Review – Mindbug: First Contact

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Designer Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, Marvin Hegen, Christian Kudahl

Artist Denis Martynets

Publisher Ghost Galaxy (Asmodee North America)

Category Two-Player Game, Dueling Game

Length 5-20 minutes

Release Date 2023

Player Count 2

Price $22.99 MSRP

You may not know the name Richard Garfield, but you certainly know his most famous design, Magic: the Gathering. Since then, he’s tried his hand at a variety of other card combo games, like Android: Netrunner or SolForge. This time, rather than focusing on collectability, or even resources (mana), Mindbug: First Contact focuses solely on the kid-fun of Magic: creatures! Well, and good ol’ Control Magic from the early days. Let’s take a look!

In many ways, Mindbug: First Contact reminds me of Epic Card Game from Wise Wizard Games. The idea is similar: let’s just play a bunch of big creatures and attack each other without worrying about this idea of “casting cost.” On the surface, it’s a clever idea, but the rationale of a “mana curve” was that the game would be over too quickly and randomly if players were just constantly dumping out giant creatures. Mindbug is very fast, yes, but it has two clever attempts to solve this problem. 

The first is that regardless of the power of a creature, you only attack with one, and they only ever do one damage. (And players only start with 3 life points!) The other twist is the namesake mindbugs: twice in the game, a player can just take the newly played creature of their opponent for themselves, which is kind of crazy. The player who loses the creature gets to take another turn, but is now staring down yet another opposing creature. The intention, then, is for the game to become a mind game: is my opponent baiting me with a weak creature, hoping I’ll use my Mindbug? Or is that really the best he has? Can I afford to wait, or will I be dead by the time I use my Mindbugs on better creatures?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work. For that mind game to be interesting, players basically need encyclopedic knowledge of the cards in the game, but only a small fraction of them are randomly dealt to each player in a game. While I feel like this game could become interesting after a dozen players against the same opponent with a developed metagame, it’s not worth the investment of those dozen plays. Until then, you’re honestly just randomly guessing, and games just felt like “oh, I guess that (didn’t) work out,” without any sense of agency. 

When you play a game like Radlands, or Summoner Wars, or Star Realms, there’s a “reaction loop” that makes the game interesting even the first time, because you have time to craft a response to a new threat. Radlands has an “Event Timer”, Summoner Wars requires you to play cards closer to your side of the board, and buying a card in Star Realms doesn’t instantly present a threat; you have to shuffle first. Mindbug doesn’t have that loop, and instead, it just feels like 5 minutes of guess work and then the game is over. 

Obviously I’m in the minority on this one, and it’s a nice package with a fun theme, clear rules and great art – but there are a lot of head-to-head combat games I’d rather play instead in my lunch hour. 

The Bottom Line

There are just far better two-player dueling games available.

 

5

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.