Mastermind Game Review

The Basics:

  • Ages 8 and up
  • For 2 players
  • Variable game length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • None


  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


Mastermind is a game that requires a player to use logic and deductive reasoning skills to determine, through trial, error, and some luck, the sequence of colored pegs their opponent has secretly placed. Careful attention to detail is a must in order to successfully compete. The answer to the puzzle is hidden, but perseverance will ultimately win out in the end, if you don’t run out of guesses first.

This game is comprised of a single peg board with 10 rows with an area for the secret code to be placed at one end, a large number different colored “Code Pegs”, and a large number of different colored “Key Pegs”. All the components are solid plastic and very durable. It should be noted that the pegs are very small and do represent a serious chocking hazard. If you have baby or toddler geeks, best keep this game up on a table and every piece accounted for.

Game set up is very simple and quick. First, decide how many rounds will be played. A single round involves both players taking a turn as the Codemaker and the Codebreaker. Next, decide the players’ starting roles. Note that these roles are reversed at the end of every turn in a round, meaning each player will take on both roles once during a single round.

Once roles are decided, the Codemaker secretly takes 4 Code Pegs of any color and places them in any order they choose on one end of the board designated for the Codemaker’s code. The rest of the Code Pegs are given to the Codebreaker and the Key Pegs are given to the Codemaker. You are now ready to play the game.

On a player’s turn as the Codebreaker, they have 10 attempts to “break” the code. The code is the sequence of colored Code Pegs created by the Codemaker and  must be reproduced in one of the 10 rows of the board. While this might sound like a tiring exercise of trial and error, the Codemaker provides hints based on the pegs in each row. This allows the Codebreaker to logically make their next choice of pegs by using basic deduction. The goal for the Codebreaker is to break the code using as few rows as possible.

When the Codebreaker completes a row, the Codemaker places the Key Pegs next to that row, one for each Code Peg placed (so, a possible of four in total). The Key Pegs tell one of three things depending on their color, but not their placement.

  • A Red Key Peg for each Code Peg that’s the right color and in the right position
  • A White Key Peg for each Code Peg that’s the right color, but not in the right position
  • No key pegs indicate a color is not used in the code

The Key Pegs actually provide a good deal of information, but the Key Pegs themselves are also randomly placed by the Codemaker. This means the color alone provides the information, but again, its location does not. The location the Key Peg is placed is up to the Codebreaker to determine.

After the Key Pegs have been placed for that row and the Codebreaker given adequate time to review the Key Pegs in play, the Codebreaker places another row of Code Pegs. This continues until one of two conditions are met:

  • The code has been solved
  • All ten rows have been filled and the code has not been solved

If the code is solved, the Codemaker reveals the code and is awarded 1 point for every row used (i.e. has pegs in it). If the code is not solved by the time the 10th row is filled with Code Pegs, the Codemaker is awarded 11 points (1 point per row, plus 1 additional bonus point). Regardless of the outcome, the roles are now reversed and the game set up is once again initiated.

The winner of the game is the player with the most points at the end of the decided upon game rounds. The actual game length is determined by the players (1 round, 2 rounds, 3 rounds, etc.). For longer games, add more rounds. For a shorter game, reduce the number of rounds to 1 to 3 rounds.

The complete rules can be reviewed from Pressman Toys.


I predict that Mastermind will not do as well as Animal Mastermind Towers for two reasons. First, the game is very abstract. My oldest little geek will need to focus on the Key Pegs to help him make choices. What the Key Pegs represent can be confusing at first. Second, this game requires a great deal more of the player’s attention. Learning new games takes mental energy and sometimes tightly focused concentration. Mastermind requires the same amount of energy and concentration to learn as well as to play. This might burn out my little geek’s brain and patience.

After I explained the rules to my son, gave several examples of how the Code Pegs are placed followed by the Key Pegs, explained several times what the Key Pegs mean, and provided suggestions on how to use previous Key Pegs to determine what Code Pegs to play, I asked him his thoughts on the game from what he was just told. His response?

This game is really confusing.

Well said and to the point. You gotta love that about kids. So, with many an Animal Mastermind Towers under his little belt, we bravely go forth to conquer Mastermind! Will the game be met with success or bitter disappointment? Let’s find out.

Final Word

Well, slap my bald head and call me Egbert, my oldest little geek loved the game! I never would have predicted this and was completely surprised that he enjoyed himself enough to want to play several rounds. In truth, he said he enjoyed Animal Mastermind Towers more than this game, which is not surprising. Honestly, I wouldn’t have put money on this game as a winner; not with a 6 year old. I guess you really can learn something new every day.

We played this game slightly different than the rules state. This might also be why he enjoyed the game. In quick summary, I was always the Codemaker and my son was the Codebreaker. This was necessary because, again, the Key Pegs can be confusing. In addition, we handled the scoring differently. If he broke the code before he finished 10 rows, he won the round. Since we were playing 3 rounds, he had to win 2 out of the 3 to win the game.

He lost he first round with the 10th and final row containing the incorrect Code Peg placement, but containing the right colors. The second round was won by my little geek, barely, with the 10th and final row containing the correct colored Code Pegs in the correct sequence. The third and final round was also won by my little geek, but instead of the 10th row, he cracked the code on the 7th row! He was most pleased, as was I.

An unforeseen bonus result of this game was a very noticeable uptick in my little geek’s emotional control when he lost the first round, the stress he must have felt while playing was very noticeable. However, he was strangely quiet and contemplative throughout the game. It gave me chills. Here was a very brief and dazzling look at what was to come and who my little geek would one day be. Was I proud? More than words could say, and we had a wonderful time playing. I do not know when we will get Mastermind out on the table next, but it was well worth our time when we played it.

While my son played the game at age 6, I recommend you play this game with little geeks at least age 8 or more. The game really is meant to play one person against another, with each player taking on different roles. Unless both players place the Key Pegs correctly, the game will quickly fall apart with bad information being provided by the Codemaker. It is therefore imperative that both players understand and follow the Key Peg rules to the letter at all times, and it is for this reason alone, older little geeks are better suited.

Personally, I like this game. It is a simple 2-player deduction game that is not terribly demanding time wise and allows for a good deal of social interaction while playing. It is not “heavy” with game mechanics or rules and is easily taught within minutes. It truly is a classic game (it has been around since 1971) and will continue to entertain and challenge generations to come. I do, however, recognize that it isn’t for everyone. Abstract puzzle games can be a bit tedious at times, but I would argue no more so than Checkers, Chess, or Go. It all depends on the player’s disposition and interests. As I love a good challenge, I greatly enjoy this game.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

3 Responses to Mastermind Game Review

  1. Pingback: Animal Mastermind Towers » Father Geek

  2. ann vorthmann says:

    how many colored pegs come with the original game. I picked a game up on a garage sale and am unsure the numbers are enough.

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