Mind MGMT Board Game Review

Hidden movement games, in which one player secretly crawls across the board while the other has to locate himself, can be problematic. There is an obvious problem of confusion or outright fraud. The hidden player has limited active game time during the plot of his opponents. And it’s hard to find the right balance of hints to keep the game fun. Even undisputed classics of the genre like Fury of Dracula and Specter Ops suffer from these issues to some extent.

None of this has stopped the designers from trying though, because it’s a lot of fun to piece together clues while you’re chasing a suspect. The last game to try is Mind MGMT, whose name is inspired by the comic book of the same name (look on amazon) about a shadowy psychic spy network. One player is a recruiter looking for talent to join an organization. The rest are rogue agents trying to hunt them down.

What’s in the box

Because the game is based on the graphic novel, everything from the board to the box uses art from the comic. The watercolor art by its author, Matt Kindt is distinctive and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that it gives the game a unique feel. While some components, like the gridded board, look a little sparse, others stand out, like the surreal feature maps.

There is a blank copy of the board for the hidden player to track their movement, and a screen to hide them behind. Both parties may also use a whiteboard marker, as some of the tokens used by fraudulent agents may be written on for notes. Both sides have several comic book head cardboard stands that can be moved around the board.

It sounds like a meager set of components in a very large and awkward box that comes with the game. The rest of the space is occupied by fourteen sealed boxes, seven on each side, which will not be part of your first set play. We will return to these mysterious items later.

Rules and how to play it

When one side hides and the other hunts, the rules for the two factions are completely different. Indeed, the rulebook looks intimidating with its cramped text and colored borders for optional rules. The basic structure isn’t really all that complicated: the introductory and advanced rule sets are explained together in one booklet, which is confusing.

The game begins with the hidden recruiter announcing his starting position and then secretly making five moves. They are not allowed to revisit the space they were in. Behind the screen, they will have three feature cards corresponding to the icons on the board: most spaces have two features. In order to get recruits and ultimately win the game, they must visit these features and publicly record the growth of their recruits.

After that, the game starts in earnest as the rogue agents can start looking for a recruiter. There are four agents, and on their turn, each can move two squares and take an action. The most common is to ask the recruiter about the features of the agency space. If the recruiter has ever visited a location with such a function, he must place a step token on the game board in any of these places.

Another key action that agents have is revealed, which they can use in a space with a step token. The recruiter then has to indicate when they were at that location, which is an important clue as it lets the agents know how far away the recruit is. However, obtaining this information requires two agent actions in the same space, first a request and then a disclosure, by which time the recruiter may be several spaces away.

These are the parameters of the puzzle, and what a wonderful puzzle it is, slowly folding up for the hunters while the prey does their best to stray and avoid the closed maw. Based on timing, clues, and inferences about which features the recruiter is visiting, agents should try to piece together where the recruiter is heading to and then get to the right location and perform the capture action. Mind MGMT delivers the right data to keep everyone engaged, discussing the details and building tension over time.

Meanwhile, the recruiter plots to slip out of the network and win, either by gathering enough recruits or cutting time. Aside from sweet responses to action questions, they have other tricks up their sleeves. They can make one move two squares during the game, informing the agents that they have done so, and they can also move diagonally through squares without features. It may not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to give agents a run-around and satisfy the voyeur’s itch that makes covert moves so irresistible.

By themselves, these parameters will make the game enjoyable. But Mind MGMT goes further and breaks down the barriers built into the stealth movement. It’s fast to start, finishing in an hour or so. And the pace is fast, with four agents alternating with two each round to keep recruiters interested. The hidden map and the way hints are distributed make it difficult to accidentally provide inaccurate information, but if it does, there’s even a rule to help balance the game. This is a great package.

However, this is only an introductory game. The full set of rules adds a number of interesting features. Movement barriers have been added, and agents are given special abilities to mimic their comic book inspirations, as well as an ally they can activate for an extra bonus. As compensation, the recruiter gains control of four “immortal” pawns, which are self-healing agency enforcers who can block agents and even pick recruits themselves.

The result is an incredible web of clues and counter-clues, woven around more traditional strategic issues such as position and effectiveness. The only thing he really lacks is the ability of some of his brethren to get distracted by things like booby traps and combat. But like the Mind MGMT agency itself, even that appearance is deceiving.

Remember those mysterious drawers with latches that close on both sides? After your initial full game, the losing side is instructed to open their first box. Inside, they’ll find a small clip from one of the comics, as well as a few cards and tokens that will empower them and jumpstart their next game. As more crates open, you can choose which of these additional items you want to include in each game. We won’t spoil the content, but it’s a great way to keep the game amazing and fresh so you keep coming back for more.

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