Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 19 May 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Mandala Stones

Game: Mandala Stones

Publisher: Board&Dice

Designer: Filip Głowacz

Year: 2021
If you attend board game conventions, then you'd perhaps recognise Filip Głowacz as the co-owner of board game publisher Board&Dice, wearing a flashy Pac-Man themed suit. Mandala Stones is his first published board game design, and we were fortunate to try out a digital version late last year and immediately fell in love with it. The physical version makes itself even easier to love with its fantastic, colourful heavy plastic pieces which remind me of the pieces in Azul.

Mandala Stones is an abstract game for 2-4 players in which you will collect towers of colourful stones to optimise your scoring opportunities. It has lots of puzzliness and an every changing game-state that both looks fantastic and keeps you constantly engaged in the changing opportunities on the board. It's one we have been really excitd to share our thoughts on.

At the start of the game the central board is filled with columns of multicoloured stones. Then four black totems are placed between them. On your turn you will choose between moving one of these totems, to collect the colourful stones, or scoring. Should you choose to move a totem you will pick it up and place it on any of the free spaces of the board. Each totem has a symbol on top of it and you will get to take the top stone off of each of the four surrounding stacks so long as they are showing the matching symbol and aren't adjacent to any other totems. This will give you between one and four stones to collect. You will take these stones, arranged a column in the order you took them, and place them on one of the five empty scoring locations on your player board.

Should you choose to score then you may do one of two scorings. You may either simply take the top stone off of any number of columns on your board and score one point for each, or, more effectively, you can pick a colour and score only the towers which are topped by a stone in that colour. Should you do the latter then you'll be using each space's unique scoring mechanics, which should hopefully get you far more than one point per stone! The scoring spaces work in different ways, the first rewards you for having varying height across your five scoring spaces. The second, third and fourth all reward you based on the current height of the column on that space, with each having a sweet spot at a different height. The fifth space rewards you for having as many different colours on that spot at possible.
After scoring, all the stones you used will be placed onto the scoring track. At cetain points along this track are bonus points, granting you +1 or +2 points if a stone you place covers the spot. There is also the end point, which varies based on player count, and once a stone lands on this spot the end of the game is triggered, at which point players may score bonus points for their secret objectives.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
There is a beauty to be found in both an elegant design, both in terms of gameplay and the physical components. Mandala Stones manages to evoke elegance in both areas, the gameplay is simple, with only two choices per turn, and the components are simply gorgeous. Of course Mandala Stones is an abstract game, and in that genre simplicity of rules rarely makes for simplicity in play. Every choice you make has weight (as do the 'stones' themselves, which feel great in the hand), sometimes you need to compromise so as to not leave a bumper crop of stones for your opponent. Sure if you manage to top off all five scoring locations with the same colour of token you can have a bumper score, but is it worth scoring earlier to get the bonus points at an opportune time. If you opponents can't fit any more stones then you can set yourself up for a great pick since you know they will have to score. 

There is also the key concept of forward thinking. You don't have full choice over the order of tiles you take when you get a new stack to add to your board. So making a move optimally isn't just about getting the most stones, but then right colours in the right order. If you managed to get all your stacks with blue stones on top with pink beneath then you can have two rapid scoring rounds worth a ton of points. If you have a rainbow mess you have to decide between the rapid, but low value option of scoring the top stone of each stack or scoring them in smaller chunks of one colour until you can create something more profitable. Mandala Stones is a game that constantly gives you decisions to make, despite only having a couple of extremely simple actions. 

This may come to bite you against the wrong player, since there are a lot of decisions to be made you can spend a long time thinking about how best to play. Particularly in a two player game you can spend time being mindful of what your opponent can do and what options you are giving/denying them. Since the whole board is set up at the start of the game there's little you can't plan for (barring the symbol on each stone) so AP is certainly a risk. But so long as you don't take it to that level (or everyone involved is happy to do so) then Mandala Stones is an absolutely fantastic game and a joy to play!

Fi’s Final Thoughts
Mandala Stones is a super elegant game that makes me so excited to play. I love how you take your first couple of stacks of stones without a care in the world, and then all of a sudden you realise that perhaps you should have thought a little more ccarefully. It's easy to plan a great first scoring, but if you weren't already thinking ahead to your second or even third scoring turn, then you might have set yourself up with a whole load of useless tiles to work with. In a two player game, it's possible to find even more layers of strategy where you might take certain stones on one turn, with a plan to take stones on the next layer down in a future turn. If you really weight up all of your options, it can be a little analysis paralysis inducing to take a turn sometimes. The only downside is that sometimes the shuffle of the tiles during setup leaves you with a board that's seemingly full of great choices and other times the shuffle means that there's rarely ever a stack that offers you more tha two stones - it's always more fun to have some possible big opportunities thrown into the mix.

If you asked me to pick a game I wanted to play most right now, there's a high likelihood I'd pick a puzzly abstract game from our shelf. It's been a niche that we have come to love so much over the past 12-18 months, that our collection really overflows with games like Azul, Nova Luna, Calico, Cloud City and many more. Mandala Stones fits right in with that crowd, bringing many similar qualities to a game like Azul. The components are an obvious point of comparison, but there's a couple of other similarities for me. Firstly, Mandala Stones has very simple rules, and you'll have it set up in no time. I could teach anyone to play and I'm sure most people would enjoy it, but there are hidden depths in the game that mean you need to plan ahead and step up your game to play really well. Secondly, you're playing a puzzle all on your own, but the game is not without player interaction. he options presented to you on the board each turn are the cosequence of ohow other players have played, and in a 2-player game in particular, blocking juicy opportunities is definitely a factor, much like in Azul. When I compare a game to Azul, it's a very favourable comparison. Azul is a family favourite and one of our most played games, and I can't wait to introduce Mandala Stones to friends and family.

You Might Like...
  • Mandala Stones is an elegant game design, with a modern classic feel to it.
  • The game just gets more and more beautiful as it progresses.
  • It's possible to play the game in a relaxed way, but there are deeper and deeper aspects to the puzzle to dig into too.
You Might Not Like...
  • You don't always have as much control as you might like over what stone combinations you can take.
  • The player who ends up with control over when the game ends has a lot of power.

The Verdict
8/10 Mandala Stones first draws you in with its good looks and lovely chunky components, but it makes you stay for the tricky, puzzly gameplay. Each turn you have a a new puzzle to play with and determine your optimal move for both now and future turns, as well as weighing up your opponent's options. We love the two player game in particular for those difficult decisions. It's a classic-feeling game that we know will become a staple of our collection.

Mandala Stones was a review copy kindly provided to us by Board&Dice.

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