Mastermind Game: Rules And Strategies To Win

Do you have a thing for code-cracking, brainteasers or riddles? If so, Mastermind is just the right game to tickle your fancy. 

Mastermind game rules involve a great deal of strategy-building and deduction to crack a secret code as fast as you can. This good old classic makes you think outside of the box and take a unique methodical approach for each round.

The gameplay is quite similar to another inductive logic game, Zendo. On each move, you will have to gather insights to access the mystery code or rule. 

Mastermind is a simple two-person game, very easy to learn. In this guide, we will discuss the objectives, gameplay, strategies, scoring – pretty much everything you should know before starting your first game. 

What is Mastermind?

Mastermind Board Game Info image

Mastermind is a fast-paced strategy board game. Are you good enough to decipher a code in 10 quick moves? Let’s find out!

In Mastermind, the code maker cooks up a code with four colored code pegs and challenges the code breaker to solve and replicate that code on the board. 

As the game proceeds, the code maker passes hints with the key pegs. The code breaker takes the hint to figure out how accurate their guessed combination was and narrow down the possibilities.

If you are a smart decoder and play fewer moves to crack the code, you’ll win!

Number of Players: 2

Ages: 8 and up

Length: 30 minutes approximately 

Difficulty: Easy

Similar to:Zendo, Code Stack, Clue, Code Breaker

Main Objective: Try to figure out the hidden four colored code set up by your opponent behind the secrecy screen. The fewer guesses you take, the more you score. The player with the most points at the end of the series of games wins.

Why We Love It: Mastermind is an excellent practical option to brush up on your deduction and reasoning skills. You are supposed to logically come to a solution through every possible combination, laced with a tinge of luck.

Playing Mastermind – What You’ll Need

Several Mastermind board game sets are available on the market – from different manufacturers, specifically suited for kids, retro and modern editions. 

Let’s play it safe and start with the latest version of Mastermind Game by Pressman. With more than 2000 combinations, every round seems like a new challenge. 

You should get the following items with this kit:

  • Game board with a built-in storage tray and code peg shield
  • 108 code pegs in 6 colors
  • 30 key pegs in red and white
  • Mastermind game rules and instructions sheet
Our Pick
Mastermind Game
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If you are on a lookout for a classic or retro edition of Mastermind that you might have played as a child, you can consider these options:

For those who love wooden game boards, this one has a nice vintage touch with wooden game pieces –

Mastermind for Kids is the right choice to introduce your kids to Mastermind for the first time. The 3 level gameplay and jungle animal pieces are sure to excite them! 

Mastermind for Kids
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How to Set up Mastermind

Mastermind is super quick and easy to setup. 

You have to decide between the two players who will be the code breaker and the code maker. 

They will sit facing each other on the opposite sides of the game board. 

Place the board in such a way so that the ‘secret code area’ with the shielded holes is on the code maker’s side. 

If you want to play it like a series, decide how many matches will occur. 

Separate the key pegs and the code pegs from the storage tray, and the code maker opens the game.

Mastermind Game Rules and Gameplay

As the game begins, the code maker will create a code and place four code pegs in the secret code area’s holes. This part is concealed from the sight of the code breaker with a plastic screen.

The opponent should look away while the code maker sets up the code pegs behind the secrecy screen.

How to Create a Code

  • The code maker is allowed to use any four of the six color pegs in any preferred combination.
  • They can use two or more code pegs of the same color.
  • For an additional challenge, one or more holes can be left empty.

Code Breaker’s Turn

Now that the secret code is set, the code breaker’s target is to replicate the peg’s exact colors and accurate positions. 

They will guess a combination and place those four colored code pegs on the game board’s first row. 

Codemaker’s Feedback 

There is a small square pattern adjacent to each row containing four holes for the key pegs. 

When the code breaker is done guessing, it’s the code maker’s turn to judge if the guessed combination is correct, partially or entirely. 

The code maker will give a clue to the opponent using any number of key pegs between 0-4. These pegs come in two colors – red and white ( in earlier editions, white and black).

The code breaker will figure out how good their guess was from the given key pegs in the holes. 

Mastermind game rules for placing the key pegs:

  • For each correct guess of the code peg’s position and color, place one black key peg. 
  • Place one white key peg for each code peg, which is of the right color but in the wrong hole. 
  • Don’t place any key pegs for a code peg if both of its parameters are wrong.
  • Put these key pegs in any random order, not according to their corresponding code pegs. 

Keep repeating the same moves until the code breaker matches all four code pegs identically with the secret code. In that step, the code maker will place red key pegs on each of the four holes and finally reveal the secret code. 

Final Scoring and Winning the Game 

Keep all the key pegs and code pegs intact in their positions until the secret code is broken. 

If all ten guess rows are filled, and the code breaker still couldn’t crack the code, that game is over, and the players swap roles. 

In this case, the code maker scores 11 points (10 + 1 bonus point). 

Alternatively, count how many rows did the code breaker take to reach the correct guess. The code maker will earn 1 point for each row, given that they provided correct feedback. 

But if the code breaker proves the feedback to be wrong, they can demand a rematch to settle the game fair and square. And the code breaker is awarded three extra points. 

Keep the game on until the predetermined number of matches are finished. The player with the most points wins the series. 

How to Play Mastermind Board Game – Video Tutorial 

Frequently Asked Questions About Mastermind

Is there any specific strategy to break the secret code in Mastermind?

Yes. There are many systematic approaches that you can apply for decoding. Let’s talk about a basic strategy, easy to follow. 

You can start guessing with four pegs of the same color. Because with a hodge-podge of different colored code pegs, you will receive mixed feedback that leads nowhere any sooner. But a combination of, say, four red pegs will bring more sound information. 

In the next step, go with a 2-2 color pattern to identify the colors. Keep the first pair of the same color as before, red. And for the last two pegs, choose a new color. Follow the same pattern in the next few moves while changing the color of the second pair.

Now you have figured out the four colors involved in the secret code. But you don’t know the order yet. As you have played in two pairs, you gathered some information on which colors go to which half of the board. So it’s time to apply logic to figure out the right order of the pegs.

Can the code maker leave blank space in the code in Mastermind?

Yes. Although it’s not clarified in Mastermind game rules, some editions allow the code makers to leave one or more empty holes in their code to increase the game’s challenge and difficulty level.

Is Mastermind a battery-operated game?

No, it’s not. It’s a plain simple board game with a storage compartment for the pegs. 

Alternative Games You Might Like 

So did you enjoy code-cracking with Mastermind? For your next pick, we have a couple of more suggestions up our sleeve. 

Let’s begin with Code Breaker by Little Treasures – a simplified version of Mastermind, ideally designed for kids. The game features 12 ways to break the code with more colors in pegs.

If you are looking for similar deduction-based games but only for a larger crowd, try Zendo. It involves a great deal of thinking, reasoning, learning, and problem-solving. Players build structures to collect more information about the secret rule on every move.

For those who enjoy wordplay, Code Stack is a game with a related theme and gameplay. But in Code Stack, you don’t set up a meaningless colored code; here, the color discs represent a word. Players rush to decode their opponent’s words during the gameplay. 

Other interesting games that are similar to Mastermind are Minesweeper (See Minesweeper rules) and Checkers (Checkers rules).

The last game in our suggestion is of a different flavor – Clue, from the murder mystery genre. However, Clue requires the same kind of inductive skill to narrow down the list by eliminating possible suspects and figuring out who murdered Mr. Boddy.

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