I am a complete sucker for “pretty abstract games." By that, I mean games that are both abstract and pretty. I'm talking Sagrada, all the Azuls, you know the ones. As well as those which are more comfortably than not nestled in the theme-light, strategy-heavy mechanic section of Board Game Geek.
I am also a pretty busy board gamer with one reliably formidable opponent at home. Although Mini-meeple is rising quickly up through the ranks! This means that a 2 player, quick-hitter in this genre is going to light up my radar like I’m flying low on fireworks night.
On that basis, by reputation alone, Mandala, published by Lookout Spiele, very quickly became a must-play, must-have for my collection.
Rather, this is a how-to-play guide that goes into the nitty-gritty of how this game works in a little more detail to help you decide whether Mandala could also be a game for you.
The Line-n Up!
Mandala is a right flap to set up.
No, really it is, but in the best possible way!
Had you worried there for a moment, didn’t I?!
After satisfactory flappage, the remainder of the set-up is slightly less dramatic but no more complicated.
Having placed the cloth between you both, shuffle all 108 cards and place them face down in a draw pile.
Note: although this game is very colour-centric, the individual suit patterns on each card suit should help players with colour vision issues play without any disadvantage. Making it an accessible abstract!
Then give each player two cards which only they look at and then place face down onto their own “cup."
Each player then receives six cards into their hand.
Finally, turn over two cards and place them in the centre of each plain rectangle, bisecting the geometrically patterned circle. These four cards are the beginning of each of the two mandalas.
It's helpful to note at this stage that the six squares in front of each player represent a player’s “river” and is where the cards in their cup will be sorted for scoring at the end.
The only other element of the linen cloth to note is the wider circle around each mountain. That space immediately below a mandala is called the “field." This is where a player may place cards on each round in the hope of controlling the connected Mandala.
With that done, let’s go make (and destroy!) some mountains!
On each turn, you will be trying to gain cards that are of value to you by taking them from one of two central mandalas being built up over the course of a round.
The value of each card in a given colour starts at zero. They then obtain a particular value to you based upon their respective positions in your river (numbered 1 – 6).
You can only take cards from a mandala and add them to your cup once it has been built up and is ready to be destroyed.
By way of an overview, players build up the two mandalas by adding a card from their hand into one of the two mountains in play during a round. However, you can only play a colour which has not already been placed into either the mandala or its field. If you add a card to a mandala, you can replenish your hand by taking up to 3 cards (so long as you do not have more than 8 at any one time).
Players acquire priority over picking suits from a destroyed mandala by having more cards in their field than the other player. Destruction only happens when a mandala and its surrounding field contains all 6 suits. All mandala cards gained on a round go into that player’s cup for scoring at the end of the game, save for one card of any new colour. That will be added to the player’s river.
Those cards are then discarded and two new cards are placed on the mountain space, ready for the mandala to be constructed again.
Cross-eyed over cards? Don’t worry, I’ll smooth out the mind moguls by taking you through a round step by step:
On your turn you have three choices:
- Add a card into either mandala - here you must follow the “rule of colour” which means that the card you lay can either match an existing colour or be a new colour. It cannot be a colour which your opponent has already added into the mandala or their field surrounding that mandala. But you can keep adding to whichever suits are in the mandala, regardless of who laid that colour (suit) first.
- Add cards into one of your fields – again following the rule of colour, they can either match an existing colour or be a new colour but again you cannot add a colour which your opponent has already laid down into the manadala or their field surrounding that mandala.
- Discard one or more of a particular suit and pick the same number of cards from the deck - If you discard and replace, you do not place any cards that turn.
Watch Out - Rockfall!
As players lay cards into their fields or onto the mandalas, there will come a time when one of the mountains contains all six colours which means it has completed.
At that point, the mandala must then be destroyed.
The player with the most cards in their field then picks which mandala colours they want. Their opponent gets second pick, and it goes back and forth until the cards making up that mandala have depleted.
High Altitude Hint #1: if you do not have any cards in your field at all when the mandala breaks, you do not get to keep any cards from the mountain. You will still select colours (suits) in turn order but they will go into the discard pile. As such, before that mandala breaks, you will want to have at least one card in your field.
Note: if both players have the same number of cards, the player who didn’t complete the mandala goes first.
From the cards each player collects from the mandala, one of each colour will go into their river and the remaining cards will go face down into their cup. Note that you have to put any new colour collected on the lowest available spot in your river. Those colours are now set in terms of the multiplier they will score when you reveal the cards in your cup at game end. Any cards collected which already match a colour present in your river go straight into your cup.
Any cards in either field are then discarded and the mountain is reset with two fresh cards from the deck.
Rounds continue until one player has a colour in each of the 6 spots or the deck runs out.
Note: if the deck runs out, you get to shuffle it once and play continues until the mandala is broken. A last minute mountain rescue!
Our Cups Runneth Over!
Having survived the majestic mountains and the rapid rivers, it’s time to work out end-game scoring!
Taking all the cards out of your cup, place them under the matching suit along your river.
Discounting the card on the river itself, multiply each collected card by its position e.g:
- Red is on spot 1 along your river. You have 5 red cards in your cup. 5 x 1 = 5 points.
- Orange is on spot 2 along your river. You have 7 orange cards in your cup. 7 x 2 = 14 points
Repeat for each colour along your river and the player with the most points in total is the winner!
Note: if you do not have a colour in a spot on your river when end game is triggered, any matching cards in your cup will score zero – don’t get the hump!
And there you have it – you scaled the Mandalas!
As I said, this is not my review, but I do love this game. It pulls you in different directions because, on one hand, you might be desperate to speed up destruction in order to block your opponent from taking the cards high up along their river spots. You might need to slow the slide down in order to build up and collect cards that will benefit you.
Risk builds up fairly slowly as the mandalas grow one card at a time but, once a tipping point is reached for a particular player, they will be racing to tear it down before their opponent can pack out their field and steal the cream of the card drop!
It's a game where you need to remain flexible and adapt to a situation where control shifts during a round.
I hope this guide helps you to decide whether Mandala is a game for you. If you like competitive two player games and/or the race-reverse-race element of games like Lost Cities, then Mandala will be right up your street!