Board and Dice
Review by Mawihtec
What is a Mandala?
Mandala is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to mean “circle” or “centre.” We often associate the word mandala with the circular designs that have repeating colours, shapes, and patterns radiating from the centre. Mandalas can be precise, carefully measured, geometric, and perfectly symmetrical, or in contrast, free flowing, organic, and asymmetrical. Mandalas are often drawn in circles. Mandalas are often an object of meditation to aid in one’s spiritual development.
What is Mandala Stones then?
The main concept behind Mandala Stones is that of constructing a unique mandala through collecting and scoring stones from a central board. It is a game for two to four players and games take approximately 30-45 minutes to play. Board and Dice have rated the game as being suited for ages 10+, Generally I think this rating is pretty solid although younger children should be OK with a little pointing out of good moves occasionally.
What’s in the box?
1 Scoring Mandala Board
1 Central stone selection board
4 Player Boards
96 Stones (Bakelite)
4 Score Markers
Bonus score cards
Stones? What so an Azul clone then?
Despite the many reviews I have seen comparing Mandala Stones with Azul they are not as similar as you might think at first glance. While in both, yes you are collecting pieces to score points by making sets. For me that is where the similarity ends. Azul is more interactive with the forcing your opponent to take bad tile selections, meanwhile Mandala Stones is much gentler and less interactive but in some ways much more strategic (at 2/3 player but more on that in a bit)
OK so how do we play Mandala Stones then?
A game of Mandala Stones begins but setting up a central “artist paint board” you do this by randomly selecting groups of four stones and placing them in stacks on the board. In between these you will place four “Artists” Wooden columns. You will all also get 2 hidden objective bonus cards which you can only complete one of and are worth as much as 10 points at the end of the game. And that’s it set up is complete.
On your turn you will have a choice of two actions ‘Pick’ or ‘Score’. If during a game you are ever unable to do one you must do the other.
‘Pick’ consists of moving an Artist to a free location and collecting the surrounding stones that match his design. Sounds simple enough but stones can be blocked by adjoining Artists and the order you take the stones cannot be changed once you take the first stone. This stack is placed on an empty spot on your player board.
‘Score’ consists of two potential methods for gaining points. First up is choosing from 1 to 5 of the top stones from your stacks and placing them onto the Mandala board scoring one point for each (not recommended unless your really stuck). The second method (and much more lucrative points wise) consists of you choosing one or more of your top stones of matching colour and scoring based on the columns they are taken from (each column scores differently). These can earn you from one to six points per stone with a potential to score over 20 points in one go. These are then placed on the Mandala board. The Mandala board also has bonus point spaces giving you +1 or +2 points and it also controls the game length. Once you pass the respective player count space the game ends and bonus’ are scored
Where is the strategy then?
Do not allow yourself to be fooled. This simplistic style of gameplay hides a nice amount of strategy and can require quite a bit of forward planning.
At 2 players the strategy element really comes through in choosing which spot to place the artist to maximise your scoring potential and to achieve one of your hidden objectives. But you need to be wary of what you will leave for your opponent. While that optimal move for you allow them to set themselves up for a bigger score later? Sometimes a second best spot will provide a better long term return. Also knowing when to score is important rather than just waiting until you have to score.
When you add a third player you lose a lot of this ‘blocking to improve your returns’ strategy because the game board will change a fair bit before it comes back to your turn and keeping track of what opponents want to do becomes harder. There is still a lot of enjoyment in trying those strategies though.
Once we get to four players Mandala Stones becomes a lot less strategic due to how much the board will have changed between your turns. Also games at four tended to run long because you could not plan your turn ahead to any degree. But as a gentle beer and pretzels or with a bottle (or two) of wine there is still fun to be had.
I really like Mandala Stones a lot and want to recommend it highly to those that enjoy a lighter weight family friendly gentle game that will not cause any friction but will create pretty patterns. Mandala Stones also makes a nice filler game to play before or after a heavier game. However it is not perfect and there are a few niggly things that jarred with me a bit. Overall the production value is top notch. Nicely shaped thick main boards, lovely stones and Artists columns. Then we come to player boards which are thin card the scoring markers are just very small black wooden discs and the objective cards feel like they were an added afterthought. These feel like odd design choices to me given the love that clearly went into the design of the main game components. I would have liked the player boards to be thicker individual or better designed score markers and more variety in the hidden objective cards. That being said they are all cosmetic and not gameplay related so please do not let that put you off buying this fun gentle game.
Clever scoring mechanism
Good production Quality (mostly)
Minimal player interaction
Thin player boards
Lack of variety in objective cards
insert could have been better designed
The Long and Short
A very nice game which will remain on my shelf going forward. Everyone I have introduced to Mandala stones has enjoyed with several now having bought their own copies. It is not trying to be an Azul killer and it is all the better for that. With the £30 price tag I say Mandala Stones is an insta buy choice.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Mandala Stones to review by Board and Dice. There was no obligation or request for a positive review asked or given. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and I have tried to be as honest and unbiased as possible.