Brainiac Central

The Doubletree Hotel becomes a brilliant place as Mensans test a litany of new board and card games - all in good fun.

Published April 22, 2005

Armed with score pads, instruction booklets and an appetite for competition, 165 of the nation's brightest minds gathered in Tampa last weekend for a three-day gaming marathon.

The Mensa members, all of whom have scored in the top 2 percent on a standardized intelligence test, came from across the United States for the 16th annual Mind Games competition. A handful traveled from Canada and the United Kingdom.

Their mission was to play at least 30 games in 39 hours, rate each one and choose the top five based on aesthetics, clarity of instructions, originality, play appeal and play value. The top five were dubbed the Mensa Select, a distinction that game manufacturers may display on their packaging.

"It's Mensa's version of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval," said Jim Blackmore, American Mensa's national marketing director.

The annual competition is open to new board and card games that have an average playing time of less than 11/2 hours. Electronic and video games are not eligible.

According to Mensa, the "High IQ Society," the winners are not necessarily "intellectual" games; they are games that members enjoy playing. Past winners include Trivial Pursuit, Taboo and Scattergories.

This year's top games were DaVinci's Challenge by Briarpatch, Ingenious by Fantasy Flight Games, Loot by Gamewright, Niagara by Rio Grande Games, and Zendo by Looney Labs.

For the 46 games that didn't win, Mensa will send the player comment cards to the game manufacturers for them to review before releasing their games to the public.

"They really listen to us," said Jack Woodhead of Atlanta, who has served as Mind Games' chief judge for three years.

The Tampa Bay Mensa chapter, which has 591 members in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, hosted the event at the Doubletree Hotel. This was the first time the competition has come to Tampa.

Bonnie Wilpon of Town 'N Country has been a Mensa member since 1982. An avid gamer, she frequently attends the local chapter's game nights. This was her ninth Mind Games competition.

"For someone who loves games, it just doesn't get any better than 24-hour games with a hospitality suite attached," she said.

Gabe Werba, development officer for the Mensa society and former national chairman, said the games attract a diverse crowd.

"I think what is particularly interesting about Mind Games, and Mensa in general, you look around and you'd never be able to guess who's a CEO, who's a student and who's a farmer," he said.

Mensa, which gets its name from the Latin word for table, symbolizes a roundtable society where all are welcome.

Participation in Mensa events "opens up an entire new world," Werba said. "You meet people you wouldn't meet ordinarily."

Next year's Mind Games will be held in Portland, Ore. For information, visit www.us.mensa.org or call 1-800-66-MENSA.