Recently I've played a board game called The Mind. I had an amazing experience and would highly recommend it to anyone. But I think the LW crowd might find it especially interesting, and I'll say more on that at the end.

I'll describe the game briefly, but I also recommend you watch this explanation and review of the game if you want to understand it better.

If you want to read about my personal experience with it, I'll post it in a comment. But I'd recommend you only read it after you've played the game yourself a few times and ideally got to the end.

Rules of the game

There is a deck of cards, 1-100. Each player is dealt N cards, where N is the current level. Without any kind of verbal communication the players have to play their cards into the center one by one in the increasing order. If someone plays a card and someone else has a lower card, then you've collectively made a mistake and you lose a life. I'm skipping over a few minor rules, but this is the core of the game.

The game is collaborative and supports 2-4 players. On the box it says the game takes 20-30 minutes, and that's true because you're likely to lose pretty fast. But once you get good, the game might easily take longer: 1-1.5 hours, depending on the pace your group sets.

One thing that's a bit tricky with this game is that the rules around the communication are somewhat vague. In theory, you could try to develop a language that communicates the numbers or something like that. I'd highly discourage you to do that, and in fact, I'd recommend to not do any kind of strategizing or coordination with your group. Just play it and let the strategy emerge non-verbally. Steelman the game's rules until you're having the most fun with it.

Relevance to LW

  • Circling: I think of circling as interpersonal meditation. You're very present with what's happening right now, both in yourself and in others. In this game you enter a very similar state. You're watching each player carefully for the clues they're giving you. How are they feeling? What are they trying to communicate? How do they think you're feeling?
  • IFS: This game is called The Mind for a reason. When you play the game well it feels like you're actually merging your minds with the other players. Like you're becoming one. Moreover, you learn to recognize certain tendencies or biases in other players. You learn to compensate for theirs, as they learn to compensate for yours. Sometimes when two players are unsure, they'd look to the other player for help.
  • Calibration: There are multiple things you're trying to calibrate at once. There's your "speed". There's your sense of "speed" of other players. There's the risk taking aspect / being the first one to play.
  • Non-verbal skills: Since this game doesn't allow verbal communication, non-verbals are all you have. You have to eye each person like a hawk, picking up on everything they're giving you. Likewise, you have to "tell" the other players what card you have. How do you do that? Will they pick up on your signs? What are they trying to tell you?
  • Meditation / flow state: When you're really in the zone with this game, it feels like a pristine flow state. The closest I've gotten to such awake, active, and collected state has been through meditation. Unlike the similar state from meditation it can be super tense, though.

If this seems like the kind of game you'd enjoy, I'd highly recommend you follow through on that feeling and get the game. Post a comment about your experience!


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16 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:08 AM

January 2020 CFAR played this game extensively, although we played with 8+ people instead of the recommended 4. Took a while to get past even level 1 because of the amount of synchronization required. We also didn't play with stars or lives.

I can second the feeling of close calls being amazing. To quote someone I played with, "this is the most excited I've ever felt."

Here are some haiku-ish things that I wrote that attempted to capture the experience of playing.

  • Someone has blue eyes. 100 days pass. I have mud on my forehead.
  • The absence of counting. A groan of disappointment. The jabber didn't jab.
  • Moments accumulate. A flurry of plays. The sound of a jab.
  • Arms creeping forward. Sequentially numbered cards. A hum of satisfaction.
  • A standoff begins. Arms creeping forward. Signalling intensifies.
  • Counting begins. Moments properly measured. Victory condenses.
  • CFAR workshop survey. The mind is a good game. There were also classes.

Below is my personal experience with the game. I decided not to include it in the post because I didn't want to spoil the experience for anyone else. So I do recommend you read this comment only after you've played the game yourself a few times and ideally got to the end.

Recently I've been on a huge board game kick. My wife and I have started to build up a small collection. I try to buy games that seem fun, but are also diverse and interesting. (I get most of my ideas from The Dice Tower channel, which I'd highly recommend). Anyway, that's how I ended up buying this game.

Our roommate Anna usually plays with us, so it was a three player game. The first night we played it, we got to level 5 twice. It was fun, interesting and challenging from the very first round.

One thing we learned almost immediately is that everyone's sense of "speed" is quite different. My wife, Parina, tended to be on the faster side, sometimes making large jumps. Anna tended to be a lot more cautious, which meant sometimes she'd be hesitant to play a card when she should have. Usually that meant that when the two of them would have a "conflict" (wanting to play a card before the other), it should be Anna who goes first. But even knowing that, it wasn't always easy to follow that rule (S2), since so much of the game is based in S1.

Another thing I also admire about this game is how there's no downtime. Even if you have a 100, which means you'll play last for sure, you still want to pay attention to the flow. It helps you calibrate, but it also means you could be a helpful tiebreaker if the other players are at an impasse. There were multiple amazing moments where two players would feel very uncertain, but they would turn to the third player to help them figure it out. (It's also just fun to observe.)

The second night we played it, we got noticeably better. First time we lost around level 5. But the next play through, everything clicked. We got to level 5 with more lives and shurikens than we've ever had before. The "flow" state was setting in. Basically every time we had close cards, we got the order right. I didn't think it was possible to do that, but it definitely wasn't luck. It felt like catching the perfect wave or like being in flow solving an amazing puzzle. (In a way it feels like the opposite of poker: you're trying to let the other players know what your cards are.)

Seriously, the feeling of getting close calls right is amazing!!! You're looking at 41 in the center. It's level 5, and your next lowest card is 47. You slowly try to put it down, when you notice the other player is doing it too. You lock eyes and enter a "communication dance". "No, you go" you gesture. "Eh, I'm not sure I should," they gesture. (And yes, at the peak experience it almost felt like I was hearing people speak, which is extremely rare for me. And to be clear, no drugs were involved.) You keep doing the dance. After a while you just know they have 48. Because if they had 46 they would have definitely played it by now. You take the chance and play your 47, and they follow by playing 48. The tension and the release is just pure crack. :P

Every level we completed after that we felt ecstatic! We celebrated and held hands. Sometimes we would make mistakes and lose a life. It was so emotional. In Anna's words: "I felt betrayed, alive, sad, angry, surprised." You get so in sync that it creates this strong illusion of one-mindedness that it almost hurts when it breaks.

Yet another thing I love about this game is that the collaboration works super well. If you've played cooperative board games, you've probably seen the common fail mode where one player just directs everyone else. This definitely can't happen here. Also when someone makes a mistakes, the mistake is symmetric. One person should have gone first and they didn't, whereas the other person should have waited longer and they didn't. So it's really hard to blame anyone in this game. You just learn and adjust.

We got to level 10 with 2 lives and no shurikens. A few cards in we lost another life. We were a hair away from losing the game. The next 8 cards were just pure adrenaline, but at the same time so calm and steady. No mistakes could be made. Every decision was approached with maximum consideration. When we finished the level the feeling was almost orgasmic. Like solving one of the most satisfying puzzles or hearing the most beautiful resolution to a song. There's not many things in this world that I've experienced like that.

How is "starting to play a card" not obviously cheating the "no communication" rule? And how would a third player "help out" two players who are unsure without doing any communication?

In general this feels like a timing calibration game when played correctly - since technically any other form of communication is banned, and then it reduces to something not interesting. I presume the lesson is that players find the type/level of communication that makes the game interesting and use that?

I have played the game once, it became a timing calibration game the way Alexei describes, and I second his account that it felt amazing rather than uninteresting.

I might put it as something like - while the explicit rule is that communication is banned, the point is not to actually ban all communication. Rather it is to move to a more interesting form of communication, where you are incentivized to really pay attention to the other players, and shift into a form of wordless flow. To use a physical analogy, you go from walking side to side (normal speech) to dancing together (playing The Mind).

The group I played with (same as Mark Xu's group from comment above) decided that "S2 counting is illegal (you have to let your gut 'feel' the right amount of time)" and "repeating some elaborate ritual that takes the same amount of time before your card is due is illegal" (e.g. you can stick your hand 10% of the way towards the pile when the number's 10 off from your card, and 50% of the way when it's 5 off.)

I second what Kaj said. If you’re curious I can go and copy the rules verbatim.

everyone's sense of "speed" is quite different.

There's an obvious Schelling point for that though ;) once three of us found it, our performance drastically improved, but I think I missed most of the excitement you're describing

I haven't played this, but I've watched a video of Japanese comedians playing it, which actually does give a sense of how it works.

There's a (IMO very obvious) algorithm for winning this with literally zero communication: play card N after N seconds have elapsed. I don't know how easy it is to precisely count double-digit-second intervals, but it doesn't seem that interesting to find out. It seems pretty clear that steelmanning the rules means not counting seconds.

So what you end up with is a game of reading precise system-2 information (numbers), translating it into nebulous system-1 body language, that the other players need to be able to process back into a precise number.

Yeah my feeling is... I know that we would develop some synchronization protocol and I'm not really curious about how that would happen. Developing protocols is more interesting when you can use words (because we always can, in life), or when there really is no communication at all (in which case we must sit and meditate only on the dao).

I came up with a related strategy that avoids estimating times. Take turns starting from the dealer's left. If you can play the next card in sequence, do, otherwise pass. The player on your left will eventually realise you're passing. If the pass goes all the way round the table, that card isn't in anyone's hand, so you test in the same way to see if anyone has the next card.

Of course, this also trivialises the game, so it wouldn't be used.

Thank you! I and two other players landed on this strategy independently within like 20 minutes. And then the group's performance obviously improved, but it was no longer a game, it was "count accurately."

I'll independently support that this is an amazing game. It's a really good icebreaker or way to get a sense of a person because it's both short, collaborative, and intense.

For more rationalist games, check out: Rationalist Games -- Facebook group

Love the game. Not sure I see the common thread between The Mind and rationality, though?

Rationality: not really. But the community: yes.

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