Medium

Medium (2019)

Game Details
NameMedium (2019)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.06]
BGG Rank2125 [7.07]
Player Count (recommended)2-8 (3-6)
Designer(s)Danielle Deley, Lindsey Sherwood and Nathan Thornton
Buy it!Amazon Link

TL;DR: Don't buy this, but play Mind Meld for free

I like Medium well enough. I also liked it well enough when it was the car game ‘Mind Meld’. It’s a perfectly good game that’s worth your time, but you can’t get away from the fact that boxing it up and selling it for actual cash money is the up-market equivalent of selling slightly modified copies of ‘I Spy’. You don’t need to buy this game. People have been playing it for decades without having to spend a penny. Like charades, what the boxed version of this exercise gives you is a set of cards which can take the place of your own creativity, and that’s pretty much all. So this is an awkward review – one that is about a fun game that is an enjoyable way to spend your time, but also about the commodification of folk games in an effort to sell them on to the unsuspecting.

Medium box

Medium Meld works like this. Each player has a hand of cards that show words. Going around the table in pairs, each dyad of participants will select and place a card in front of them. Once the two cards are down each will flip their card over and then they’ll try to say a word or a phrase or a name that bridges the two words that have been revealed. Easy enough, in theory. The tricky thing is – they both want it to be the same thing, and they need to arrive at a consensus through nothing more than semantic approximation.

Face down cards

‘One’

‘Two’

‘Three’

Green Ninja

At the same time, both players shout out the word that they think is the best link between the cards displayed.

‘Turtle!’, yells Michael.

‘Lego!’, yells Pauline.

‘What?’, asks Michael.

‘Eh?’, asks Pauline.

Medium has a very similar quality to Wavelength in that it’s an exercise in collaborative misunderstanding – a game of putting a measuring tape across the chasm that exists between your comprehension and that of another person. It’s an interesting school of game design but it’s also one that’s already realistically overserved.

If you don’t find the ‘medium’, or the ‘meld’ on your first try then you have a second attempt – but this time you need to bridge not the words on the cards but the words you both gave as answers. Michael and Pauline in this example would need to find the connection between ‘lego’ and ‘turtle’. They do the countdown again, and this time…

Discworld!’, yells Michael.

‘Discworld!’, yells Pauline.

Having made a meld, they pick up a ‘second attempt’ points token and then play continues on to the next pairing.

But wait… Discworld?

See, the thing that all games like this have in common is that they’re more about the players than they are about the game. In Cards Against Humanity you don’t win by playing the best cards. You win by pandering. In Wavelength you win not by picking a good clue for your card, but instead by picking a good clue for your audience. Games like this encourage you to play at cross-purposes to their design because really what you’re doing is trying to throw a rope between your understanding and the understanding of another human being. And so, with something like ‘Lego turtle’ involving your ol’ buddy Michael, you’ve got a very good chance of landing a hit with Discworld because he’s almost always thinking about Discworld. Great A’Tuin, the star turtle, is a massive feature in that franchise. To be honest you can say ‘Discworld’ for anything and there’s a fair chance that’s what I’m already thinking about.

You get three attempts to find your medium, and the points you get for a match diminish the greater the number of attempts it takes. The game continues until the third ‘cracked crystal ball’ is drawn by a player when they refresh their hand.

That’s the entirety of the game, aside from a few largely pointless special power cards. As I say – it’s exactly the same thing as the car game Mind Meld. Like – literally the same thing. It’s been around for a long time under various guises. It’s known as ‘One, Two, Three’, as ‘Convergence’, ‘Say the Same Thing’ and a number of other titles. This wiki attributes its origin to a circus camp back in 1992 but it has the feel of a game that has existed for a lot, lot longer. And at no point in its lifetime until now has anyone felt the need to package it up in a board game box and sell it. They didn’t have to – it’s a folk game. Selling this as a product feels to me like packaging up a piece of open source software.

All the accessibility teardowns on the site are available under a CC-BY license and technically someone could take them all and publish them in a for-profit book. Ha, good luck buddy I’ve been circling that drain with Patreon for years now. In the event they did something so darkly futile though I’d feel much the same about that as I do about this game. The whole package is basically one big long lesson in the importance of the [citation needed] tag. If you can’t credit the actual designers, because their names are lost to time, at least acknowledge the inspiration in the text of the manual. The instruction leaflet of Medium mentions everyone from the people ‘who took pictures of it’ to ‘everbody who let us work on it in the vegan bookstore/cafe they own’. There is no mention of the tremendous intellectual debt that has been borrowed from the original creators, and I think that’s bullshit.

A charitable soul might put this down to a case of convergent evolution. It’s not true in this instance – one of the designers has acknowledged on forum threads that it’s not. It’s not impossible that such a thing can occur for other games though and the prospect of that is the only thing that stops this review being a soapbox rant about where the polite need for proper attribution ends and claims of outright plagiarism begin. Mind Meld isn’t I-Spy – it’s not ubiquitous enough that everyone knows it. Usually in a room I’m the only one that does, or one of a very few. Absent the forum acknowledgement it would have been completely credible that the designers and publishers of Medium had no idea that they were packaging up what is essentially a public domain diversion. But really at best even that would be a failure of due diligence. Medium feels like a grubby cash-in and that could have been avoided if there had been any hint anywhere in the game box that this is a refinement, if we’re willing to stretch that word to the extremes of its definitional integrity, of a feral game that exists happily in the wild. Medium’s contributions to the formula are a fixed library of words that can be chosen by players (something I think is actually a detriment to the experience), a fixed ending condition, and an unnecessary scoring context. The heart and soul of the game – its arteries and its ventricles – are identical and the fact that there is no acknowledgement of this is exceptionally shabby. People shouldn’t have to find an obscure forum thread on an ultra-nerdy website.

To be fair, you can maybe say the same thing about Telestrations, Monikers, The Mind and a wide variety of other games. Those games though have other compensatory aspects that make them, in my view, derivative works rather than straight-up copies. Telestrations for example comes with a series of wire-bound notebooks that dramatically improve the experience you’d get over playing Eat Poop You Cat in its natural state. It also acknowledges its roots in its box by referencing itself as ‘the classic telephone game sketched out’. The Mind takes an existing improv exercise and constructs something approximating a game around it. Medium adds constrictions, and none of them improve the experience in my view.

I absolutely can’t recommend you buy Medium on that basis. It may be, charitably, unintentionally shabby but shabby is what it absolutely is. Sure, it’s all legal and everything – you can’t copyright game mechanics after all. But the law is full of things that are legal that aren’t right.

You shouldn’t buy it then. But should you play it? Or more precisely, should you play Mind Meld?

Well, yeah – that’s an easier thing to say because it costs you nothing and it’s actually wonderful when played in the right circumstances. It’s a funny, good-natured and low impact game that asks nothing of consequence of its players and provides the opportunities for a complete cognitive breakdown in return. It seems like such an easy proposition. You have a word. I have a word. We just need something that links them together. And yet in that ‘we just need’ there is a true abyss of complexity because linking words together through a compatible framework is a work of very sophistical analytical precision.

Car and Purse

How do you link the words ‘car’ and ‘purse’? Each of those words represents a dense nexus of associations. Car as in motorcar? Car as in train car? Car is in a lift conveyance? And purse can be ‘a wallet’, ‘a handbag’, a ‘reward’, and a number of other things. Those two words can credibly spark off melds as diverse as ‘glovebox’ to ‘game show prize’. But that’s only the first order challenge, because it creates a chain of hopeful convergences that are as fragile to navigate as any mountaintop climbing route.

Salt Waterfall

Autocondimenter’, I would say. Again, I spend 95% of my waking life thinking about Discworld.

‘Special effects’, someone else might say – referencing the fact that salt is sometimes used to create waterfall effects in movies.

Great, you messed up. Now find the bridge between those two concepts.  Strictly speaking you have converged somewhat because this what ‘salt waterfall’ means to the both of you and thus you have entered into the erratic orbit of each other’s semantics. Converegence though sometimes feels like it takes you dramatically farther away from actually agreement.

Like a lot of games, Medium, or Mind Meld, is at its most engaging in exploring its failure states. The complexity of the exercise ensures that everyone spends a lot of time trying to justify the sublime and the ridiculous. A correct guess is cause for celebration but it’s not as fun as the regular arguments that incompatible definitional webs create when they get all tangled up in each other. But interestingly, given that finding the matching word is itself a risk based endeavour of hopeful guessing… there’s almost as much fun to be had in assessing the thought trails that led to the most unexpected convergences.

It’s a really good game, for what it is – but that’s an improvisational, free association car game that costs you zero money. Buying this particular box though? No – I don’t recommend you do that at all. Nothing you get in this box improves upon what you can do yourself with nothing but the company of a friend.