October 3, 2013 7:11 PM | Paul Hack
Mond Cards is a terrifying, disorienting experience (at least, it was for me). It's also original and compelling. By email, developer Ryan Melmoth told me that the genesis for his game was the swirly-eyed elephant figure in the background, a mental image he couldn't shake. Combined with the idea for a dialogue occurring across a table, and with the addition of a mysterious, convoluted card game, Mond Cards was born. I thought I spotted a little David Lynch or Cronenberg in the work, but Melmoth said that his sensibilities were more likely influenced by suda51.
You spend the game sitting across a table from an eyeless man who is more powerful than he appears. Behind him stand an insectoid thing in pink bikini briefs who is regularly vomiting blood and a bipedal elephant with pinwheel eyes, obviously whacked out of his mind on something. They could be employees, spectators, or losers of previous card games.
You have come to this nightmarish place to play a game of cards against the eyeless man; if you win, you are said to gain whatever it is you seek. If you lose, you will essentially become his servant and plaything. His game of choice, Mond Cards, is played with a special deck that has its own weird imagery and uses an esoteric set of rules that no one knows except for him and his pals.
The gameplay is split into two portions: actually playing the card game and chatting between rounds. The conversations are fairly one-sided and anything but pleasant. You don't have dialogue choices, but you can move an icon above the head of each of the 3 characters and hear what they have to say. Eyeless man castigates, berates, and belittles you, although he does give you some tips on playing the card game. The insect-alien wants you for a sex slave, and teases/threatens you about it. The elephant seems to be too inebriated to say anything coherent. The feeling of overwhelming menace and false friendliness made me think of Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth from Blue Velvet.
Eyeless man will explain the bare essentials of the card game to you, but he delights in withholding information and is quite certain that you'll lose. When he goes into detail, he uses unfamiliar terms. It's kind of like playing War mixed with Mao.
Your basic action during each hand is to choose which of three cards to keep and which to discard. Once both of you have done this a number of times, the cards are laid out and a complex sequence of placement and elimination is carried out. Cards appear to be eliminated based on their position to others in the array and their relative values.
As you struggle to learn from your defeats, your situation becomes grimmer and your hosts become more unhinged. The first time I finished playing Mond Cards, I thought I was just beginning to catch on, so I immediately fired it up again. Now, after communicating with the developer, I can say that I do know basically how the card game works, but I will not divulge that here. It's so much more fun to try to deduce the rules for yourself.