Matt: Hey, friend, so glad you could make it for Hive Mind tonight!
Friend: Yeah, thanks for inviting me!
Matt: No problem, we were just about to order take away, what do you fancy?
Friend: Oh, er, pizza?
Matt: Piz-? Oh. This is awkward. We all wanted Indian.
Friend: Oh, oh dear…
Matt: Yeah, I think it’s probably better if you just leave…
Time: 30-90 mins
Designer: Richard Garfield
Artist: Joelle Saveliev
Publisher: Calliope Games
Hive Mind is the second title in Calliope Games’ Titan Series (the first was Menu Masters which I looked at a couple of weeks ago) a collection of games by successful designers intended as family friendly entry points into the hobby. This one is by no less than Richard Garfield, designer of the excellent King of Tokyo, the exceptional Netrunner and the legendary Magic The Gathering. So what happens when he decides to make a party game? We all start buzzing.
Can you tell what I’m thinking?
Hive Mind is kind of like Scattegories or Knit Wit in reverse. One player will read out a question from a deck of trivia-like cards. Maybe “What are 3 things a parrot might say?”, then everyone will scribble down some answers. The aim, though, is not to be right, it’s to write the same answers as the other players. This is so important. Because where Knit Wit caused arguments amongst over-competitive gamers as to whether a unique answer was correct, here it doesn’t matter. You’ll score a point if you say the sky is green, but you won’t get the bonus points for matching other answers… I mean, unless you’ve got a really strange bunch of friends I guess.
Of course, there will still be conflicts. Is “sun” and “star” the same? Fortunately the game provides a simple rule that more specific does not equal less specific, so “bee” does not equal “insect” does not equal “animal”, which handles most cases. But even when it doesn’t, saying “yes” when you’re unsure makes lots of people happy, so it is much easier to do and has tended to avoid the arguments we saw in Knit Wit.
So once everyone has scribbled down some answers (there’s a generous timer but unless you’re playing with actual human children I recommend racing to complete and voraciously berating anyone who takes too long) you go round the table and everyone reads out their answers. And this is where the game gets brilliant! Because inevitably someone is going to write down a stupid answer that gets the whole table laughing, especially when someone else writes the same thing! Writing a sensible answer that no one else goes for is funny, having one player not get an answer everyone else got, is funny. And in most cases just the answers themselves are funny!
All of this is aided by some truly excellent question writing. It is blindingly obvious that the primary market for this is families, but on pretty much every card you have one perfectly innocuous question that in the hands of ‘adults’ is a recipe for hilarity. For example, “What are 3 hot things?” or “Which 2 people in the room would you most like as parents?” Occasionally you get “what is the best colour?” Which immediately and hilariously throws everyone off. “What are 3 ways to fill in the blank? I need some aspirin; my ______ really hurts” Maybe it’s just me, but if there’s a puerile answer possible, my head just goes there immediately.
There’s a suitable selection of questions for whatever group you’re aiming for. Questions kids can answer, trivia style questions, and that one golden question that you just know is going to trigger the entertaining answers. You can almost see Richard Garfield chuckling to himself as he wrote them.
It’s getting cold outside
But underlying this funny game is an undeniably dark theme. It’s a game that is literally about conformity and punishing those who think differently. That is admittedly a good choice of mechanics for a game about bees, but the idea that you’ll be exiled from the hive when winter comes for the crime of being different taps into some pretty disturbing psychological and societal issues for us humans. The incongruous artwork that goes out of its way to exemplify the differences between individual bees in the hive does kind of feel like the product of a somewhat panicked board room meeting where executives realised exactly what story their game was telling.
Fortunately these Orwellian undertones do not pervade the actual experience of playing the game. It is clear that the game came about as a system that gave rise to a lot of fun first, the thematic implications were an unfortunate side effect. At least that is how I choose to interpret it. Everyone I’ve played it with is far too bad at it, and many of the questions are too tongue in cheek, for me to worry about darker intents!
That’s not to say the game isn’t without issues and the board showcases all of its problems. On the right hand side is a long track of flowers that is an elaborate system for randomising how many low scoring players will drop down a level at the end of the round. You roll a die, move the queen that many spaces along the track, and that’s the number of players set to drop. It’s a mechanic that could have been restricted to a custom die (though that would have lost the ramping up of punishment over the first few rounds) but it ups the family appeal. Sadly there’s nothing that gets a gamer’s hackles up faster than a roll and move element!
The other half of the board is the hive with its multiple, characterfully illustrated levels. This acts as a score track of sorts, with one or more players dropping down a level if they score the fewest points in a round. Problem one is that finding 12 different colours of bee/bunny meeples is an impossible task and so we have two shades of yellow and 3 shades of pink. And the second, milder problem, is that it can take a lot of rounds for someone to be finally booted from the hive. A play time of up to 90 mins is a bit much for such a game, even if I have had an absolutely hilarious time playing it.
I have not laughed so much when playing a game for a long time as I did when playing Hive Mind. But that was with good friends after a few drinks and I suspect that is the ideal time to play it. With good natured strangers (as you might hope to find at any board game meet up) this still works very well. But I can’t help but feel the game could have been just a deck of question cards and some paper. And that has to make me wonder whether a set of admittedly brilliant questions is worth the box price?
I want to recommend this game. For people with a group of friends who will break out a few questions at the end of a night to laugh at one another’s answers this could be great. For a family this might be golden, but I’m guessing because I do not have a family to test it on. But whatever the right answer is, the important thing is that you agree with me! Otherwise we’ll both lose points!