Mind MGMT is actively recruiting agents with latent psychic abilities. Your testing has already begun.
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Mind MGMT was originally funded through Kickstarter in April 2020 and shipped to backers in the summer of 2021. The first printing sold out quickly in retail, leading to a follow-up campaign in 2022 to add some secret mission cards and a second print run. This review is adapted from my Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, updated to reflect the finished components.
What Is Mind MGMT: The Psychic Espionage “Game”?
Mind MGMT (pronounced “mind management”) is a hidden-movement game (or is it?) for 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 45–75 minutes to play. The regular edition retails for $60 and the deluxe edition is priced at $88; both available from the publisher and in stores.
Mind MGMT was designed by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim and published by Off the Page Games, with illustrations by Matt Kindt. Mind MGMT is based on Matt Kindt’s comic book series of the same name, though prior knowledge of the books isn’t necessary to enjoy the game (especially if you’ve had the Mind MGMT training manual implanted in your subconscious as a child). Although the comic books are definitely teen-and-up territory, I think you could skew a little younger for the game, though some of the references may go over their heads.
Mind MGMT Components
Off the Page Games sent me a deluxe edition for this review, so the photos here will show the deluxe components.
Here’s what’s included:
- Game board
- Mental Screen
- Secret Map
- 4 Rogue Agent tokens
- 4 Immortal tokens
- 16 Feature cards
- 4 Rogue Agent cards
- 4 Recruiter cards
- 1 Ally card
- 2 Recruiter Action cards
- 5 Rogue Agent Action cards
- 5 Mayhem tokens
- 2 Mind Slip tokens
- 15 Mental Note tokens
- 10 Step tokens
- 12 Recruit tokens
- 1 Time token
- Setup card
- 2 Dry-erase markers
- 14 SHIFT System packages
The illustrations in the game are by Matt Kindt, the creator of the comic book series, and what’s notable is that there’s a lot of brand-new artwork, not just recycled from the comic book. The SHIFT system packages even include some little mini comics that go along with the instructions, and the board itself is a large illustration of the town of Zanzibar, with a lot of notable features scattered across it. The entire back of the main board is is a four-part comic that briefly introduces the Rogue Agents.
The game’s story is based on a secret government agency called Mind MGMT that trains agents with various psychic powers, and the features on the board include things like “subliminal billboards” and “thought-shield umbrellas.” The board is a bird’s-eye view of the town with a little bit of a fish-eye lens. The buildings and streets are all mostly beige-colored, with the special features highlighted in color so they stand out. The edges of the board include spaces for the action cards, a timeline for the Recruiter’s actions, and the 16 different features present on the board. My only complaint is that the board is designed in such a way that it’s right-side-up to the Recruiter, and upside-down to the Rogue Agents, so not everyone gets to appreciate the artwork fully.
My favorite components are probably the feature cards, which illustrate the 16 special features on the board and represent locations where the Recruiter can find potential recruits. The backs of the cards look like a poker deck (with a little hand-written note: “You’re being recruited. Whatever you do—don’t flip.”), but the fronts are all different and look like artifacts from the world. The bird card looks like a page from a field guide; the palm tree card is half of a burnt postcard; the billboard card is a coupon. There are newspaper clippings, hotel keycards, bathroom graffiti, and more, and they’re filled with the sorts of weird messages and hints that made the comic book so fascinating.
The box itself is also a great example of the art and theme: it’s made to look like an artifact from the story, a “game” that is actually intended to be an “agent testing and activation kit.” The box is made to look weathered and old, with little hand-written notes scribbled on the sides of the box, and some text that has been modified with pen and highlighter to spell out hidden messages. It reminds me a little of the Portal board game, which was also designed to look like something from the Portal universe. I really like seeing publishers have fun with the packaging like this—it helps immerse you in the theme right from the start.
There are also lots of places—on the box, on the board, and so on—where you’ll find some red and blue text overlaid. The time token is a red lens that lets you read the hidden blue text.
The “mental note” tokens are plastic tokens that you can write on with the whiteboard markers, and are used by the Rogue Agents to mark spaces on the board to keep track of where they think the Recruiter has been.
The recruiter screen looks like a side view of some of the buildings in Zanzibar (and has a lot of the various recruitment features hidden in it). The back of the screen has four pockets where you can put the feature cards, but I’ve found that the pockets are pretty tight and it can be difficult to get the cards in.
There are X SHIFT packages; half of them are for the Recruiter and half for the Rogue Agents, and they’re kind of like mini-expansions. Each one has a mini-comic, some number of components, and instructions for use, which will add complexity to the game and also provide a slight advantage to that team. I’ll explain a little more in the How to Play section.
Throughout the rulebook and on the box insert and various other places there are words paired with a wavy-lines symbol—these can be entered into a website to unlock a special card for the game, unlocking new gameplay options. The “Secret Missions” expansion is a physical set of these cards. Some of the words simply need to be found (and there are some easy ones), but there are some that require some code-breaking, and I still haven’t figured all of them out yet!
In keeping with the “inner mind” theme of the game, several of the components use an interesting cut-out design. The step tokens look like footprints, but with a silhouette of a screaming face in the instep. The recruit tokens look like the profile of a head, with another face inside (it’s a bit hard to see in the photo above). The mind slip tokens are a meeple with a meeple cut out of it.
The deluxe version includes custom GameTrayz inserts for the SHIFT system, wooden tokens instead of cardboard for the Rogue Agents and Immortals and some of the other pieces, and other upgraded components.
How to Play Mind MGMT
You can download the rulebook here.
The Recruiter is trying to make contact with recruits for Mind MGMT, or else evade capture for a designated length of time. The Rogue Agents want to capture the Recruiter before time runs out.
The setup has a lot of steps, so rather than go into all the details I’ll give you some broad strokes. One player is the Recruiter and sits behind the screen with secret map (a miniature version of the board), and the other players are the Rogue Agents and divide up the 4 Rogue Agent characters among themselves (regardless of the number of players).
The Recruiter gets a one of the recruiter cards, a mind slip token, and places their action cards along their side of the board. The Rogue Agents get their action cards tucked on the opposite side of the board.
Depending on whether you’re doing the training mission or the full game, there are some additional elements: the Rogue Agents will have special abilities, there will be mayhem tokens placed that block movement, and the Recruiter will have four Immortals on the board. (More on that below.)
The Recruiter chooses a starting space and writes a “1” on it on their secret board, and then takes 3 feature cards, keeping them hidden behind the screen. The cards show the features where the Recruiter can gain new recruits, and each feature appears 5 times on the board. Then the Recruiter takes their first 4 steps, marking them on their own board until they have the numbers 1 through 5 written on their map. If the Recruiter started in or passed through features that match their feature cards, add that many recruit tokens next to the time track, with the timer token on “01:00–05:00.”
The Rogue Agents now set up their four tokens on any spaces on the outside edge of the board.
Now the gameplay really begins.
Each round alternates with the Recruiter taking 1 step, then any two Rogue Agents acting, then the Recruiter taking another step, and then the other two Rogue Agents acting.
The Recruiter’s turn is pretty simple: take one step and mark it on the secret map. The Recruiter may only move orthogonally, though the two temple spaces on the board allow for diagonal entry and exit. One other important note: the Recruiter may never enter a space they’ve been to already.
After moving, the Recruiter advances the timer token to the next space. Each time the timer token hits a stop sign icon (every other turn), the Recruiter also places recruit tokens on the timeline showing how many were acquired within that round.
The Recruiter also has access to a “mind slip,” which allows them to jump over a space, either orthogonally or diagonally depending on which recruiter card they got during setup. After using the mind slip, the mind slip token is placed on the timeline indicating when it was used. (The Rogue Agents don’t know which recruiter card you have, but they do know all of the possibilities.)
On the Rogue Agents’ turn, they choose two available agents. Each agent may move and take an action (in any order). Agents move 2 spaces, also orthogonally except when entering or exiting a temple.
The available actions are: Ask, Reveal, Capture.
Ask: Choose one of the two features in the Rogue Agent’s space. If the Recruiter has been to one of these spaces, they must place a step token on that space. (Note that each “ask” only adds one step token even if the Recruiter has been to multiple spaces matching that feature. If all of the spaces have already been marked, then the Recruiter tells the agents there are no more.)
Reveal: An agent in a space with a step token may discard it, and then the Recruiter must write down on a mental note token what time they were at that space, and place it on the board.
Capture: An agent may attempt to capture in their own space: if the Recruiter is currently there, they’ve been captured and the Rogue Agents win! Otherwise, the Recruiter states that it was a miss.
The training mission can end in three ways:
- The Rogue Agents capture the Recruiter, and win the game.
- The Recruiter acquires 9 recruits and wins.
- The Recruiter reaches 14:00 without being caught and wins.
The full game adds a few other things:
Mayhem tokens are placed on the board during setup and block movement for everyone. The Recruiter no longer reveals their starting space.
The Recruiter now has the 4 Immortals, who can help find recruits, but at the cost of revealing more information to the Rogue Agents: there are two feature cards turned face up, and if two immortals can occupy different spaces sharing a feature, they get one recruit and the card is replaced from the deck.
During setup, the Rogue Agents place the second mind slip token next to a temple. If the Recruiter passes through that space, they may pick it up and use it on any subsequent turn.
The Rogue Agents have an additional action: Push & Shakedown. They can move an Immortal out of their space, and then try to guess one of the Recruiter’s 3 secret feature cards. If they’re correct, that card is revealed, and the Recruiter may no longer get recruits from that feature. (The card is not replaced.)
The Rogue Agents also have access to their own psychic powers, too:
- Meru can ask the Recruiter if they’re currently within a crosshair-shaped area.
- Henry Lyme prevents Immortals from recruiting from his space or adjacent spaces.
- Bill can push an adjacent Immortal around for free.
- Dusty can move any agent 1 space, plus even more if feature cards have been revealed through shakedowns.
The Rogue Agents also have access to an ally, the Black Ops Dolphin, which can be used once during the game. When using an Ask action, they can discard the dolphin so the Recruiter must mark all the matching spaces they’ve visited, rather than just one.
The game end conditions are mostly the same, except the Recruiter must now acquire 12 recruits, or last until 16:00.
The SHIFT system is a little bit like a campaign mode, and a little bit of a handicap. Basically, as you play, whichever team loses gets to open the next package, which grants them an additional ability—a new “psychic asset”—and adds a little more complexity to the game. Each package has its own mini ruleset and components, and gives the corresponding team an edge.
The SHIFT system helps balance each side out, so depending on your plays, one side may have more packages to choose from than the other. It is not a legacy-style system, so nothing is destroyed, and once opened you can mix and match different packages.
Mind MGMT is GeekDad Approved!
Why You Should Play Mind MGMT
Before playing the prototype of Mind MGMT, I’d heard of the comic books but hadn’t actually read them, so my knowledge of the world was entirely based on what I could gather from the game itself: some mysterious features of the town of Zanzibar, four Rogue Agents with cryptic abilities, a dolphin wearing a black vest that was apparently trained in assassination. It seemed like a blend of bizarre conspiracy theories and paranoia: a great setting for a cat-and-mouse caper.
I’ve always loved hidden movement games, especially when I get to hide. Staying one step ahead of my pursuers, trying not to betray any emotions when they’re right there next to me, plotting out a path toward my escape—it can be very intense, but I love that feeling. How do I misdirect them? Will they fall for the bait? Can I get this close to them without getting caught?
As the seekers, you’re playing a game of deduction. If our target has been here and here, then they must have been here also. But when you come across a fragment of a path, which direction were they traveling? How much time do you spend digging for clues, and when is it time to take a stab at capturing?
Like many other hidden movement games, Mind MGMT has one character hiding and several seeking—that way they can cover more area or attempt to set up a dragnet. But it has its own twists and turns. Using the features on the board (and the “mental notes”), the agents start building up a map of where the Recruiter has been—and where they haven’t. Interestingly, sometimes getting a “no” answer from an ASK can tell you more than a “yes,” because a “yes” gives you one positive but doesn’t confirm any of the other spaces with that feature. A “no” tells you five places the Recruiter has not been yet.
The fact that the Recruiter can’t step into the same space twice is another twist. As the Recruiter, you feel like you’re playing that game of snake, trying to weave your way across the board eating apples (contacting recruits) without biting your own tail, with the added complication that there’s somebody out there trying to clock you on the head. But the Rogue Agents have their work cut out for them, too: it’s one thing to discover where the Recruiter has been already, and it’s another to figure out where they are now and arrive there in time to catch them.
The training mission teaches you the basics and it’s pretty fun, but the full game is where things really start to shine, and where players have enough choices that they need to start planning things out a little more strategically. Take the Immortals, for instance. Each turn, the Recruiter takes one step and moves one Immortal. If you get two Immortals onto the same feature, you can get a recruit, but those features are public knowledge, and it’s pretty easy for the Rogue Agents to use their “Push & Shakedown” action to keep you away from those features. But—aha!—you’re allowed to make an extra Immortal movement on your turn … at the cost of placing a step token somewhere you’ve been. Can you afford to leave an extra clue to get a recruit? The other wrinkle is that every time you successfully recruit with the Immortals, that feature card is discarded and a new one is drawn and revealed from the deck, which gives the Rogue Agents even more information about your hidden cards.
As the Rogue Agents, you have to decide whether to follow the Immortals around, preventing them from recruiting and trying to eliminate the Recruiter’s cards, or whether to spend your actions looking for locations that the Recruiter has visited. Even if you get rid of all of the Recruiter’s cards and slow down their ability to contact recruits, you haven’t won yet: the Recruiter can still win by staying hidden long enough.
As you force the Recruiter to place step tokens onto the board, you have another choice: make guesses about when the recruiter landed in certain spaces, or follow up on the step tokens to see exactly when they were there. Cover more ground, or be more thorough?
The Immortals have another passive ability that I didn’t mention before: whichever features they’re standing on, the Rogue Agents cannot use for their Ask action (or a Capture). So the Recruiter can position Immortals to shut down questions about particular features, and that leads to some more mind games. Is that Immortal there because the Recruiter doesn’t want me to ask about coffee cups and books? Or maybe the Recruiter is hiding behind that Immortal? Or is it just a red herring?
I’ve gotten to play as both the Recruiter and as the Rogue Agents, and I’ve really enjoyed the game in both roles. While you can play a head-to-head game with just two players, one on each team, I really like the feel of one-versus-many, partly because the Recruiter can listen in on the discussions that the Rogue Agents are having—almost like having a mental wiretap to keep tabs on your enemy.
The SHIFT system is a cool way to allow the game to grow as players become more familiar with it. You may be tempted to open them all up, but it can get overwhelming quickly! They’re really intended for situations where you’re playing with the same group multiple times, so that everyone learns the new tools together, but then it does give a lot of new variety for players who want a bit more. I don’t want to give too many spoilers about what’s in them, but they allow for a lot of sneaky tricks for the Recruiter, and some well-laid traps for the Rogue Agents to use.
I mentioned before that you don’t need to be familiar with the Mind MGMT books in order to enjoy the game, and that’s absolutely true. But the game intrigued me enough that I tracked down the books and ended up reading through the entire series, and it’s a fantastic, mind-bending story (you can read my thoughts about the comics in this Stack Overflow column). Playing again after reading the books, I recognized the characters and details from the story, and it heightened my enjoyment even more. I think fans of the books will really appreciate the thought that went into the game.
All in all, it’s a fantastic hidden-movement game that does a great job with the source material but can be fun even if you’re not familiar with it. It does take a bit of work to get your mind around all the moving parts, but once you’ve figured it out, it allows for all sorts of strategies for the two sides to enact.
Playing Mind MGMT, you’ll access those parts of the brain you usually never use while you try to find that elusive recruiter to win the game.
For more information, visit the Off the Page Games website.
To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.