Full disclosure: A preview copy of Mind MGMT was provided by Off the Page Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
This week’s a busy week for Kickstarter (honestly, the last month or so has been a pretty busy month for Kickstarter), so there’s always more to do. Next up for the week is Mind MGMT, by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim. Sen worked on a title that I believe is almost-critically underrated: The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, so, when I heard about another title from him, I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t played anything from Jay, but I’m definitely interested in the new Scooby-Doo game they collaborated on, so we’ll see what happens there. Either way, this has very little to do with Mind MGMT, so, let’s dig into that game and see how that all shakes out.
In Mind MGMT, you have two options: join the organization and pursue world domination, or take a stand as a Rogue Agent and try to bring down a once-noble organization that is corrupting from the inside. You know what they say about absolute power. The problem is, the perks for being part of a now-evil mega-organization are pretty good. You get immortal sidekicks! You just need to recruit other people! The world’s basically yours! It’s compelling. Being a Rogue Agent fighting against them is … less so. But imagine if you win? Bringing down a tyrannical shadow group? Awesome. Either way, it’s going to be complicated, so, it’s time to make a choice: which side are you on?
There’s a fair bit going on for this one, so let’s get started with it. There’s going to be two types of games, here: the Training Mission and the full game. Let’s talk about the full game, and then I’ll talk about what gets dropped for the Training Mission. Either way, one player takes on the role of the Recruiter; the remaining players will be the Rogue Agents.
For the full game setup, you’re going to mostly focus on the Recruiter. That player sets the board down, facing them:
They also set the Secret Map behind the Player Screen:
Now, before doing anything else, players place Mayhem; this is basically just to change up the map, similar to a game of Burgle Bros., which is definitely not where I got the pieces from for the preview. Take turns placing them between two spaces on the board, but remember that Mayhem can’t touch other Mayhem, even at right angles. Now, have the Recruiter take one of the Recruiter Cards and one of the Mind Slip tokens, giving the other to the Rogue Agents:
And they’ll hold on for a second so that the Rogue Agents can get set up. The Rogue Agents get their cards:
Slide the Actions underneath of their spots on the board. The Potentials are just explanations of the Recruiter’s potential powers, and the Ally is a fun, one-use person you can hang with. Now, give them the characters:
Split them up as evenly as you can between the players who are playing the Rogue Agents. If there aren’t enough to split evenly, the remaining Rogue Agents are Jaeger-piloted by the Rogue Agent players as a team.
The Recruiter has actions, as well; they should place those cards below their side of the board. The Immortals can be set up, but shouldn’t be placed yet:
Set the Mental Notes nearby:
Set the Step tokens nearby, too:
And give the Recruiter the Recruit meeples and the Time token:
Now, the Recruiter sets up their secret map. They’re going to first write a 1 on any space on their Secret Map. This is where they start (and technically represents 1:00 on the Time Track). Generally, you should not pick the outside edge of the board, but I’m a hastily-written board game review, not a cop, so, go off.
Next, you’ll draw your Feature Cards. Take three from the deck, after shuffling them, and keep them behind your player screen (so the other player(s) cannot see it):
Your life will be much easier if you circle all the spots on your secret map with those symbols.
Now, you’ll take 4 steps. Not to get too much into gameplay, but a Step is an orthogonal move between two spaces. If you’re entering or exiting a Temple space, you may also move diagonally. Either way, you’ll write 2, then 3, then 4, then 5 as you move between spaces. After you finish, place the Time Token on the 1:00 – 5:00 space and place one Recruit Meeple on that space of the track for every symbol matching one of your three secret Feature Cards on a space you Stepped through. Finish the Recruiter’s setup by placing the four Immortals on spaces on the board. They may be placed on any space that is not on the outside edge of the board. Then, draw two more Feature Cards and place them under Immortal Recruiting; more on that later.
Finally, the Rouge Agents finish up. First, they place a Mind Slip token anywhere adjacent to one of the Temples (orthogonally or diagonally), and then they place their Rogue Agents on spaces on the outside edge of the board. Once you’re ready, the game starts with the Recruiter’s 6th Step!
For a lighter first game, make the following changes:
- Everyone: Don’t play with Mayhem.
- Recruiter: Play without the Immortals and the second Mind Slip token. You just start with the one and the Rogue Agents don’t get the second one. Similarly, without the Immortals, there’s no Immortal Recruiting and no Move Immortal Action card. Additionally, indicate your starting space (1:00) on a Mental Note token and place it on the board. Place two Recruit Meeples on the 15:00 and 16:00 spaces and remove another one from the game, so you have 9 meeples instead of 12.
- Rogue Agents: Flip your Character Cards over so that you’re not using their Special Abilities. Also, get rid of your Ally and Push + Shakedown Action cards.
Over the course of the game, the Recruiter will be sneaking through the shadows, trying to recruit (as you might guess) talented individuals to their side of the battle. The Rogue Agents have to stop them at any costs, but they cannot find them! If they manage to Capture the Recruiter, they win. If the Recruiter hits their recruiting target or lasts until time runs out, they win!
The Recruiter starts first, and their turn is always the same.
First, the Recruiter takes a Step. As mentioned previously, the Step is an orthogonal move between any two adjacent spaces. You may not enter a space that you have entered before. If you cannot move without doing that, you lose. If you’re entering or leaving a Temple space, you may also move diagonally. If you pass through a space with one of your Recruitment Card symbols on it, do nothing. You will indicate it later. If you want to use one of your Mind Slip tokens, simply indicate that you’re using a Mind Slip by placing it on the Time Track next to your current Round. Make sure you mark your new location by writing the round number on your secret map.
Next, you may move an Immortal one space in any direction, orthogonally or diagonally. If you would like, you may place a Step token on any space you’ve previously visited to move an Immortal again.
If two Immortals are on a space with a symbol on a card in Immortal Recruiting, you may discard that card and place a Recruit Meeple by that symbol on the board. This is helpful!
To indicate that your turn is over, move the Time token up one space to the current round. If you’ve moved it onto a red space, place Recruit Meeples on that space equal to the number of recruits you’ve gained in the last two turns.
Also, once you’ve moved onto the space with the second Mind Slip token, at any point you may claim it and place it in front of you (or use it). This gives the Rogue Agents some information, but it also gives you a Mind Slip!
Rogue Agent Turn
Rogue Agents’ turns are a little more complicated. For one thing, each turn, only two of them may activate, and each Rogue Agent can only activate one turn per round.
On their turn, they may Move and perform one Action (in either order), but they must complete their Move (they can’t do a partial Move, then an Action, then finish the Move).
Move: You may move up to two spaces orthogonally, just like the Recruiter, but double. You can occupy the same space as Rogue Agents or Immortals; no sweat.
Ask: As your action, you may choose one of the two features on your current space and ask the Recruiter about it. A Temple does not count. If the Recruiter has ever been on one or more spaces with that feature, they must choose one of them and place a Step token on it. If that space already has a Step token or a Confirmed Mental Note on it, they cannot place a Step token there. If no such spaces meet that criteria, the Recruiter can say “bust” to indicate that the Ask had no answer. The Rogue Agents are allowed to use Mental Notes to indicate spaces on the board that you haven’t been to as of some time, but that is the only note-taking they are allowed to do. You cannot Ask if either of the following is true:
- You are sharing a space with an Immortal;
- You are Asking about a feature that matches a feature on any space with an Immortal on it.
Reveal: If you are on a space with a Step token, you may discard it to force the Recruiter to indicate what time they were on that space. They should write it on a Mental Note, Confirming it. A Confirmed Mental Note cannot be moved or removed. You cannot perform this action while sharing a space with an Immortal.
Capture: If you believe you are on the same space as the Recruiter, you may attempt to Capture them. If you are unsuccessful, they should indicate MISS. If you are successful, you win! You cannot perform this action while sharing a space with an Immortal.
Push & Shakedown: If you currently occupy the same space as an Immortal, you can force them out with a Push action, moving them to an adjacent space. At the same time, you can shake them down for information. Choose a Recruitment Card feature and ask the Recruiter; if it matches one of their secret Feature Cards, they must reveal it and can no longer use that card for Recruiting.
The game ends with the Rogue Agents capturing the Recruiter or the Recruiter getting 12 recruits or hitting the 16:00 mark.
Once the game ends, the SHIFT System begins! Essentially, there are packages for each team. The losing team gets to choose how many packages they want to play with. If the Campaign is tied, the other side gets the same number. If they’re losing the Campaign, the other side gets 1 fewer.
Add the components to your game and see how it changes!
The Training mission mostly functions the same, just without the Immortals or Rogue Agent abilities. Additionally, since the Recruiter only has 9 recruits and the track ends at 14:00, you’ll likely play a shorter game.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t many differences at higher player counts, but an important one presents itself: you can offload some of the mental processing to other players, which can free up your brain for more things. That’s always nice; it’s tough to remember things like how you want your plan to execute and where your opponent might be and what potential cards they have. With more people, you can just kinda bump that problem along and split it among you. While that’d normally make me lean towards “higher player counts tend to benefit the Rogue Agents”, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. It’s similar to Codenames in that having more people doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily smarter; it just means that you’re louder. Disagreements emerging between players can be disastrous if they can’t get resolved, since you’re going to be focused on that rather than catching the Recruiter. From the Recruiter’s end, it doesn’t really matter how many people there are; they only ever see the Rogue Agents. Personally, I think I’d keep this at 2 – 3, because I’m going to see diminishing returns on having more players to help solve the puzzle.
- I’m not sure there’s a ton of value in knowing exactly which Feature Cards your opponent has. I would be more bullish on it if they could only win via Recruiting, but, they can always win a different way, so if you invest too much energy into not catching them, they’ll just elude you and get away with the victory. Focus on figuring out where they are; where they’re going is just data to help you arrive at that conclusion.
- Place Mayhem to try and make corridors, if you can. Or at least make Temples slightly less useful. This limits your options, yes, but it might potentially get your opponent into a bind, as well, which you can potentially use to your benefit. After all, there are far more Rogue Agents than Recruiters, so making it harder for everyone benefits Rogue Agents slightly (since they have far more mobility, as a group).
- Push + Shakedown don’t necessarily give the Rogue Agents that much information, but they can give them more time. They just limit the cards that the Recruiter can use for Recruiting; they don’t affect the Immortal Recruiting aspect of things. That said, it can quickly mess up a Recruiter’s plans, which is always good for the Rogue Agents.
- Using the Immortals to cover your tracks is a good idea. Remember that your opponent can’t ask about any of the symbols on spaces with Immortals, so, if you can play it right, you can obfuscate a nontrivial amount of your path. Just make sure you’re not too obvious about it; if you reveal that you’re leaning heavily on that your opponents may be able to intuit some things about where you’re going or have been.
- Reveals aren’t always a bad call. They can be super useful, especially if they’re spaced far enough apart that you can figure out the intervening spaces; that’s a ton of additional information.
- If the Rouge Agents already know things, give them information that doesn’t provide any new details. If that above situation happens, now you have plenty of spaces that they already know about. This gives you, the Recruiter, the benefit of being able to leverage those spaces when you’d have to provide information. It’s the best deal, since they already know!
- Try not to cluster the Rogue Agents until you have a pretty good sense of where the Recruiter is. You don’t want to have all your Rogue Agents in one quadrant when the Recruiter is on the other side of the board. They’re fast, but not that fast. You’ll just get stuck.
- Try your best not to tell the Rogue Agents where you are, currently, if you’re the Recruiter. If there’s another place you can indicate, indicate it. This holds even more true if they’re asking on the first of their two turns. This means the other player might be able to Capture you.
- Use the Mind Slip to either get out of a bad situation or to really throw your opponents off the scent. You can basically just use it to bail, so, it’s not a bad idea if you need to slip past the Rogue Agents. You do have to indicate that you’re using it, though, which may provide some information.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- If you like hidden movement games, this can be a pretty solid one. There’s a lot to do, a lot of information to process, and a lot of deduction that needs done. Hidden Movement isn’t my all-time favorite mechanic, but I still pretty solidly enjoyed this.
- I like the Shift System a lot. I think it’s cool that each side can potentially get a boost if they lose; it incentivizes immediate replays, which is something I love when a game does well. I’ll be interested to see how the full game turns out and what other Shifts await.
- It does implicitly support drop-in drop-out play. We had a player need to go during our latest game; since they were the Rogue Agents, they could very easily just drop one and have the other player take over their Agents in their stead. Even the Recruiter could drop out and a Rogue Agent could probably defect and pick it up. I would still recommend having at least two players. Similarly, a player could drop in and pick up a few Rogue Agents without really any trouble, I think. It doesn’t seem like that was an intentional part of the design, but it’s a happy feature nonetheless.
- The Training Mission is a nice way to get acclimated with the major implements of the game. It lacks the Immortals, which add a fair bit of complication, but it’s a solidly lighter implementation of the game’s core systems, which I appreciate.
- I appreciate the game’s information economy. It’s interesting how things can be suspected or confirmed and how much information decay exists. Just because you know something is true in turn 5, doesn’t mean that it’s still true by turn 7. And that decay is important! It can lead to a lot of player bias where since I know you’ve never been to a Parrot space, I know you’re never going to one in the future. Is that true? No! Is that dangerous? Absolutely! The game plays with a lot of those elements quite successfully, if you ask me.
- You can team up with a dolphin! The ally cards are very cute; can’t wait to see what other ones emerge.
- The busy-ness of the board can occasionally make it hard to see some elements. It’s just got a lot going on. Thankfully, most of the time I can make everything out, but I sometimes lose a few elements here or there on the spaces until I look more closely.
- It’s also occasionally difficult to differentiate the Immortals and the Rogue Agents. I know they have a blue bar on them, but, it still happens. I think I just don’t always see the bar?
- The restriction on notes frustrates me a bit, because it’s hard to keep the whole game in my working memory and I could take the time to sit down and diagram everything out until I have it, but I think that would just slow the game down. It runs the risk of slowing the game down to allow players to process. It has that thing that some games have where they make things into a memory element. If you can fit it in your brain, fine, you’ll do great, but if you can’t or you’re tired you’re going to struggle since the game won’t allow you to track that information otherwise. I think that’s a bit silly, but, I understand why people go that direction.
- I think I am too risk-averse to do well frequently in this game. I almost never go for the Capture when I’m not positive, and that’s very frequently to my detriment. It’s tough! That said, I won the last game I played as the Rogue Agents, so I guess it works out sometimes?
- A lot of the rules have specific exceptions about when you can’t do certain things or make certain moves, which adds a bunch of cognitive load to an already challenging game. This is probably my biggest gripe. Move freely EXCEPT for these times. Move orthogonally EXCEPT for these times. Ask EXCEPT if this guy is on your space. Recruit EXCEPT if you’re being blocked by an opponent ability. Keeping track of all those increases the likelihood that someone will make a rules error, which isn’t always fun.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I liked Mind MGMT! Like I said earlier, I’m not the biggest fan of hidden movement games, generally speaking, but I think this one has some pretty interesting things going for it. First off, it does the thing that I like quite a bit, in that it offers multiple difficulty levels for players. You can play the Training Mission as much as you’d like before progressing to the main game. And the Training Mission is perfectly fun on its own. Less complicated; less setup time required. That might be good for you, but if you’re looking for more depth, then the full game is right up your alley. It’s nice to have options, right? I will say that the increased complexity of the full game causes me some consternation, but only because it hits me in my two weakest areas: my poor working memory and my risk aversion. You have to take some risks if you want to win, and that’s really challenging at times; you need to just … reach out and go for it. I’m not really that person, and I’m especially not that person when I’m gaming, so I tend to struggle a bit more with this one. If you like high-risk, high-reward gameplay, well, this is going to pay off nicely for you. You can very easily bet it all on one big Capture play, only to completely miss the Recruiter because they’re on the other side of the board. It’s intense! I kind of wish the theme did more for me, but I’m not familiar with the core work, so, it’s just kind of there. I’ve already seen some people that are fairly excited about it, though, so I think it’s going to land well with its audience. Beyond that, though, I think the game has some cool things going for it. Its modular difficulty adjustments via the Shift System can make the game pretty variable between plays for different groups, depending on who wins or loses, which is pretty cool. It’s also got a nifty information economy, in what you know, what your opponent knows you know, and etc. Like I said, overall, I like Mind MGMT, and if you’re into hidden movement, psychic espionage, or just the idea of a reconnaissance parrot, you might enjoy it as well!