Full disclosure: A review copy of Medium was provided by Greater Than Games.
Alright, Medium is a party game. I know, right? Me, reviewing a party game. Almost never happens. Last time it was Just One, and I guess I’ve got Mr. Face somewhere in my pipeline? Don’t tell anyone; it’ll be our secret, okay? Anyways, it’s from Storm Chaser Games (delightful people; met them at Gen Con) and Greater Than Games picked it up for a wider distribution, so let’s talk a bit more about this new party game and see what’s going on with it.
In Medium, you are fledgling psychics trying to access the most valuable resource of all: the thoughts of other players! You’re trying to, at least. I can’t say that it always works or that it’s all that useful, but hey, if you can pull it off you’ve got a real career ahead of you reading fortunes until you eventually get arrested for fraud in a massively unexpected bit of irony. But that’s later. For now, try to focus, clear your mind, and reach out with your third eye or whatever. I don’t know a lot about this. Will you be able to become a proper medium? Or will your score just end up more of a small?
Medium is pretty straightforward to set up (a bit difficult to put away). If you have more than two players, just take one set for every player you have after the first one and shuffle them together (3 players, two sets; 4 players, three sets; etc.):
Split the bottom third of the deck off and shuffle in the three Crystal Ball cards:
Deal each player six cards. If you’re playing with ESP (Extra Special Powers), give each player one card of a type and don’t use the other:
Finally, separate out the Attempt Tokens into types, turn them face-down (number can’t be seen) and mix them up:
You’re all ready to start!
Anyways, Medium is a game of mind-melding as you play psychics trying to create a connection between your two minds. It’s simple; you just focus and say the exact same word at the same time. Problem is, there are a lot of words. So how do you narrow it down? It’s simple.
On your turn, you’ll be partnered with the player to your left. Play a word from your hand. It might be something like MONEY. The player to your left thinks about it, and plays a word from their hand, like GREEN. Now you prep for a second and count down. At the same time, say a word that you think is between those two words. The medium! (I’d say DOLLAR, but if you want to try this with someone else, you may get a different result). If you get it right, take a First Attempt token and flip it up; your team scores that many points. If you don’t, the two words you said are now your words and you’ll attempt again. Just remember; you can’t say a word that was already said, and you can’t say the words on the cards. If you get it right this time, take a Second Attempt token; if not, try again with the same rules! If you miss it on the Third Attempt, you score 0.
Players then draw back up to refill their hand with the card they played. If you draw a Crystal Ball, reveal it and then discard it face-up.
Once three Crystal Balls are revealed, the game immediately ends; the pair with the most points wins!
Extra Special Powers
Once you’ve played a bit, you can use the Extra Special Powers to make the game a bit more varied. One allows you to guess a word when another team guesses; if you match with both or either player, you also get a First Attempt Token. They still need to match with each other to earn that!
If you play the other, you may discard cards and then redraw the same number. It’s great when you’ve got a bad hand, sure, but it’s even better later in the game when you’re in the lead and you want to try and end the game.
Either way, each power can only be used once!
If you, like me, have only one friend, you can play this at two. Use three sets and just play with your co-player until you get three Crystal Balls. Try to beat your high score!
Player Count Differences
Yeah, so, I’m not going to play this at two players; it’s a party game. That said, it’s not a terrible way to learn how to play it, so, if you want to teach it running a quick 2P game isn’t necessarily the worst. It’s like teaching Sprawlopolis by playing a 1P game of it in like 5 minutes. Faster is better.
I will say at higher player counts that the game can drag a bit, especially since there’s not a ton of guidance about how long to give players on their turn. I’d say let every decision take 10 – 15 seconds (20 if you’re generous); longer than that and you’re going to really feel the downtime between your turns. It helps somewhat if you have the ESP Card that allows you to guess an opponent’s word, since that keeps you a bit more engaged, but otherwise I’d just recommend about 4 – 5 players for this game. Either way, it’s still solidly fun when you’re playing.
- Broad. Think broadly. Don’t go for Anakin Skywalker, go for Jedi. Don’t say cerulean; go for blue. The higher-level you go, the more likely you’re going to actually sync up with someone. Too many players end up going too deep and then they end up missing each other and screwed for the next attempt. Definitely a downward spiral effect.
- Don’t play haphazardly. Be particular with the cards you choose, and try to pick a card once you’ve already thought of a good, simple word that it goes with. That will help a lot.
- Try to leverage shared history, if you can. This game works a lot like Taboo in that having a shared background with another player can give you a real edge, if you can hook into any of those events or memories.
- Keep in mind you’re on the same team. I … sometimes players aren’t the most cooperative in this game, and that never makes any sense to me. You’re literally going to win or lose with your co-player and teammate, so you should try your best to make sure you’re coming up with words that you’re both capable of guessing. Don’t just go wild.
- Use your ESP card wisely. This one is crucial. When you play one correctly, you can leverage that to earn 6 points. That’s an individual 6 points that can catapult you to a rare solo victory even if your team happens to win (or maybe it gets applied to the team of your choice at the end of the game? Who knows). With the other, you can really use it to great effect by burning some cards towards the end of the game to try and dig out the second or third Crystal Ball so that you can end the game while you’re still ahead of other players. It’s an aggressive move, but if it earns you the win it can’t be all bad.
- Even a Third Attempt is better than no points at all. Try to make sure you end up with some points on a turn; you don’t have many opportunities to catch up otherwise.
- Keep in mind that the game is called Medium. You’re not trying to say synonyms of your word; you’re not trying to pull your opponent towards you; you’re trying to come up with a word that sits between the two words that you’ve played. It’s important to remember that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. I like the idea of a bunch of psychics trying to see how well they can commune or something.
- Very clean graphic design. The cards are really easy to read, which I super appreciate. It makes it easy to see the text and also what set they belong to, and I really like the bold lines as well.
- Also, an awesome color scheme. Yeah this is the best part, in my opinion. It’s a super neon poppy color scheme and it looks excellent. It’s definitely a party game that will catch players’ eyes, so I’d expect it to see a lot of play. It makes me wish Just One had been a bit more experimental.
- Very easy to learn. It’s really just play two cards and try to say the word in between them. That’s the whole game. It’s hard, yes, but it’s not that hard to learn, which I always appreciate.
- Also a fun game to sorta play while it’s not your turn. I definitely find myself trying to come up with what word the people are going to say, and I’m super excited if I’m right for either. It lets you engage a bit if you’re not playing, though I wouldn’t quite call it playing either.
- The cards are kinda flimsy. Especially for a game where the cards are going to be handled a lot by a lot of different people (most party games), I’m kind of surprised that the cards aren’t a bit thicker. It’s fine, but it’s probably not going to hold up to any form of abuse.
- Also just … not a particularly normally-sized box. I made it work, but, I wish it were easier to have games with fairly standardized box sizes. Right now it’s extremely haphazard.
- Not much in the way of a catch-up mechanism. It would be kind of interesting if it were something simple, like a team can’t re-draw cards until another player scores or while they’re more than X points ahead of the next closest player. In its current state, as long as the team can keep crushing it, they can stay ahead of the rest of the players without much ability to intervene. Not the worst in a party game, but not the best.
- Definitely a game that takes some time to warm up on. It’ll be rare to see teams doing that well on the first few rounds, and that, I think, can be discouraging. It helps somewhat, strangely, if you have some experienced players demonstrate a few rounds before the game starts to show that it can be done; I think that really boosts confidence.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Medium is a pretty great party game! I think a lot of that is that I like word games a lot, and this reminds me favorably of my favorite wordish party game, Anomia, but it also adds some interesting spins to it. Rather than competing with someone else, you’re going to depend on them to help you get the right word. That isn’t to say this is an easy game; I think a lot of players actively struggle with it at the beginning, and a gracious teacher should show some sample rounds so that they can demonstrate both that it’s possible and how to actually go about doing it. I think that’ll get you a lot farther than just throwing people into the game without any preparation. Again, though, that’s just me. Boosting the game is some really sharp graphic design and a rad color scheme; I wish more games did the dark / neon hybrid look. It really pops on the box and makes the game catch your eye, and that’s exactly what you want from a party game. I think Insider and A Fake Artist Goes to New York have this down, but that might just be because all Oink Games have a really good sense of graphic design? Who knows. Either way, I think Medium is a blast, and if you’re looking for a smart new party game to show your friends, family, or rivals, I’d definitely recommend checking it out! I’ve had lots of fun with it.