The publisher gifted me a review copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
Game at a Glance
Congratulations, Earthling! The Mindbug has chosen you as its human host in a fight against its ancient foes. You will be in charge of summoning up to 10 hybrid creatures in a battle to drain the life force from your opponent. Fortunately, your new parasitic overlord has gifted you two Mindbugs that can be used to control your enemies. Use them wisely and never forget that your opponent has Mindbugs of their own.
Mindbug: First Contact is a duelling card game by Christian Kudahl, Marvin Hegen, Richard Garfield, and Skaff Elias. The game consists of a deck of 48 creature cards, four Mindbug cards, and a rules sheet all contained in a small tuck box.
Setup is quick. The 48 Creature Cards are shuffled then each player is dealt 10 to create their draw pile. Both players also receive two Mindbug cards. Three face down cards from the deck act as a marker for your Life Points (players may instead choose to track their Life Points with a die or other tokens). After this simple setup, play can begin.
The goal of the game is to reduce your opponent’s Life Points to zero. Each player takes the top five cards from their draw pile into their hand, then take turns performing one of two actions per turn: play a card, or attack with a single creature.
When playing a card it is possible that your opponent will use one of their Mindbug cards to take control of it. If that happens, the creature immediately joins the enemy army and any play effects associated with that creature benefit your opponent. But if your opponent cannot or will not take control of the creature, it is added to your own play area and you get to resolve any applicable play effects.
Any creatures in your play area can be used for attacks – simply choose one, then allow your opponent to decide if they want to block it with a creature of their own. If they choose not to or cannot block it, they lose a Life Point. If an attack is blocked, the unit with the lower power is defeated and discarded. In the case of a tie, both creatures are defeated.
Most of the creature cards are associated with at least one of five keywords: Frenzy, Hunter, Poisonous, Sneaky, and Tough. These keywords grant special rules to the creatures during attack and/or defense actions and understanding how each work is crucial to building an effective strategy. There are also three keywords (Play, Attack, Defeated) that trigger effects at different times.
A limited release of Mindbug: First Contact set this game into the wild at Essen Spiel 21, but it will be available to back on Kickstarter starting November 23rd.
I’m approaching this game as a person who has not delved into the Collectible Card Game (CCG) scene. I have not played a game of Magic: The Gathering since I was maybe 11 years old and although my kids have Pokemon cards, they seem to function more as floor coverings and vacuuming obstacles than parts of a playable game.
That being said, I’m familiar enough with Magic: The Gathering to know that there are a lot of similarities in mechanics here. It’s the addition of the Mindbug cards that sets this game apart from any other duelling card game I have tried. They are powerful and add so much depth to an otherwise simple and familiar game mechanic. They are multi-functional – they help to create balance in the game (because if you do not like your hand it is possible to get new cards) but they also add a lot of tactical intrigue. This game is full of tension and mind games because of these little buggers.
Figuring out just when to use these cards is extremely important and not always easy. They create a risk for both players – you cannot count on any cards in your hand for strategic reasons until your opponent has exhausted their Mindbugs. Trying to figure out what to steal, and likewise which creatures my opponent might steal, makes this game so enjoyable to me. Often I find myself trying to lure my opponent into using their Mindbugs up so I can play something powerful without fear of it turning on me. And every time I decide to use one of my own Mindbugs, I am second-guessing if I am playing into their hands. Not only do I need to find ways to counter my opponent’s cards, but I must think of how I might counter my own cards if they are stolen. If I can’t, playing them is too risky. I love these decisions because it makes the experience so exciting! There are mind games to be played in Mindbug: First Contact, for certain.
The different keywords create several different strategies and opportunities for offensive and defensive plays. For example, if your opponent is playing Sneaky creatures you should try to add your own Sneaky creatures to your army for defense. Alternately, you may play Hunter creatures in an attempt to take them out. If you cannot manage to play either of these creatures, it would be wise to use a Mindbug and take that Sneaky creature for yourself. The different Keywords and Trigger Abilities create a dynamic duel that should keep players of all skill levels on their toes.
I always appreciate when a game is good straight out of the box without the need for expansions or booster packs, so I appreciate that Mindbug has eliminated the need to purchase booster packs to remain competitive. Everything needed to have a successful and balanced duel is contained in one small box. Both players draw 10 random cards from one deck and it is up to the players’ own skill and cleverness to try to outmatch the other player.
The game plays very quickly, so several games can be played back-to-back. Replayability seems high to me. Each game two players will receive 10 random cards out of 48 (32 if we are only counting unique cards). Combine that with the ability to steal and lose up to 2 cards, it’s very unlikely that two games will play out the same.
This is a duelling game, so interactivity is high, especially with the addition of theft added in. Players can and should try their hand at bluffing here. It’s also quite accessible – the rules do not take long to pick up so players can get to duelling quite quickly. My 9 year old son was able to pick it up in a matter of minutes and beat me. I think it would be handy to have 2 reference cards thrown in the deck with the keyword definitions on them, but it doesn’t take long to memorize their functions so that is not entirely necessary.
The cards are illustrated with animal hybrids that are a good blend of menace and humor. I think the artwork is a lot of fun here and fits the tone of the game perfectly. The iconography is minimal and intuitive. The packaging on this implementation is not deluxified, but I don’t see that as a negative. I am glad that this game is so small and portable. I plan on tossing this in my purse for a quick game while waiting on a meal or to play at the airport.
Mindbug: First Contact is not flashy but I find it extremely exciting to play. I have been very impressed with how much fun is packed into this tiny little box. The addition of the Mindbug cards to the game add a lot of weighty decisions. And it plays so quickly that it is perfect for a quick filler game in between bigger games or to play at a restaurant or pub while waiting for appetizers.
It’s a wonderful alternative to Magic: The Gathering for those who cannot delve into that scene for whatever reason. All you need to create these battles for two is contained in one package.
This is a game I can enjoy with my husband and my 9 year old, and it is also something that I can introduce to people rather quickly to get a few quick games in to pass the time. I am so impressed with this little box game that I plan to check this Kickstarter campaign out right away to see what else is in store.