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My Brain Doesn’t Hurt- A Cortex Challenge Review


Cortex: A short game of shame

Have you ever watched a quiz on TV or elsewhere and thought “I could do that”, or shouted “No! It’s Papa New Guinea!” while watching? Maybe most pertinent of all, have you ever done any brain training exercises? Yes, me too. That’s why Cortex appealed to me.

It’s a quick to play family game which ticks the usual boxes for me. I have a lot of small box games because they see more table time than others and are good for a quick distraction.

Where does the shame come in? Well, I played it with my son and whilst I was pretty lenient with him, I started to see that some of his mental faculties are definitely much sharper than mine. And given some practice (which if I have my way, he will not be getting) then he’ll start to show me up sooner rather than later.

Cortex Challenge… not so much of a challenge

I chose to review the “normal” family edition of Cortex but there’s also a version for kids and one for Geography. The idea is that you turn over a card from the deck, which has a specific type of challenge on it. The players compete to complete the challenge first and the winner gets to keep the card. You then have to trade in 2 of the same type of card for a brain piece, and the first person to complete the brain (which is 4 pieces) is the winner. There are eight different types of challenge in the game: Memory, Maze, Colour, Coordination, Duplicates, Frequency, Reasoning and Touch Challenge.

Now this is my first issue with the game. I am no Stephen Hawking, but the challenges generally aren’t very challenging. Let me explain what the Cortex “challenges” are before I tell you my issues with them.

Memory: You get 5 items on a card. You get enough time as you need to look at them, and then you cover the card and tell the other players what was on there.


Maze: The clue is in the title on this one. You get a maze with 3 or 4 points of exit on it and have to work out which one is the exit.


Colour: Based on the stroop test where there are lots of different colour words and you have to name the one which is the same colour text as the word.


Coordination: You need to place a designated finger (or fingers) on the part of your face shown on the card.


Duplicates: Which picture is there 2 of?


Frequency: Which image appears the most?


Reasoning: Which shape would fit in the gap?


Touch Challenge: Not as legally incriminating as it sounds. There are 10 raised image cards which all feel different. Someone passes one to you face down and you have to work out which image it is from touch alone.


All of the Cortex challenge cards have a symbol on the back corresponding to which challenge it is so you always know what the next challenge is going to be. The top card gets turned over and then you check out the challenge on the card. When you think you have the answer you put your hand over the card and give your answer. If you get it right (which you likely will) then you get to keep the card towards a trade in for brain pieces. To make the game a little more of a challenge (and it really needs something) you can only have 4 cards in front of you at one time.

Hardly stimulating your Cortex

I know this is a game for families, I chose it because of this, however for Cortex to genuinely be a challenge then you’d likely have to be a pre-schooler. Honestly, that’s not me being mean, it’s true. I played it with a pre-schooler and he managed to identify the answers within around 5 or 6 seconds for most of the challenges. The only one which made any of us think was the Coordination challenge as you have to work out via colour and number coding which hand to use and which finger to put where. Having now played several “adult” challenges, I shudder at the thought of the what the kids edition might have in store for people… maybe pre-natal Cortex challenge?

I tested Cortex out with my kids first and they enjoyed it, and it makes me think that perhaps they’re around the right age range for it, but I have also tried it with a couple of adults and we managed to complete a game within about 6 minutes feeling less satisfied than if I’d just walked out of an M Night Shyamalan movie. For me, this is the card game equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. It’s the game which probably shouldn’t have happened and no-one will acknowledge for very long.

Don’t get me wrong, a couple of the challenges are really fun; the colour one being my favourite but I have an adult card game based solely on that which I’d reach for way before Cortex, but obviously not to play with my kids. Also, the touch challenge is an interesting idea and something unique, which I have never seen anywhere else but after a turn with each of one of the cards (to me at least) it became obvious what they were, thus removing the difficulty.

My biggest issue is that considering the word “Challenge” appears a lot in Cortex, it’s not a challenge. I have put some thought in to how I could change it to make it a challenge. What I came up with, was playing the game whilst doing a plank over some burning coals. Now that would be a challenge! Maybe trying to do the memory challenge while simultaneously having a pair of ferrets running up your trousers, but then I decided that was a little too Japanese game show for my liking. I have since decided the biggest challenge Cortex has to offer is going to be convincing me to go back and play it again.

There are some other family games which are around the same price range and are a fantastic way to spend some time with the family. The best example I can give is Dobble, which is similar to the duplicates challenge in Cortex but Dobble is based around it. It’s definitely much more fun to play. Each card in the game has one symbol that matches the card you already have and you have to be the quickest person to spot which symbol your cards have in common, and then end up with the most cards to be the winner. You can also get several different versions including a recent one for Finding Dory. It also has something else in common with Cortex as there is a kids version of it, but it’s not really necessary since kids tend to pick up Dobble prime with no issues.


Another great example of an easy and fun family game is Sushi Go. My son bought a copy for himself as it really interested him. At the beginning of the round you have to decide which Sushi you’re going to try and eat and then the players draft the cards in the game, choosing which cards they want to be their meal. Shamefully, I have not played it with him yet but he has told me at great length how good it is, so for me that’s quite an endorsement.


I also mentioned an adult only party game based on the stroop test which I have had immense fun with on several occasions. In a nutshell, if you see card with black text you say the background colour of the card. If you see a card with coloured text then you say the colour of the text, but the game is based around swear words, so if you see a swear word, you have to say that word instead. The game was developed as a beer drinking party game and in this was a great success. There’s a link below for some more information or to grab yourself a copy.

I think Cortex is a good game for your kids (for goodness sake do not buy the kids version) but not so much for adults. Despite my misgivings for it, if you think it could be for you then check it out here:

If you’d like more information about the maker then their website is here:

To check out Sushi Go, here’s a link to their BGG page:

Here is some more information for Dobble and somewhere to buy it from if it tickles your fancy:

If you’d like to have a look into the adult game I referred to, follow THIS LINK

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Chris Dunnings

I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.

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