Packaged in a humble tuckbox that you can slip into your pocket, Mindbug is a two-player combat game where you'll each be summoning monsters for their attack value and/or special powers. You'll be trying to score hits on your opponent and defend against being hit.
Denis Martynets' whimsical art for the game's hybrid creatures sets the tone for this light-hearted filler-length game. Published by Nerdlab, and with design credits shared between Marvin Hegen, Skaff Elias, Christian Kudahl and Richard Garfield, Mindbug may be stepping thematically on well-trodden ground but it does have some striking novelty. Richard Garfield is perhaps best known as the designer behind Magic: the Gathering (Wizards of the Coast) but this game avoids the resource collection and complexities of MtG and that game's bloat: the game comprises a deck of just 52 cards - four of which are the eponymous Mindbugs - so no deck building here. Players each take two Mindbug cards, the other 48 cards are shuffled and players are dealt 10 cards apiece. Those 10 cards become your personal deck for the game: you draw five cards into your hand and the other five cards constitute your draw deck (you always draw back up to a hand size of five until your draw deck is exhausted).
On your turn, you play a card to the table and resolve its effect. However, your opponent can choose to use one of their Mindbug cards to take the card into their play area so that it is they rather than you who benefits from the card's effect and who add it to their tableau. Alternatively, a card can be played to attack. Your opponent can use the creatures in tableau to defend against the attack. If the attack is defended, the creature with the lowest power is defeated. If the attack is not blocked by being defended, then the target player loses a life (you start with just three lives). There are keywords used on most of the cards, so you'll need to know what precisely these all mean, but there are only five keywords used in the game so they are easily learned (and they're listed and explained on the back page of the rulebook).
Gameplay therefore is simple and it's swift - our Board's Eye View plays mostly took around 15 minutes per game. Hand management is all important but the interesting dynamic at work here is the fact that you are only ever going to have 10 cards in a game, two of which can be seized by the other player (and vice versa). Even when you've learned all the cards in the Mindbug deck, you won't know specifically which ones are actually in play in this game (you only ever play with less than half the cards). This makes for a strong push-your-luck element because you are never sure exactly what you are up against. The judgement call on when to use your Mindbug cards to steal your opponent's cards is a critical one, opening this game up to a dance of bluff and counter-bluff as you will hope to entice an opponent to expending their Mindbugs on weaker cards rather than your strongest...
Mindbug is due to launch shortly on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign.
(Note: In our Board's Eye View 360, taken at Essen Spiel 2021, the dice on the table are just being used to keep score of players' remaining lives)