The test of the board game Mandala Stones was far less relaxing than one might have assumed, given the mini-theme placed over the board game. This was mainly due to the quality of the game, which was published in this country by the Kobold Verlag brand: it is at a similarly high level as with Azul, after all, Game of the Year 2018. There are still significant differences.
What yesterday Azul from Pegasus Spiele is now Mandala Stones, which was realized in this country via the B-Rex entertainment brand Kobold Verlag from the Happyshops family. At least that's roughly true, because both board games appeal to similar target groups. Ultimately, the processes are completely different. Filip Glowacz's idea is still abstract - you have to like that. However, Mandala Stones makes it easy for players to get excited about mechanics and not a specific topic thanks to its tactical approach. Why? Because it works brilliantly.
Mandala Stones: Simple, but demanding
In contrast to other board and card games from brands such as Kobold, Grimspire or Giant Roc, there was no need for a swarm. Mandala Stones found its way into the trade without any detours or financing campaigns. Not without reason, because this board game seems to be made as a product suitable for the masses: colorful, material you can touch, manageable rules, but enough starting points for exciting rounds of around half an hour.
96 colored stones are in the box. They are the stars of the board game because everything revolves around them. The eponymous “Mandala Stones” have to be collected, if possible with a system, because then there will be a lot of points. A combination of movement tactics and stone collection is used for this purpose: each player uses his personal artist's board, on which the colorful loot accumulates during the course of the game. However, the four collectors on the game board must be moved. It quickly becomes clear: The mandala stones cannot be collected at random, everything depends on the placed collector. It takes a constant balance between the two possible game actions: move the collector or trigger a scoring. Sounds simple? It is - at the beginning of the game anyway, because there is emptiness on the personal player board.
The real highlight lies in the collecting mechanism: Surrounding stones that show the symbol of the collector can be collected. Unless they are blocked by another collector next to them. There is therefore a certain annoyance factor, because tactical possibilities also arise because blockades can be set. And something else is important: the order in which you collect several stones is not arbitrary. Only the “starting stone” can be selected, then it continues clockwise. The arrangements from the so-called artist tableau are relevant for the evaluation. The main focus is then on the colors of the stones. Color management coupled with good timing is the key to victory. Stones, which in the opinion of the player are “out of place”, can be removed for a single point - this is not particularly worthwhile, but rather a further strategic means. Scored stones move to a common mandala board - only here are the true works of art, which can also grant bonuses.
Various options for action and mechanisms are harmoniously interlinked with Mandala Stones. There is more to the basically simple gameplay, as players gradually realize. As with Azul, you always try to optimize the number of points. This unfolds a similar potential for addiction.
The structure of the game is not quite as addicting as it eats up a bit too much time. A point of criticism, albeit one that can hardly be avoided in view of the game principle. And there is something else that doesn't quite fit in with the branding of Kobold Verlag: Although Mandala Stones is an overall simple, or better: well comprehensible, board game, the scoring mechanism has it all. Beginners could be overwhelmed with this, or at least need a significantly longer time to get used to it. In any case, the motivation for further games is given. Mandala Stones gets better the more often the title lands on the table. The reason for this is the urge to optimize. You want to be more strategic, increase your points and trip your opponent much more often.
One of the strengths of this board game is its two-part concept. On the one hand you try to score the best possible, on the other hand you are constantly busy blocking the strategies of your opponents with clever collectors' movements.
As with many other abstract board games, it is difficult to play from the gut: The evaluation triggers need to be carefully considered and prepared. Only those who put themselves in a position that promises points can maximize their ratings. In any case, the error learning effect supports the process of getting better. The possibilities seem limited at first glance, but offer enough playful freedom. A critical factor is the limitation of the rating potential by the players themselves: From time to time you are stuck in a quandary, large chances of points are then destroyed. This sometimes leads to mediocrity in the points area because the maximum cannot be exhausted.
Haptically a pleasure
The table presence of this board game is terrific - not least thanks to the criticized structure. If everything is there, Mandala Stones looks great, feels great and is a lot of fun. Despite the comparison with the Game of the Year from 2018, this board game is not a mere copy of Azul: Mandala Stones stands on its own, has enough points of difference to exist alongside Azul and even land on the table on the same evening. Visually and haptically it is similar, in terms of play it is basically completely different.
The stimulus to replay is high, as is the brain-twirling factor: There is a lot to think about if you want to play an optimal game depending on the situation. Planning ahead is essential, but not everything. This is because the influence of the opponent's moves is immense. You have to act as a player, but also react. The two cannot be separated from each other. Mandala Stones works for two, but also with a maximum of four players. It goes through as a family game, but its mechanics have the potential to be an expert game, it is simple, but also difficult. It motivates, but at the same time frustrates when a tactic is thwarted. Mandala Stones brings opposites into balance. It's harmonious in its idiosyncratic way.
Number of players: 2 to 4
Age: from 8 years
Playing time: 30 to 40 minutes
Long-term motivation: medium
Genre: family board game
Sub-genre: Abstract puzzle game
Core mechanisms: layering, pattern building
Authors: Filip Głowacz
Illustrations: Zbigniew Umgelter
Published by Board & Dice / Kobold Verlag
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2021
Cost: 30 Euro
The board game Mandala Stones is a visually appealing puzzle board game that doesn't have to hide behind its genre competitors: it's easy to get started, but mastering high scores is quite challenging. The puzzle factor is high, ideally there are many considerations in the player's moves. The 96 mandala stones are the stars of this board game in connection with the scoring forms. Once set up - yes, that can be annoying at times - the colorful towers motivate the game to start - the mandala "painted" during the game is also a visual highlight. Only the artists' tableaus are made of cardboard that is a little too thin.
But you don't win with beauty and harmony alone, the scoring system and its secret cards take care of that. The latter bring a little more variety into the game. Otherwise it is step by step timing and clever placements. Once understood, Mandala Stones literally ingratiates itself for subsequent games - the motivation to increase your score and sabotage your opponent's is high. Because the structure of the board game is always different, in a double sense, - on the mandala board and the main playing field - the pressure to optimize is tempting. With the right strategy, some things, but by no means everything, can be controlled with Mandala Stones. A certain luck factor is already present due to the structure. The further the stone turrets melt, the more transparent the trains become - which again opens up tactical potential.
By the way, one thing doesn't work with Mandala Stones: simply dismiss the board game as an azul imitation. Yes, both games are about stones. However, the mechanisms are completely different. The author behind the puzzle board game, Filip Glowacz, serves different types of players with his idea, from beginners to experts. However, you have to like abstract titles without a real theme. Mechanically, Mandala Stones works almost perfectly - a small exception are the bonus cards, which have hardly any effect at the beginning and only become relevant towards the end of the game. Most of the time you drag the cards with you like ballast.
Mandala Stones is harmony: simple and difficult, rippling and demanding, in two as well as in four, tactical and uncontrollable, somehow familiar and nevertheless interesting.
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