Review – Mandala Stones
Mandala Stones is a puzzly abstract game from Board&Dice, publisher of popular games like Teotihuacan, Tekhenu, and the Escape Tales series. In this game, players take turns either selecting stones or scoring points in hopes of earning the highest score. This game is beautifully produced and has a pleasing tactile quality, but how is the gameplay? Let’s find out!
I am always drawn to “pretty” games, so Mandala Stones naturally caught my attention. In this game, players move “artist” pieces around a board, placing them in between stacks of stones and taking stones with a matching mandala pattern.
At the start of the game, the 96 stones are placed randomly into stacks of 4. Among them, 4 artist pieces are placed—each stone and artist piece bears 1 of 2 patterns.
On a player’s turn, they either move an artist and collect stones or score. If they move an artist, they can place it on any open artist space on the board. Then, they collect the topmost stones from all adjacent stacks that 1) match the artist’s pattern, and 2) are not adjacent to another artist.
Stones are collected in clockwise order, starting from whichever stone the player wishes to pick first. (The order matters for the sake of scoring.) The stones are then placed into a stack—in the order they were selected—on the player’s personal tableau.
If the player wishes, they may choose to score instead of collecting stones. When scoring, they evaluate stones from the top of their stacks, either of a particular color or of any colors they wish. When scoring a specific color, the player chooses a color and scores all the stacks with that color on top. Each stack has different scoring criteria, as shown on the player tableaus. Scoring criteria include:
- The number of different stack heights on the tableau
- The height of a specific tower
- The number of different colors in a specific tower
Alternatively, a player may remove the topmost stone of any number of stacks, scoring 1 point per stone. Either way a player chooses to score, the topmost stones of all scored columns are removed and placed onto a central track. Certain spaces of the track offer additional bonuses.
When the stones on the track reach the space pertaining to the number of players, the current round is finished and players calculate their scores. Each player has 2 private objective cards, from which they choose 1 to score. The player with the most points wins!
Mandala Stones is a lovely-looking game with beautiful production quality. Its vibrant colors and detailed patterns give it a strong artistic sensibility. Mechanically, it is pretty easy to understand, and the included player aids provide reminders of how each action works. What’s more, the game is very quick to play—with 2 players, it only takes about 20 minutes.
At its core, Mandala Stones feels like a light puzzle game. When picking from the board, players are presented with a set of options from which they must determine which stones—and how many—they need. Much like Azul, taking more stones is not always better. Sometimes players only want 1 or 2. And with 4 artist pawns roaming the board, it is difficult to get one “alone”—there is almost always another artist in an adjacent space.
Because of how tactical this game is, it is difficult to plan long-term, but play moves quickly enough that this doesn’t negatively affect the game. However, the experience does feel like multiplayer solitaire. Players will rarely, if ever, look at their opponents’ tableaus, but will instead always be honed-in on their own turn-by-turn decisions. (Whether this is a positive or a negative will be a matter of taste. Personally, though, I wish the game had more interaction.)
Mandala Stones may not have long-term replayability, but it has enough interesting ideas that it is worth at least a couple of plays. If you are a fan of “pretty” abstract games, it might be one to check out.
A review copy was provided by Board&Dice.
The Bottom Line
Mandala Stones has enough interesting ideas that it is worth a try, but players may find that it lacks the long-term replay value of contemporaries like Azul.