The best kinds of board games don't force you to rely on sheer luck to win. There are plenty out there which encourage the use of logic and quick thinking to seize victory, which makes for a more satisfying experience overall as a result. All manner of puzzle games have enjoyed a wide level of success on 3DS, but MindFeud from Engine Software is the latest challenge to offer a more cerebral twist on things. Instead of idly sliding tiles into matching rows, you'll be carefully sliding tiles into matching rows. It's different, we swear!
While certain aspects of MindFeud's design might resemble a match-three title at face value, it actually bears much more in common with Scrabble, the classic game where you use a pool of letter tiles to form words. It's marketed as a 'social board game' - possibly spurred on by the recent surge in popularity of online apps like Words With Friends and Draw Something - meaning that online leaderboards and competitive play are a major focus. You'll want to cut your teeth on a few practice games before jumping online though, as you won't get by without learning the ropes.
The basic idea is simple; you earn points by placing tiles down on a grid to form lines, and the player with the most points by the end of the game is the winner. These tiles are all marked by one of five symbols and a colour, representing the different combinations you'll need to make to score big. Lines need to share a trait in common, but without direct duplication. For example, a line made up of different symbols must be entirely one colour, and a line made up of different colours must be entirely the same symbol. Like in Scrabble, the longer combinations are more effective, but what really does the trick is linking further combos off of a line you've just set down.
There isn't much of a direct tutorial, so a hefty amount of discovery is actually left up to the player. This can lead to a measure of frustration at the beginning, as you take on the AI mascot of the game 'ADAMA' in a variety of difficulty modes. Even after grasping the basics, your cutesy opponent will still destroy you with superior moves that act as a harsh lesson - you'll learn from your losses though, and win by adapting these techniques for your own use. While this is a refreshingly organic way to improve at the game, a lot of the time you'll be left wondering why certain moves earn more points than your own, so a direct explanation would have been welcome here.
Aside from these direct confrontations, there are also puzzles and challenges to enjoy in Single Player mode. Challenges test your skill on a variety of different boards, each with the point multiplier tiles in different locations and a set turn limit. Scores for each are ranked globally online, with the top three displaying right next to the challenge you've selected. Puzzles are a little different, as they require you to match the exact target score using a limited number of tiles. As pieces are already in place for all 25, the puzzles feel as though you're jumping in at the end of a game to turn the tide, and it's a useful way to test your knowledge of effective combos. These are both great ways to pass the time, if you don't feel like tackling the AI.
As we've mentioned upfront, an online mode is also included, which could potentially form the meat of the game for many players. While ADAMA is a worthy opponent, playing against a friend or equally brainy rival is a whole different affair altogether. It is fairly difficult to find an opponent on a whim, though the ability to search for a random player is included. Sadly, as a smaller indie title, the player-base just isn't there yet to allow for a guaranteed hit when you're in the mood to play online. After many many attempts over a number of days, we believe we only connected just once, so it's definitely something to bear in mind. Challenging a friend is absolutely effortless though, and the games can play out at as leisurely or as intense as the pair of you prefer, as there's no time limit to complete a move.
Graphics and sound are totally serviceable, though nothing too special as this is a port of a mobile app title that released earlier. While the smartphone app is available for free, it's truncated by limited battles against the AI, pop-up ads, and a less expansive single player mode. For a decent price on 3DS Engine Software has created the definitive version currently available.
Mindfeud is a classic example of a simple concept that has mileage far beyond the few moments it takes to understand it. After hours of play, it's likely you'll still discover fiendish new combinations and faster ways to earn more points, which is exactly what a good puzzle game should allow for. The tutorial may be brief, but the resemblance to Scrabble shouldn't leave anyone lost for too long. It's just a shame - and not MindFeud's fault, as such - that finding an online partner outside of your friends list is almost impossible at the time of writing.
Anyone looking for a fresh new puzzle title to master should seriously consider picking this one up.