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Game Overview: Mind Up!, or My Hit from BGG.Spring 2023

by W. Eric Martin

As any gaming event winds down, attendees start asking one another, “Discover anything good? What was the best thing you played?” We’re hoping to discover new games that we might want to play, sure, but the question also seems to carry a wish for the other person: I hope that you enjoyed yourself. Did you have a good time? Are you satisfied that you came? Did you spend those hours of your life in a satisfying manner?

In that spirit, I thought I’d talk about my hit of the show for BGG.Spring 2023, which ran May 26-29. That game is Mind Up!, a card game from Maxime Rambourg and Catch Up Games that I played eight times on a review copy with all player counts from three to six. I wrote about Mind Up! in February 2023, noting that it has “a simple premise and lots of interactivity”, while adding “Sounds like a recipe for what I want to see on the table!” — and that expectation was resoundingly met.

For reference, let’s look at a six-player game that’s one turn into a round:

To win, you want points. Over the course of a round, you collect seven cards. My first collected card above is pink; if I get more pink, those cards will go in the same pile, and if I collect a new color, it gets placed in the next column over. At the end of a round, each card is worth points based on where it’s placed — in this case, 3-4-1-5-2 points per card — with bonuses and minuses affecting the sum.

On a turn, you all play a card from your hand simultaneously, then you arrange those cards in order from low to high underneath the cards already on the table, then you collect the card above the card you played. The played cards become the targets for the next turn. After six turns, you place the last card in your hand into your collection. Score those cards, then pick them up because those seven cards form your hand for the next round! After three rounds, whoever has the most points wins.

Everything about this design clicks for me:

• You can explain the game in a couple of minutes.

• You interact with others directly by competing for items in a common pool.

• You generally know what others want — if they have green on the 5 card, they want more green! — giving everyone clarity about other players’ goals…which informs your own decision.

• You feel the impact of having more or fewer players at the table, so player count is meaningful rather than merely being an indication of how many components are in the box.

Playing with three gives you more control, but fewer card options

• Your action matters twice, determining which card you collect now while creating a target for next time, whether one to avoid or pursue.

• You start in a fog that disperses over the course of play; no new cards enter the game, so while initially you know only that the deck contains cards numbered 1-60, after the first round you’ve seen all the cards, you know which colors are plentiful and which are short, and (in theory) you know all the numbers in play.

• You don’t really know all the numbers unless your memory is far better than mine, so you’re forced to act from intuition rather than calculating the perfect move.

• You are repeatedly surprised, both positively (which makes you feel good about your choice for that turn — “I’m smart!”) and negatively (which you shake off because the “luck” of who played what just didn’t fall your way — “Maybe next time!”).

• You build toward that final card play, ideally ending on a high note. (Again, “I’m smart!”)

• You shuffle the scoring cards each round — for example, this round they’re 5-4-2-1-3, then they’re 1-5-2-3-4, then 3-1-2-4-5 — which affects how you play your hand and heightens the lottery feel of the game.

• You end at just the right time, late enough that you get to use knowledge learned during play, but not so long that you feel like you’re repeating yourself.

The most obvious comparison for Mind Up! is 6 nimmt!, Wolfgang Kramer’s classic card game from 1994 in which players each play a card from their hand simultaneously on a turn, after which the cards are lined up, with players hoping that their card doesn’t land in the wrong spot.

What was interesting is that some players said they liked 6 nimmt! and enjoyed Mind Up! just as much, if not more, and some players said they hated 6 nimmt!, but enjoyed Mind Up! despite the similarities. I think those latter feelings come from two elements. First, in 6 nimmt!, scoring is all negative. The best you can hope for on a turn is playing a card and having nothing happen to you. It’s a game of avoidance and (ideally) schadenfreude, whereas in Mind Up! you collect a card each turn that (almost always) adds to your score. Sure, you might have wanted the blue for 5 points, but you got an orange for 3 points that bears a +1 bonus, so that’s almost as good.

My best round of the show: 39 points

Second, the cards cycle in Mind Up!, giving you additional reasons for deciding what to play when. Perhaps only two purple cards are present in a three-player game, and you have one in hand that you can play now, then likely collect next time to fill your 1 slot. That increases the chances of the other cards you collect landing in more valuable spots. Of course that plan might not work, but you can still make such plans, especially if you can also track some of the numbers in players’ hands. I could recall the three or four lowest and highest cards so that helped a bit in terms of assessing whether I might get sniped or when it was safe to play a particular card to grab something on the end of the row.

I mentioned a lottery earlier, and Mind Up! very much feels like you’re gambling. You play the odds that your card will end up in the position you want, akin to playing a slot machine and hoping for three cherries. Sometimes you play the 21 in a six-player game, and it is unexpectedly the highest card played — which creates a nice “How did that happen?!” moment — and sometimes you hit perfectly, prompting a clenched fist “Yes!” before you grab your treasure.

Three-way tie, which Michelle won by having the largest score in the final round

Scores in a round have ranged from a low of 18 to a high of 41, but they’re often relatively close, giving you the feeling that one big score in the final round can still propel you to victory.

I was slightly misleading earlier when I said everything about this design clicks for me. I’ve yet to play with the optional objective cards. The game includes 14 such cards, and you can lay out a new one at random each round or leave out multiple ones for the entire game. I understand that variability is a selling point for publishers, but so far I feel like I’m getting all the variability I need from the base game and don’t want to add unneeded distractions.

Here’s a sampling of the objective cards from the English rulebook:

You don’t use objective cards bearing the same letter

Note that despite the existence of an English rulebook from the publisher, currently only a French edition exists, having been released by Catch Up Games in mid-May 2023. Many titles from this publisher have been licensed for release elsewhere in the world, so perhaps it will show up in different editions down the road.

I brought only a few games with me to play at BGG.Spring 2023 — after all, we have a library on site with several thousand games that attendees can borrow — and I’m grateful that Mind Up! was one of them as I got to share it with many people and (I hope) helped them have a good time.

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