American Mensa Mind Games 2019: Event Review

American Mensa Mind Games 2019: Event Review

By Randy Romig,
April 23, 2019

Some of you may know about the American Mensa Mind Games event, and some of you might be wondering, “what’s a Mensa?” American Mensa is a group for individuals who rank within the 98th percentile of IQ. There’s an application process that involves taking IQ tests before you are eligible to join. There are various conventions and events all over the country that are open to members only that cater to people who regularly need a higher intellectual interaction on a more frequent basis. At their week long national convention they have speakers give presentations on a wide range of topics, with the common theme being of high intelligence. These Mensa members also like board games.

seal.jpgOne event on the Mensa calendar is the American Mensa Mind Games event where the 5 top games will receive the honor of winning the Mensa Select Seal. I can hear you asking, “well, what does the judging look like for this event?” I’m glad you asked, because I wondered the same thing. As luck would have it, the 2019 event was taking place a short 10 minute drive from where I live. So I reached out, asking to cover the event. They graciously agreed. So I’m about to give you a little peek behind the curtain. Here is everything you need to know about the 2019 American Mensa Mind Games.

I walked in to the hotel in Wadsworth, Ohio, with no expectations. All I knew was that members of American Mensa would be getting together to play board games. I knew the list of games would be impressive (complete list below), but I didn’t know what to expect from the people playing them. I mean, were the people coming to this event even board game fans?

I got all of the information I would need from Scott and LaRae. Scott is the head of Marketing for American Mensa and LaRae is the Chair for American Mensa. The first thing I quickly realized was that the people here judging this event were board game fanatics. This is not merely a group of intelligent people who gather to play board games. This is the most intense board game players who have traveled from all over the country, who happen to be in the top 2% of IQ.

That’s when it clicked. I love traveling to conventions to see the friends I’ve made over the years. I love playing some of the newest games with those friends over the course of a whole weekend. The American Mensa Mind Games event gives its members that opportunity without needing to fight the crowds of a convention while also offering the opportunity to play some of the newest games on the market. That’s the dream.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have the aptitude to qualify to join American Mensa. I’m a bright guy, but I’m not 98th percentile bright. So, making the following statement is not meant as an insult to those of us who are not eligible to join Mensa. Sometimes people need to play board games against opponents of a similar intellect. That is another feature that this event offers to its members. They can play with and against people who match up intellectually. That’s something I wouldn’t have thought of, but it makes sense. I love playing games with my kids, but sometimes I just need to play against other adults and embrace that challenge.

56998313_10155881328172102_4311747922204033024_n.jpgThere are some strict requirements that must be met for a game to be eligible to be judged at the Mind Games event. Since this is run by American Mensa, they game must be available to order within the United States at the time of the event. There is some wiggle room with the timing of games being released and how pre-orders work. But generally, it must be available at the time of judging.  Also, it must be available through major retailers, so anyone is able to purchase the game easily. This could mean brick and mortar stores like Target, Wal-Mart, local game stores, or online marketplaces like Amazon or the game’s personal website. There was one game that Scott and LaRae were telling me about, that applied for the event. However the version of the game that was submitted was a deluxe version only available in Europe. The standard version had lesser quality of components. American Mensa wants their Select Seal to represent that a game has stood up the rigorous testing of highly intelligent people, and it is an enjoyable gaming experience in both gameplay and production quality. They don’t want to award a game their seal, judging it based on components not available in the United States, and have American gamers disappointed with the version that is available. I really like the emphasis on how easily available games need to be, and I think that speaks volumes to American Mensa not losing sight on what the purpose of their Select Seal represents.

Scott and LaRae were both very helpful and friendly. It was great meeting both of them, but now it was time to check out the ballroom itself where the gaming was happening. Here are the 71 games that were being judged:

Action News (Golden Bell Studios)
Arboretum (Renegade Game Studios)
Architects of the West Kingdom (Renegade Game Studios)
Assembly (Wren Games)
Astro Trash (USAopoly)
Blam! (Missing Pieces Press)
Blank Slate (USAopoly)
Bloom (Gamewright)
Cabo (Bezier Games)
Castell (Renegade Game Studios)
Cat Crimes (ThinkFun, Inc)
Clickbait (Big Potato Games)
Cytosis: A Cell Biology Game (Genius Games LLC)
Dictitious (PlayMonster LLC)
Dragon Castle (CMON INC)
Eat It, Drink It, Smoke It, Do It (UTK Games)
Election Night (Semper Smart Games)
Exodus: Paris Nouveau (Indie Boards and Cards)
Feudum (Odd Bird Games)
Flip Words (Evan’s Fun Games)
Forbidden Sky (Gamewright)
Fossil Wars Dinosaurs (Kitki)
Granz Schon Clever (Indie Board and Cards)
Gizmos (CMON INC)
GO! MUSIC (Making Maestri Co.)
Gunkimono (Renegade Game Studios)
Hacker (ThinkFun, Inc.)
Hermetica (Iff Studios LLC)
Heroes & Treasure (Davis & Daughters Games)
In a World of Dinosaurs (Golden Bell Studios)
Intelle (Fisher Heaton Games)
Junk Orbit (Renegade Game Studios)
Kodama Duo (Indie Boards and Cards)
Kuzushi Seasons (Gobico)
Libretto (Dragonfly Games, LLC)
Memoarrr! (Indie Boards and Cards)
Morphy (Fat Brain Toys Co.)
Nimble (Indie Boards and Cards)
Nite Lights (SimplyFun)
Pantone: The Game (Cryptozoic Entertainment)
Planet (Blue Orange Games)
Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition (CMON INC)
Reef (Plan B Games / Next Move Games)
SOCKI (Crazy Red Head Publishing)
Sovereign Chess (Infinite Pi Games)
Spell Smashers (Renegade Game Studios)
Spicy Dice (Enginuity Games)
Spy Club (Renegade Game Studios)
Squadro (Gigamic SARL)
Subatomic: An Atom Building Game (Genius Games LLC)
Sushi Roll (Gamewright)
Swordcrafters (Adam’s Apple Games, LLC)
The Chameleon (Big Potato Games)
The Crusoe Crew (Van Ryder Games)
The Estates (Capstone Games)
The Island of El Dorado (PlayMonster, LLC)
The Mind (Pandasaurus Games)
Time Breaker (Looney Labs)
Tiny Towns (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Turing Tumble (Turing Tumble LLC)
Unbroken (Golden Bell Studios)
Victorian Masterminds (CMON INC)
Visitor in Blackwood Grove (Resonym)
War Chest (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Wing It: The Game of Extreme Storytelling (Flying Leap Games)
Wolf (Gray Matter Games)
Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path (Gray Wolf Games)
Zangle (Set Enterprises, Inc)
Zategy (Families Play Forever)
Zone to Zone (SimplyFun)

57546368_2115877012044443_8412783937117487104_n.jpgBased on past winners, and games that I had experience with, I immediately picked out a few games I thought might do well. Reef, Architects of the West Kingdom, and Granz Schon Clever stood out. A few games that I hadn’t heard of before were very eye-catching. The most memorable game as I walked out of the event was Turing Tumble. It was a solo/co-op game that was more like a puzzle than an actual “game”. I did see Unbroken on display. I’ve followed that one since it launched on Kickstarter and was hopeful to see how it would stand up to the competition. The Estates is another I had previously played and enjoyed. There were so many great games up for judging.

Some of you might be wondering how the judging is conducted. Lucky for you, I was curious as well and got that information from Scott. Every player is given a unique list of 30 games they MUST play over the weekend. You can play others as well, as many people did. So if a group of 3 or 4 people all signed up together, they would be given unique lists of 30 games that had many games in common, so they could all check it off their list together.

57398695_288956178684292_8648281254564724736_n.jpgAs you played games, you kept track of which ones you liked best. At the end of the 45 hours, you would hand your sheet back in, indicating all of the games you played, and your top 7 games listed in order. Then, the votes would be tallied. But the votes are weighted based on the total number of games you played. So a person that only played their required 30 games might say Game A was the best. But there’s 41 games that they didn’t play, and any of those MIGHT be better than Game A. However, someone who played all 71 games and still said that Game A was the best, would carry a little more importance.

The voting sheets were due to be turned in by 7 am Sunday morning, the sheets would be calculated, and winners announced by 10 am, just 3 hours later! This event was a well-oiled machine, from my perspective. So, let’s get to the winners (complete with BGG links if you are not familiar with these games):

Architects.jpgArchitects of the West Kingdom (Renegade Game Studios)

Gizmos.pngGizmos (CMON INC)

Gunkimono.jpgGunkimono (Renegade Game Studios)

Planet.jpgPlanet (Blue Orange Games)

Victorian Masterminds.jpgVictorian Masterminds (CMON INC)

Final Thoughts:Mensa-Select-Seal-new.jpg

I knew that Architects of the West Kingdom has a very similar design and art style to last year’s winner, Raiders of the North Sea. I have heard Architects described as a streamlined version of Raiders that just takes less time to play. Knowing that, I wasn’t shocked to see Architects follow in Raiders’ footsteps by winning the Select Seal one year later.

I don’t know much about Gizmos and Victorian Masterminds as neither had really been on my radar to play before. I do want to say that CMON INC will often get type cast as a company that just makes beautiful games with lots of minis. Seeing them win, not just one, but two, awards here has made me rethink my opinion of them as a publisher. They are gaining the reputation of making great games in terms of gameplay and mechanics as well.

58543708_835149393529613_2967261891124002816_n.jpgPlanet was a game I wish I would have seen people playing. I had heard about the unique components, and building a 12-sided planet by attaching tiles to your shape. Blue Orange Games is a publisher I’m familiar with, and this is one that I will probably pick up the next chance I get.

Gunkimono is a game I had seen the box art for, and thought to myself “Hm, I’d like to know more about that.” And then never remembered to look in to it. Some of the tokens and meeples look great in this abstract game. And I like some of the drafting and tile placement mechanics. This is another I want to check out for sure. Renegade Game Studios also won with two separate games (Architects of the West Kingdom and Gunkimono). These, as well as some other releases slated for later this year, are excellent reasons to pay attention to just about everything that Renegade puts out.

Next year, the Mind Games event will be taking place a bit farther away from me, down in Texas. So I will not be attending as a member of the press. But I will be keeping an eye on the results, ready to see what games do well next year. Thanks so much to Scott, LaRae, and American Mensa in general as this was a very fun experience. You guys are awesome.


All images: Randy Romig

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