Brainwaves: The Wise Whale is part of a series of games by KOSMOS, which also includes The Brilliant Boar and The Astute Goose, that have been designed to help work your memory and train your brain. The games were even studied by neuroscientists at the University of Ulm who found that the games use players’ working and long-term (episodic) memory, as well as their fluid intelligence. This is because unlike traditional memory games where the game’s state remains static — there are no changes to the positions of the elements being memorized — the Brainwaves games are dynamic. Players are required to constantly update their memories as changes are made to the display (in The Wise Whale and The Astute Goose) or a player’s hand of cards (as in The Brilliant Boar).
Let’s dive into how one of these Brainwaves games, The Wise Whale, is played.
The Wise Whale Gameplay
Brainwaves: The Wise Whale is most like what players are familiar with when you say a memory game: a facedown display of cards where players need to remember and reveal matches. However, the facedown display in The Wise Whale is constantly changing. On a player’s turn, they flip over the top card of the draw pile and attempt to find a match in the facedown display by revealing a card. A match can either be the same sea creature or the same background colour as the card from the draw pile. Whether they find a match or not, the revealed card is removed from the display and is replaced by the faceup card from the draw pile.
If the player finds a match, the removed card from the display is added to their facedown score pile and they take another turn. This can be repeated up to three times. Unfortunately if the player doesn’t find a match, the removed card is returned to the bottom of the draw pile and the player’s turn ends. Play then passes to the next player.
End of the Round and the Game
The round ends when the draw pile is exhausted. Players then count the number of cards in their facedown score pile and note it on the notepad. The next round begins with the “start player” (there is no marker for this) passing left. The number of rounds played equals the number of players (i.e. two players play two rounds) so that each player has an opportunity to be the start player.
After the required number of rounds are complete, players total their scores for the rounds and the player with the most points wins.
During setup, players select their difficulty and depending on the level, some cards might be removed — like all the cards of a sea creature or all the cards of a single background colour. Additionally, there is a feature die included in Brainwaves: The Wise Whale to make the game more difficult. Whenever a card is revealed from the draw pile, the feature die must also be rolled. This die indicates whether the player must find a match for the sea creature (the whale symbol) or the colour (the dot symbol); players can no longer choose which attribute to match.
The Wise Whale can also be played solo as a beat-your-own-score game. Instead of returning a card from the display to the bottom of the deck when you don’t find a match, that card is removed and added to your error pile. At the end of the game, your score is the cards from your score pile minus those in your error pile.
Usually when I tell someone that the game we’re about to play involves memory, they look at me like I’ve lost my mind. In my experience, most adult gamers don’t want to play a game that revolves around memory…especially when there are no children at the table. Brainwaves: The Wise Whale isn’t the game to change their minds, but if you sell the game in just the right way using the right buzzwords — it’s recommended by scientists and improves your memory — I’m willing to bet they won’t mind the experience.
This is because The Wise Whale isn’t quite like most memory games you’ve surely played; the game’s display is changing regularly and it becomes increasingly difficult as the game goes on to remember what is where, particularly in advanced games where you have to remember both the sea creature and its colour. The game also doesn’t overstay its welcome — the 15 minute timer on the box is spot-on.
The designer of The Wise Whale, Maureen Hiron, also has a fascinating story: while she was working as a Phys Ed teacher at a London comprehensive school, an air-conditioning unit fell on her head and she suffered a severe brain injury. It took years for her to recover, but she was able to with the help of games, among other things. Since her recovery she has designed games with short rules and simple, yet interesting mechanisms.
The Wise Whale is a new twist on the (tired) Memory game and is engaging regardless of whether you are playing with adults, children, or both. Besides, who can’t afford to take 15 minutes out of their day to improve their memory and brain functioning?
The other games in the Brainwaves series, The Brilliant Boar and The Astute Goose, also work your memory, but in different ways. The Brilliant Boar is similar to Hanabi in that you have a hand of cards that face away from you and each turn you must attempt to play the correct card that matches the one drawn from the deck. The Astute Goose (designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia) is similar to, but more challenging than, The Wise Whale; each card depicts four features to possibly match instead of two. Like The Wise Whale, both of these Brainwaves games have variations to make them more difficult, as well as rules for solo play.