Game Buzz: Mandala

I have heard the term “mandala” before, even used it, but my perception of it was mostly just an abstract circular shape. Looking it up now, I see that there are a number of different application. In a lot of Eastern religions (like Hinduism and Buddhism), mandalas are used as maps for spiritual guidance. In New Age philosophies, they represent all of the universe. And in the rules for this game, it says that a mandala is a ritualistic symbol where “colored sand is laid to create a symbolic map of the world before the pattern is ceremonially destroyed and the sand cast into the river – an ever repeating cycle of life, death, and rebirth.” With that, let’s take a look at

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Mandala is a two-player game from designers Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert, published by Lookout Games last year at Spiel. It’s a fairly abstract game where you’re playing colored cards to try to control mandalas.

The game comes with a cloth playmat that shows two mandalas in the center, as well as a row of squares on each side – this is the River. Additionally, there are 110  cards – 18 cards per color and 2 action overview cards. At the start of the game, you’ll draw four cards, placing two of them on each Mountain (which is the area in the center of a mandala). Each player draws six cards for their hand, and two facedown for their Cup (which is basically your score pile). Cards in the Cup can be looked at by the player who owns them, but they stay there.

image by BGG user sjonnie

On your turn, you’ll take one of three actions: build a Mountain, grow a Field, or discard.

BUILD A MOUNTAIN: Take a card from your hand and place it on one of the Mountains. It is important to note that you can’t play a color into a Mountain if it’s already present in one of that mandala’s Fields (the areas on either side of the Mountain), but you can if that color is already on the Mountain – just stack it with any previous cards of that color. Once you’ve played that card, you can draw three more (up to a maximum hand size of eight).

GROW A FIELD: Place any number of cards of the same color into your Field (the area on your side of the Mountain). Again, you can’t place a color that already exists in the mandala outside of your Field, but you can add to a set in your Field. You do not get to draw more cards with this action, and you may not end your turn with no cards in your hand.

DISCARD: Discard any number of cards, then draw that many from the deck.

After you have taken your action, check to see if the mandala has been completed. A completed mandala will have all six colors present somewhere in it – either on the Mountain or in the Fields. At this point, the mandala is destroyed – whomever had the most cards in their Field (or the player who didn’t complete the mandala in case of a tie) chooses one color stack from the Mountain. When you take a color that you don’t already have in your River, place one card in your first available space and put the rest in your Cup. If you do have that color, they all go to your Cup. Players take turns choosing cards from the Mountain until it is empty. If you have no cards in your Field when a mandala is scored, all cards you take from the Mountain go in the discard pile. Once the Mountain is empty, all cards from the Fields are discarded, and two new cards are drawn and added to the Mountain.

The game ends when the deck is empty, or when one of the players has filled up their River. Reveal the cards in your Cup, and score them according to where that color is in your River. The color in the first position scores one point per card, second position scores two, and so on. The highest score wins, with fewest cards in the Cup breaking any ties.

image by BGG user Quayde

I very much like abstract games. There’s just a depth of strategy despite the simplicity that you don’t often get in more thematic games. Oh sure, I know there’s the hint of a theme here, but it’s more of a framing device, which seems to be the direction more modern abstracts are heading. This game looks like it has lots of interesting decision points – the order of taking cards to score the most points, when to complete a mandala, and how hard you want to fight for control all seem like some tough choices. Overall, I think the game looks lovely and it’s one I want to try out sometime.

That’s it for today – thanks for reading!

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