I love a good brain game. And Cortex not only needs brains, but has you building a brain!
In Cortex Challenge (originally published under the name Braintopia), you’re trying to complete a series of 8 different challenges faster than everyone else around the table. Every time you complete two of the same type, you get to assemble one-quarter of your mini brain. Whoever is the first to solve four puzzles and complete their brain wins!
Well this is a no-brainer! You give each player their disassembled brain pieces and 30 seconds to feel the 10 touch based sensory cards that feature textured items like a strawberry, a baseball, and moss. Then set these aside face down. Shuffle the remaining 80 test and challenge cards into a stack and place it face down in the centre of the table.
Every different challenge types has a symbol on the back of the card so you know what kind of challenge is coming. But you won’t know what it is exactly until the card gets flipped and everyone races to be the first to solve it! If you are first to put your hand on the card and your answer is correct, you keep the card. If you’re wrong, the card is discarded and you have to sit out the next round.
You can only ever have 4 cards in front of you. So, if you earn a 5th card, you’ll have to choose one to discard – that can make getting a pair more of a challenge. And, if the same challenge category is flipped over twice in a row, the second is replaced by a fresh category.
8 Cortex Challenge Types
Colour: You must name the only word on the card that’s written in its own colour.
Coordination: Each card back shows two hands hand (blue/red) and each finger and thumb on both hands has a number (1-5). When the card is flipped over, players must use the right finger/thumb to touch that part of their own face and be first to slam their hand on the card.
Duplicates: These cards contain various items. After slamming your hand on the card, you must name the one item that appears twice.
Frequency: You must name the die face that appears the most times on the card.
Maze: These cards contain a maze with a central starting point and letters on potential exits. After you slam your hand onto the card you must state the letter that completes the correct path through the maze.
Memory: These cards contain images of 5 objects. Once you slam your hand onto the card, you must recite the 5 objects from memory.
Reasoning: You must be able to confirm which letter piece fits into the gap – spatial reasoning style!
Tactile: When the tactile card appears, the winner of the previous round shuts their eyes and everyone else chooses a tactile card from the separate stack of 10 cards. That player then has 10 seconds to guess what is on that card by touch alone. If they don’t guess correctly, the card is discarded without penalty. But if they do, they instantly earn a brain piece!
This game is light and fun and not your average party game. There are no hats or exposing other players’ more “interesting” sides. Everyone can play because there will be at least something in there that you’re good at!
I can generally spot Duplicates and Frequency, but Co-ordination is completely lost on me. My husband on the other hand can imagine spaces and shapes with his eyes closed so he is a strong contender for the Reasoning challenges. Our son loves the Tactile and Maze challenges. As such, it’s definitely one game where we all feel like we have a chance!
We sit round the table with itchy fingers waiting for the card to be flipped. Knowing the type of challenge coming up gives a few seconds for mental preparation, but visual and pattern recognition skills are almost always going to be on high alert. And it is very satisfying when you’re first to slam knowing that others were just a fraction of a second behind you!
The Tactile cards are harder than you think – some textures are very similar. So when the pressure is on during those very short ten seconds, your mind goes blank as to what the bobbles, grooves, and furriness could be!
If you play Cortex Challenge all the time, there’s a chance you could become familiar with some of the cards. There are only 80 in total plus the Tactile stack of 10. But this is a game to play when you have a group of adults ready for some light, quick, fun response action (did someone say the pub??!!). Or when you have a group that involves younger gamers, and you want something quick and varied to play that engages them as much as the grown-ups. Given that we usually want to play again immediately after finishing to restore reps as Master of the Mazes and First at Frequency means we are obviously willing to take that risk!
I also like the fact that cards get mixed up to avoid the same categories being repeated over and over again – it feels like the game gives different players and skills opportunities to shine!