Hidden movement games, where one player creeps around the board in secret and the other have to work out their location, can be problematic. There’s the obvious issue of confusion or outright cheating. The hidden player has limited active playtime while their opponents’ plot. And it’s hard to get the right balance of hints to keep the game engaging. Even undisputed classics of this genre like Fury of Dracula and Specter Ops suffer these issues to some degree.
None of this has stopped designers from trying, though, because piecing together clues as you chase the suspect is such fun. The latest game to try is Mind MGMT, a title inspired by a comic book of the same name (see it on Amazon) about a shadowy psychic spy network. One player is the recruiter, looking for talent to join the organization. The others are rogue agents, trying to track them down.
What’s in the Box
As a game based on a graphic novel, everything from the board to the box itself uses art from the comic. The watercolor art of its author, Matt Kindt, is distinctive and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying it gives the game a unique look. While it leaves some components, such as the gridded board, looking a bit sparse, others stand out, like the surreal feature cards.
For the hidden player, there’s a wipe-clean copy of the board to track their movement and a screen to hide it behind. There’s a whiteboard marker too for both sides to use, as some of the tokens used by the rogue agents can be written on to make notes. Both sides have some cardboard standees of head art from the comics to move on the board.
That sounds like a poor haul of components to have in the very large and awkward box the game arrives in. The rest of the space is taken up by fourteen sealed tuck boxes, seven for each side, which won’t be part of your first play. We’ll return to these mysterious items later.
Rules and How it Plays
With one side hiding and the other hunting, the rules for the two factions are quite different. Indeed, the rulebook looks daunting with its cramped text and colored boxes for optional rules. In fact, the core framework isn’t that hard: there are introductory and advanced rule sets explained together in one booklet, which make it feel confusing.
Play starts with the hidden recruiter declaring their start space and then making five moves in secret. They’re not allowed to revisit a space they’ve been in. Behind their screen, they will have three feature cards that correspond to icons on the board: there are two features in most spaces. To gain recruits and ultimately win the game, they have to visit these features and record the growing tally of their recruits in public.
After that, the game begins in earnest as the rogue agents can start to search for the recruiter. There are four agents and on their turn, each can move two spaces and take an action. The most common one is to ask the recruiter about a feature in the agent’s space. If the recruiter has ever visited a space with that feature they must place a footstep token on the board in any one such space.
Another key action the agents have is the reveal, which they can use in a space with a footstep token. The recruiter must then reveal when they were in that space, a critical clue since it lets the agents know how far away the recruit is. However, it takes two agent actions in the same space, first the ask, then the reveal, to get this information, by which time the recruiter can be several spaces away.
These are the parameters of the puzzle, and what a wonderful puzzle it is, slowly coalescing for the hunters while the hunted does their best to misdirect and escape the closing jaws. Based on the time, the clues and deductions about what features the recruiter is visiting, the agents must try and piece together where the recruiter is headed, then get to the right space and make a capture action. Mind MGMT provides just the right drip-feed of data to keep everyone engrossed, discussing details and ratcheting up the tension as time ticks on.
Meanwhile, the recruiter is scheming to slip the net and win either by collecting enough recruits or running the time down. As well as being mealy-mouthed with their replies to ask actions they have other tricks up their sleeves. They can make a single two-space move during the course of play, telling the agents they have done so, and can also move diagonally through spaces with no features. It may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than enough to give the agents the runaround and satisfy the voyeur’s itch that makes hidden movement so compelling.
By themselves, these parameters would shape an enjoyable game. But Mind MGMT goes further and dismantles the barriers built in to hidden movement. It’s fast, for starters, wrapping up in an hour or so. And the pace is quick, with the four agent turns each round interspersed with two for the recruiters to sustain interest. The hidden map and the way clues are dispensed make it hard to give inaccurate information by accident but if it happens, there’s even a rule to help rebalance the game. It’s a great package.
However, this is just the introductory game. The full ruleset adds a number of fascinating wrinkles. Barriers to movement are added, and the agents get special powers to mimic their comic book inspirations plus an ally they can activate for an extra bonus. To compensate, the recruiter gains control of four “immortal” pawns that represent the self-healing enforcers of the agency which can block agents from taking actions and even gather recruits themselves.
The result is an extraordinary web of clue and counter-clue, woven around more traditional strategic concerns like position and action efficiency. The only thing it really seems to lack is the scope of some of its brethren which stray into things like booby traps and combat. But like the Mind MGMT agency itself, even this appearance is deceptive.
Remember those mysterious tuck boxes, keyed to either side? After your initial full game, the losing side is instructed to open their first box. Inside they’ll find a little snippet from one of the comic books and some cards and tokens that expand their options, giving them a boost for the next play. As more boxes are opened, you can pick and choose which of these extra elements you want to include in each game. We won’t spoil the contents, but it’s a wonderful way to keep the game surprising and fresh and keep you coming back for more.