FTW Staff Picks - Mastermind

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 


Genre: Deduction

Designer: Mordecai Meirowitz

Player Size: 2 Players

Game Length: 20 minutes

For fans of: Hanabi, The Game, The Mind

Deduction is one of those genres that always feels so simple, and yet the most mentally taxing. It's the type of genre where you are really playing against your opponent and not the game itself. It's dependant on knowing the people you are playing with. Bluffs, double-bluffs and mind games. It's a real battle of wits. Anyone who considers themselves a mind-reader can put their money where their mouth is. One of the earliest and most popular deduction games was Mastermind. Even 40 years later, the game remains one of the top requests at the cafe. 

In Mastermind, players alternate playing as the Codemaker and the Codebreaker. Each round lasts up to 10 turns. To start each round the Codemaker chooses any 4 coloured pegs to arrange as the Code. Each turn the Codebreaker will attempt to guess the code in the correct sequence. If any of the colours are correct but in the wrong position, the Codemaker places a white peg for each. If any of the colours are correct AND in the right position, the Codemaker places a red peg for each. If the Codebreaker cannot guess the Code after 10 turns, the Codemaker earns 11 points (10 for each row + 1 bonus). If the Codebreaker guesses the Code before 10 turns, the Codemaker earns 1 point for each turn it took. Players will then swap roles and play continues until the decided upon number of games in the series. The player with the most points in the series is declared the winner. 

Mastermind is one of the games where all the strategies are apparent and clear. There are ways to math out how to eliminate as many possibilities in one turn as possible. But at the end of the day, it comes down to thinking if you can read your opponent. Or better yet, if your opponent thinks they can read you and you flip it on them. Several games have copied this formula but here its so simplistic and fast that it feels the most tense.


Mastermind is one of those fun novelty games to have. To be honest, you can play the game with just a piece of paper and pen. The game itself isn't very expensive though, so it's nice to have the actual contraption. There's definitely a nostalgia factor.  There have bene quite a few iterations of Mastermind including some really well-made wooden ones. I would dare to put Mastermind up there with Chess as a must-have classic.

Earl OliverosComment