This review of Medium appeared in Episode 80 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.
I’m always on the lookout for games that can accommodate larger groups of people. Games that can spare us from an evening spent pairing up funny/offensive cards for hours on end. I was glad to find Medium, a game that touts itself as a mind reading party game. Medium is the first game from designers Danielle, Nathan Thornton, and Lindsey Sherwood. It features art and design by Sarah Kelly. It’s published by Greater Than Games and plays two to eight players.
So, how do you play this guessing game of psychic connectedness? Each player is dealt six cards. On each of the cards is one word. That’s it. Just one word set against a stylized but austere background with a yellow art deco design along the card’s edges. On your turn, the player on your left plays a card from their hand and reads it out loud. You then play a card of your choosing from your own hand. Once the two cards are on the table, both players count down from three and simultaneously say one word or concept that connects the two words on the cards.
Let’s say your team mate plays the word movie, you look through your cards. Knowing that you and your friend are movie buffs, you play the word Sled. You figure it’s a slam dunk, clearly the most famous movie sled is Rosebud from Citizen Kane.You give each other a knowing glance, and you both countdown from 3, hoping that you’re both making the same association between the two words–that somehow, you’ve both arrived at the same logical conclusion. You count down, 3, 2, 1 and you both say the same word, “Rosebud.” Great! You’ve both managed to arrive at the same concept, you found the medium and you score some points.
There are three piles of Mild Meld tokens on the table. Since you found the medium on your first try, you get to take a face down token from the First Attempt pile. It’s worth either five or six points. The token goes between you and your partner, proof of your psychic prowess.
If you and your teammate weren’t able to make that psychic link on your first try, well, you get two more tries. Maybe instead of saying Rosebud, your partner said Cool Runnings. Well, now you have to find the medium between rosebud and Cool Runnings.
If you succeed, you take a point from the second pile of tokens, and these are worth either three or four points. Fail again and you get one more try, and yep, the tokens in that pile are worth a partly one or two points. Game play proceeds clockwise with players drawing back up to six at the end of their turn. Once all three shattered crystal ball cards that were randomly placed in the bottom third of the deck are drawn, players finish out the round and the game is over. If you’ve managed to harness your inner Medium, you should have two piles of scoring tokens, one between the player on your left and one with the player on your right. Essentially everyone at the table is on two teams and the team with the highest scores wins.That’s pretty much the whole game.
Well, there’s a bit more to Medium than that. Since your partner plays their card first, you have the opportunity to respond to their word. You’re essentially counting on either simple word association or having something in your hand that will fire up and synchronize the synapses between you and your partner. Sometimes there’s a spark and sometimes there’s nothing but awkward looks and calls for players to explain their guesses. And you’d think that being overly familiar with the person you’re trying to mind meld with would give you an edge, but that’s not always the case. I’ve seen couples struggle to eke out a few points, best friends fail to find that mind to mind connection. Reading minds is difficult, don’t let anyone you otherwise.
And maybe that’s just the nature of the Medium, after all, the rule book reminds you not to feel bad about not being able to make that mind to mind connection. But when things do line up and you and your partner say the same word at the same time, it’s kinda magical. I know that the word magical gets thrown around board game reviews for those moments where a game shines, but it’s pretty accurate when describing how it feels to make that connection and to be on the same page with your team mate. Even when I’m an observer and I see it happen, when other teams sync up and they blurt out the same word at the same time, it looks like magic. It’s a palpable feeling. People get excited. They cheer. High fives are exchanged.
So, it’s kind of fitting, that Medium is a game with some very pronounced highs and lows. Some teams will hit those magic high notes in which the game sings and is a blast and for some it may be a frustrating experience when their team falls behind in points. But if you’re not into keeping track of the points, don’t. The game recommends that the best way to play is “whatever way you and your friends play it.” And most of the time, don’t we do that with party games anyway? Don’t we often stop keeping score and focus on the laughs and moments that the game creates? However you decide to play it, Medium is sure to create some memorable moments for your next game night and I recommend it.