Give Me The Brain
by Tom Warin
Give Me The Brain: Cheapass Games’ original edition
Give Me The Brain
Board game manufacturer:
Cheapass/James Ernest Games
Number of players:
Brain is a fun card game that’s best with at least three players. This is an occasion where the usual high-concept Cheapass theme is matched with good gameplay. It’s definitely worth a spot in the rotation.
The game and gameplay
“A fast food frenzy for 2-8 players”
Give Me the Brain has had two releases, first from Cheapass Games as a bare bones “envelope” game and then a “Special Edition” from James Ernest Games as a glossy, full-color release. The game won the Origins award for Best Traditional Card Game in 1997.
The Cheapass version comes in an envelope and includes 54 cards printed in black on thin pink card stock and a rule book. The James Ernest version – similar to the special edition of Lord of the Fries – is packaged in a double-wide card box and includes 112 higher quality full-color cards. Both versions require you to provide one six-sided die.
Both versions are attractively illustrated by Brian Snoddy. The design of the full color cards is better, but art in the old version is still a lot of fun. Each of the “bid” cards features a picture of a zombie in a different predicament.
There are two types of card in the deck: “bid” cards, which are played in order to get the brain and “task” cards, which describe an action that usually impacts the cards held by one or more players. The die is used to represent the brain, which is required to perform certain tasks.The winner is the player that empties their hand first.
The cards are shuffled and each player is dealt seven or six cards, depending on the number of players. The rest of the deck is the draw deck. As cards are played, they are placed face up on the discard deck. If the draw deck is exhausted, the discard deck is shuffled and replaces it.
The game begins with a “bidding” round to determine who starts with the brain. Each player, starting with the dealer, can play a “bid” card. Whoever plays the highest numbered card gets the brain and goes first. If no-one plays a bid card, everybody draws one card and another round of bidding occurs. This continues until somebody has the brain.
Play proceeds around the table to the left unless the brain is “dropped” (more on that later), which causes a new bidding round to occur. Bidding generally starts with the player who dropped the brain. The player than gets the brain after the bidding round goes next. That means that some players may have their turn skipped.
On a turn, a player must either play one or more “task” cards, or draw one card from the deck. Each task has a graphic showing one or two hands. You can play up to two hands’ worth of tasks, unless you pick up a special card (“I found this in the back”) that gives you an extra hand.
Some task cards require you to have the brain in order to play them. Once you carry out a brain task, you must roll the die and match or exceed the difficulty of the task which is printed on the card. If you do not succeed in your roll, then you have “dropped” the brain and it’s up for grabs. A bidding round then occurs, with play proceeding with whoever wins the brain.
If you have no cards left at the conclusion of your round, you win the game.
There are so many different kinds of task cards available that it’s hard to suggest a general strategy for the game. The game can turn on you very quickly on the play of one card. For example, the Graveyard Shift task forces every player to pass their hand to the right and the This Reminds me of Work task allows you to swap hands with another player.
Sometimes it’s worth bidding for the brain with a low card that you do not expect to win with, just to get it out of your hand. Drawing from the deck may increase the size of your hand, but will also increase your options, especially if you draw one of the game-changing cards. It’s worth it to keep the brain bouncing around because the more powerful task cards generally require it.
Pros and cons
There’s enough variety in the tasks to keep things interesting and varied across different games. Strategy pretty much has to be made up on the fly and there’s a good helping of luck to shake things up.
The zombie theme in Give Me The Brain is great and provides some extra flavor (our house rule is that you have to talk like a zombie-fied member of the Rolling Stones when playing a “give me the brain” card: Give me the brain, Mick, the pickles are staring at me!)
The newer edition has better quality cards, but the art is good on both sets. It packs up pretty small, so it’s a good game to take on the road.
Although you can play with just two players, it really isn’t fun until your get three, or preferably four players involved. The bare-bones feel and the zombie theme can act as a barrier for some people; I’ve played with people who just don’t “get it” and it’s an exercise in frustration. The cards in the original edition are a little flimsy.
I’m not saying that zombies necessarily make for a good game, but they’re a good start. The learning curve for Give Me The Brain is usually one or two games, but after that games move pretty quickly and it’s a lot of fun. There’s plenty of variety in the gameplay and good flavor from the zombie theme.