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.
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