Brainwaves: Stretch Your Memory Muscles

Brainwaves games

Train your memory with Brainwaves!

Brainwaves is a series of three card games that were initially designed to help seniors improve their memory. But they found in testing that these make great games that can help all ages train their brains! We’ve even found they’re fun and approachable for the whole family! All three games force players to repeatedly update their working memory, with a shifting cast of characters – unlike other static memory games.

Brainwaves games are published by KOSMOS. Each was designed by a well-established game designer and tested by neuroscientists. All of the games are completely language-independent, with no text of any kind appearing on the cards. Because of this, we’d recommend Brainwaves for families with children as young as 4+ (although the box recommends 8+).

How to Play

All of the Brainwaves games challenge you to remember details about previously revealed cards. But each game does it with a different mechanism.

The Wise Whale

The Wise Whale, by Maureen Hiron, looks the most like a standard memory game. Set out nine cards face up in a grid. Once everyone has had a chance to study the cards, flip them all face-down.

3x3 grid of face up cards. Each card has a sea creature and a color.
The Wise Whale setup. Study these cards carefully!

On your turn, flip over a card from the deck, then try to pick a match from the grid. You may match either the color of the card or the animal pictured.

If you made a match, add the card from the grid to your score pile and replace it with the card that you flipped from the deck. You may flip another card and try to make another match (up to three times).

flipped card: green puffer fish. Picked from the grid: blue puffer fish
They match! You score a point.

If the card you picked in the grid did not match, your turn is over. Discard the card from the grid and replace it with the one from the deck.

A game of The Wise Whale ends when the draw deck is empty; the player with the most cards in their score pile wins.

How to Adjust the Difficulty

You can increase the challenge in two ways: either by using more animal/color combinations (easiest: five animals in five colors; hardest: seven animals in seven colors), or by rolling a special die. Roll the die on your turn, which indicates whether you must match the animal or the color of the drawn card.

2 dolphins, 2 whales, 3 puffer fish. A turtle, a seahorse, another turtle, a coral, a starfish.
Remember up to seven kinds of sea creatures in The Wise Whale
Box labeled "The Brilliant Boar: The brain-training memory game for the whole family."

Nine different animal cards splayed out below the box.
The Brilliant Boar

The Brilliant Boar

In The Brilliant Boar by Dirk Baumann, players try to match a card from their hand with a card on the table. The only catch? You can’t look at your own cards!

The deck of cards is placed face-up on the table. On your turn, you must either draw the top card from the deck, or play a card from your hand.

When placing a new card into your hand, put it face-out, to the right of any other cards in your hand. Your turn is over.

If you decide to play a card, take it from your hand and place it face-up on the table. If it matches another card on the table (either the top of the deck or a card previously played but un-matched), take both cards into your score pile. Then take another turn. If the card you played does not match a card on the table, leave it on the table. Your turn is over.

Play continues until the draw deck is empty and only a single player has cards in their hand. Each player counts up the cards they’ve scored, subtracting any left in their hand; the player with the most cards collected wins the game.

A hand of 5 cards, seen from the back side. 3 cards on the table: Duck, Fox, Owl.
Was the fox the second or third card in my hand?

How to Adjust the Difficulty

The Brilliant Boar includes nine different animal designs, each appearing six times. Start with only six animals for the “rookie” level, then add more to increase difficulty, using all nine for “expert”. Not challenging enough? Bump up the difficulty another notch by requiring players to name the animal they are about to play, eliminating unintended matches.

The Astute Goose

Reiner Knizia designed The Astute Goose, a memory game unlike any game we’ve played before. Lay out cards under the numbered headings. Each card shows a man, holding a pet, wearing a colored shirt and some sort of decorative accessory. After everyone has studied the cards, flip them face down.

The Astute Goose - cards laid out with numbers 1-4. Under each numbered card is a card depicting a man holding a pet animal.
Are you ready to play The Astute Goose?

On your turn, roll the included dice: one shows a number and the other a symbol. You must announce what the indicated aspect (color, accessory, or pet) is for the card under that number. Secretly look at the card to confirm your answer. If you are correct, add the card to your score pile. If you are incorrect, players take turns around the table to announce their guess, and whoever is correct gets the card.

At the end of your turn, draw a new card to go in the now-empty spot; let everyone study it before flipping it face down.

When the deck runs out, continue rolling the dice and making guesses until the number die is rolled to a number that no longer has a card available. Then all players count up their scored cards; the player with the most, wins!

How to Adjust the Difficulty

You may adjust the placement of the six number cards to have three, four, five, or six cards which players must remember. Players will still roll both dice, but some cards will go with more than one number. (See below.)

From easy... to expert! Left side: choose this card when you roll 1 or 4, 2 or 5, 3 or 6.
Lots of room for different difficulty levels in The Astute Goose.


All three Brainwaves games left us feeling that our memory had been well-exercised. And each game used slightly different memory skills: The Brilliant Boar exercises sequential memory; The Wise Whale uses spatial memory; and The Astute Goose tests ability to store details.

We loved the portability and simplicity of the games. A deck of cards (plus a die for The Astute Goose) and quick play time made all three Brainwaves games a great option for restaurants or other short waiting periods (10-15 minutes). The games take only seconds to learn, and the cards were so appealing that we found ourselves explaining them to bystanders again and again.

My favorite is The Brilliant Boar. It feels comfortable, and fits into memorization patterns I’ve learned as an engineer.


All the Brainwaves games include a blank scorepad, which we never used. It could be useful to track scores over time, but only if you’ll regularly be playing with the same group.

Did we mention each Brainwaves game can be played solo? It might be a tad less interesting this way, but its certainly easier to track your progress on training your brain.

3 cards face down, 4th card face up, showing a man with a red shirt and a cat.
Did you remember that 4’s shirt is red?

Each family member had their own favorites. Andrew and I prefer The Brilliant Boar, while Asher loved the spatial and color-matching Wise Whale. and Claire was drawn to the originality of The Astute Goose. All of the Brainwaves games have a wide appeal, and would be a good choice for anyone in your family.

Pick up Brainwaves from Amazon, or directly from KOSMOS, and test your memory today! At around $15 each, we highly recommend them for family members of all ages.

Brainwaves games

The Family Gamers received review copies of Brainwaves: The Astute Goose, Brainwaves: The Brilliant Boar, and Brainwaves: The Wise Whale from KOSMOS for this review.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

Brainwaves: The Astute Goose, Brainwaves: The Brilliant Boar, Brainwaves: The Wise Whale
  • 8.5/10
    Art - 8.5/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Family Fun - 8/10


Number of Players: 1-5

Age Range: 8+ (we say 6+)

Playtime: 10-15 minutes