each have a number from 1 to 100. You will each be dealt cards and must reveal them one at a time in ascending order. Sound too easy? The catch is that you cannot communicate in any way regarding the numbers you hold in your hands. Play a card out of order, lose one of your few precious lives,” he says with a mischievous grin. “Each level you will be dealt incrementally more cards equivalent to the current level. Pass level 8 before losing your last life, and perhaps I’ll let you leave with yours! Just kidding about that last part, you can leave either way. Good luck!”
Round one begins. Warsch deals one card from the deck facedown to each player, and steps back into the shadows of the stage. After glancing down at the number on your card, you look around at the other players, gauging the hesitancy and confidence on their faces. Barb’s hands are twitching. Does she have a low card? Sam is leaning back in his chair. Maybe he has a higher card? Will is making awkward eye contact. What the hell is he doing? Looking back down at your own card, you wonder where it fits into the lineup. It’s a 53, but it might be the lowest card anyone drew. Should you reveal your card first? Ah, Barb is starting to slide a card toward the middle of the table. Maybe her card is lower!? You scrunch up your face in indecision. Barb flips her card… This is The Mind, and the only way to win is by channeling your inner Professor X to make telepathic links with your teammates.
Let’s talk about magic tricks. The beauty of a well-executed trick is the reaction it elicits. Moments where the audience gasps and rational minds search for an explanation to what they just witnessed. These are the moments that inspire wonder and awe. The moments that make us embrace mystery and the unknown. In nearly every play of The Mind, players will experience a magic trick moment. With one life to spare, Barb hesitantly flips over a 43, breathing a sigh of relief when no one else has any lower cards. You then quickly extend your arm to reveal your own card, as Sam looks on in slow motion horror. You flip over a 45. Sam gasps as he throws down a 46. Will, still looking confused, plops down a 47. Stunned faces look around at each other, then everyone hollers and high fives. Sam says, “Wow! How was that possible!?”. One word. Magic.
Like most magic tricks, they are often most striking the first time you witness them. You watch with expectation and uncertainty, waiting to be surprised. If you watch the same trick repeatedly, however, some of that shine may begin to wear off, like a pair of black leather shoes that haven’t seen a brush and polish in months. You will start to pick up on some of the misdirection, some of the tempo and patterns that make the trick possible. This is how I started to feel after playing The Mind a handful of times. Unfortunately, even the best tricks can be solved. One of the best ways to restore some of the luster to those leather shoes is to polish them up by presenting the trick to a new audience. The simplicity of the rules and short playtime mean that this is a game that you can introduce to just about anyone in your life. Seeing eyes light up when they experience the trick for the first time still makes me feel like I’m part of something special, even if my role in the trick has shifted away from the participant and towards the magician. So, dear reader, do you want to see a magic trick?