Mandala Card Game Review

Previously I wrote a review for a card game which can be played alone. There are also games where it can be played exactly for only 2 players. The classic example would be chess.

In most of them, the player will try to beat each other to win the game. That may not be an ideal situation if we play with someone we love.

In this next game, Mandala, there is a rule where we cannot aggressively attack each other. It is still a competitive game but here, we will be sharing the victory points.

We will have control of the points we will get but at the same time we are giving away the leftover to the opponent. The twist is, those points can be more valuable to the opponent.

So, what is this Mandala game? How do we play and how long will it take to play?

In this article, I’m going to share with you my Mandala card game review based on my experience and what I can find from the internet.

Hope this helps. Is Mandala card game going to be the best 2 player only game out there?

Click or tab on any sections from the table of contents to jump right to that part. Use the red arrow button on the bottom right corner of the screen to head back to the top.

Overview

Game’s Title: Mandala
Genre: Card Drafting, Set Collection, Area Control, Hand Management, Competitive, Card Game, Abstract, Solo Variant
Designer: Trevor Benjamin, Brett J. Gilbert
Artist: Klemens Franz
Publisher: Lookout Spiele
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 20 minutes
Official Website: Mandala (lookout-spiele.de)

Contents:
1 Play Mat
1 Rulebook
110 Cards (70 x 70 mm):
Sand Cards (18 in each of 6 colors)
Action Overview Cards (2)

Release Year: 2019
Initial Price: $30

About Mandala Card Game

The word Mandala itself is a Sanskrit word for “circle”. It is used in a lot of spiritual or religious traditions that often represents the life, universe or cosmos.

In wider and modern world, a mandala becomes a geometric symbol or pattern that includes the circular and rectangular shape. It is also used as a tool for meditation or to train their focus in Buddhism and Hinduism.

What they do is they create a sand sculpture art with different color of sands as part of their ritual. This could take weeks to create and involves several people, usually monks.

After they are done, this beautiful piece of art will then be destroyed before they start a new one. This symbolize an ever repeating cycle of life, death and rebirth.

This next video from St. Norbert College captures that idea.

The Card Game

So, that is the theme of this card game. Instead of using sands, we will be playing colorful square cards. This is a competitive game for 2 players only and we will be playing on a mat with 2 giant Mandalas.

Each of these giant Mandalas will start with 2 cards in the middle, just like how they create the sculpture. There are 3 areas in each Mandala, the middle strip and 2 player’s field.

This middle strip is like the neutral area where the 2 players share the control. However, each of them has their own side of the Mandala that they can put their cards in.

The player will then play the cards from their hand. If the player put the cards in their field of that Mandala, they increase their control of that Mandala.

However, they can also put their card in the middle part which will increase the value of that Mandala. The rule is that each Mandala can only have each of 6 colors in one of the 3 areas but each can have multiple cards.

Once the Mandala has all of the 6 color, it is considered as completed. In the theme, the sand sculpture will be washed away to the river.

The game translates that into dividing the cards in the middle to each player. Players will take turns choosing the set of cards with the same color start from the one with the most control over the Mandala.

These cards will then go to the player’s scoring pile and then they start building a new Mandala again. This keeps going for the two Mandalas until they run out of cards to draw or one of the players already have six colors in their scoring pile.

Over the course of the game, players will also assign their own value or Victory Points for each color of the sand cards depending on which color they score first. This way, both players will have a different set of value and this will be different as well from game to game.

Then they calculate the number of cards they have collected with their set of values. The one with the highest VP wins the game.

The game is very simple, easy to teach and can be fast to play but also very deep in tactical gameplay. A lot of people consider this as one of the best 2 player head to head game so far.

The biggest twist and considered as improvement from most of area control games is that the players still share the result of the given area, not just the one who has the most control. This reduces the cutthroat nature of an area control game which can be bad for couples or care bear players playing the game.

Also, by incorporating that idea, the losing player can still invest in that area instead of just abandoning them. The losing one can in fact change the value of the cards in Mandala because the winning player still doesn’t know what cards the opponents has in hand.

The next is a video by Rahdo from Rahdo Runs Through YouTube channel. It displays the gameplay of Mandala from the player’s perspective.

Components

The game comes with the standard sized box for 2 player line for this publisher, similar size to the one from KOSMOS. It has square shape of 20 x 20 cm with 4.5 cm for the thickness.

On the forum, some people pointed out there is a smell issue when opening the box and this happens to my copy as well. I think it is somehow a chemical smell but not sure what.

There is a discussion here about whether we can wash the playmat with laundry machine or not. Based on my experience, we can just let all of the components stay outside the box for a while and the smell will go away.

However, it is harder to get rid of the smell from the box and will contaminate the components again. I suggest not using the box for a while.

Aside from that, we will get a rulebook, a playmat and two sealed decks of cards within the box. I think the box size is almost perfect to keep all of the components, just slightly bigger.

Originally, the game used regular shape of rectangular cards which is easier to shuffle but less accurate in thematic terms than the square ones. The playmat also had a corresponding card shape for the river and cup part.

The retail version now uses 70 x 70 mm as the size for all 110 cards. In each game session we will only like shuffle the cards once or twice but we do need to shuffle them thoroughly.

If we play this game a lot, using card sleeve is probably recommended.

Rulebook

The first thing we will find from inside the box is the rulebook. As usual, the size is just slightly smaller than the box itself. It is a folded sheet of 6 pages.

My copy has, of course, the English version. We can find both English and German digital file (PDF) on the official page here. On the forum, there is a translation for Dutch, Italian and Spanish if I’m not mistaken.

Here is the table of contents of the rulebook.

About Mandala  and Object of the Game (Page 1). This explains the theme and a single paragraph of the gameplay in general.

Components (Page 1). This has illustration for each of the components used in this game.

Setup (Page 2). This explains the step by step setup with illustrations for the official 2 player mode of this game.

Course of Play (Page 3). This part essentially is the summary of 3 possible actions that player can take during the game. It is like how to read the Action Overview Cards. Further explanation for each action is on page 4.

The Rule of Color (Page 3). This explains how the color works in the game which will limit the possible action that the player can take. There is also an example.

Action Explanation (Page 4). This expand the explanation from the Course of Play section on Page 3 or the Action Overview Cards.

Completing a Mandala (Page 5). This explains what a complete Mandala means, how each player will take cards from this Mandala to score and reset the Mandala. There is also an explanation if one player has no card in their field when a Mandala is complete.

End of Game (Page 6). This explains the two possible way to trigger the end game.

Scoring (Page 6). This explains how the scoring works and the tie breaker with an example.

Credits (Page 6). Information about publisher should we want to contact them for questions, suggestions, critics, and missing or damaged components.

Unfortunately there is no rule summary as the last page that we can easily look to remind us for later game session in the future. Overall, the rulebook does a great job explaining everything.

My only complaint is that there are several key things that we can only find within the detailed section which can be easily overlooked. Here are some.

Hand Limits of 8 cards. This can be found on Page 4, action A.
Empty hand is forbidden. This can be found on Page 4, action B, the important note from second step.

Action Overview Cards

Since this is a 2 player only game, we will get 2 Action Overview Cards that will help remind us every possible action we can do each turn. Both of them are identical with the same art as the box for the back of the card, except it is just black and white.

I think it is nice but not necessary because those 3 possible actions are all what we will be doing every game. We can just use one card for this and share between players.

The other card, then can be used to remind us about how to trigger the end game. If we play a lot, we might not need any of these cards but if the card is necessary, my suggestion would be that one.

Also, we can include like starting hand and hand limit. This way, we can just look at the card to remind us without the need to read the book. Not that it is that difficult.

As we can see, each of these overview cards has 3 columns. This represents the 3 possible actions. All of the colors, green, yellow and purple match the explanation in the rulebook.

Build Mountain and Draw Action

The first one from the left means, we can play 1 card to the middle strip. We might want to check the second one to distinguish the different between the Player’s Field and the middle strip or the game refers as Mountain.

Notice that only 1 card with green color.

Then there is an icon that starts with “+” followed by 3 cards and a deck of cards. This means by doing this action, we are allowed to draw 3 cards from the draw deck.

The lowest part of this column has 6 cards with different colors and a big question mark. This means, after we do this action, we have to check whether the given MANDALA area is completed or not.

Grow Field Action

The second column is for the GROW FIELD action. Unlike the first column, the top part has 2 or 3 cards with equal icon in the middle. This means, for this action, we can play as many cards from our hand, as long as all of them have the same color.

Unlike the previous action, the icons here have several yellow cards to play. It is very subtle, especially the two on the back is rather similar as no color at all.

We play the card or cards by placing on the our side of field from either Mandala.  For this action, we will not draw cards from the deck, as indicated by the third part of the column.

Just like the previous action, this one has the same icon at the bottom where we need to check whether the MANDALA is completed or not.

Discard and Redraw Action

This action is like the last resort. There is a chance that in this game, we cannot do any of the two actions before, usually because of the RULE OF COLOR.

The Rule of Color means, that each Mandala can only have 1 color in the same area of the 3. On the other hand, we can only put cards into two areas.

This action then, allow us to discard the card in our hands that we cannot play and redraw a new one. The top part of this column of the overview cards has similar icon as the second possible action.

This tells us that we can discard as many card as we want as long as the cards are from the same color. The next part of icon means we put the card in the discard pile, beside the draw deck.

The third part of the column tells us that we can draw cards the same amount as the discarded one. So, it is an exchange action but we don’t know what we are getting.

This will not add card to the playing area so there is no icon to check any completed Mandala.

Sand Cards

These are the remaining 108 cards, which all of them has the same back of the cards with the same art as the cover box. Unlike the Action Overview Cards this one has color.

There are 6 type of Sand Cards or 6 different colors, Black, Green, Purple, Yellow, Orange and Red. Each of them has an art which makes them a smaller Mandala on its own.

The different art on each of these types doesn’t really matter. Each type comes with 18 identical cards.

Somebody on the forum here, says that some of the copy has off-center art for these cards, either the front or back of the cards or both. The buyer said that he got the copy from Miniature Market which is very unlikely to be a pirated copy.

I don’t know if this is going to be a problem for people with color blindness because the color does matter. Each of the color has their own geometric Mandala art. The purple, red, orange has a rather unique features but the green and black is a bit similar.

I think the yellow one is also similar to the red in terms of shape of the art but the red sand card has contrast colors while yellow is mostly just yellow. Also, this has nothing to do with the gameplay and probably a bit subjective, but I don’t necessarily like the art.

I feel like even these 2D art is following the circular principle as a whole but it feels like a bit different than where the theme came from. Maybe the reason is that in this art by Klemens Franz, they are generated by a computer.The artist can do a lot more things in smaller details, use curve lines and probably more variety of colors.

From a far they are okay but I kind of feel weird if we try to look at the detail which we will probably look at them when the card is in our hand. Maybe it is just me.

As mentioned earlier that they originally use other size more standard card instead of square one. I think the square is more accurate in thematic way but it will add a shuffling problem than the standard cards.

In this game, these sand cards will create a single deck. We only shuffle them once or twice each game but we really need to shuffle them thoroughly. The reason is because the one of the core mechanism is the set collection.

While playing, we will be sorting the card in hand and placing them on the play mat to each of the sand card type. Without shuffling enough, the same type of cards will gather with 3 or more cards in the deck pushing down the other type of card which can be problematic as well to the gameplay.

This is actually a typical problem for any set collection card game. Somebody on the forum suggests to treat them as a TILE instead of card by doing table shuffle while the cards are laid face down.

My recommendation would be to create several draw decks like 3 or 4 decks. Each time any player can draw from any of them. This will also prevent creating a very high stack of cards, especially if we use card sleeves.

Playmat

This is the last component of Mandala the card game. Instead of thick cardboard, we get a fabric cloth made of cotton produced by KRACTH GmbH & Co KG, a linen textile brand since 1810. At the bottom side of this mat, we can find icons of what can or cannot be done to wash it.

There is an additional linen strip, that I’m not sure, but maybe we can hang it after cleaning. Other than that, the bottom side has no use in the game, only one side.

The size of this playmat is about 68.5 x 47.5 cm or almost 70 x 50 cm. It comes folded in the game box. Some people don’t like it and prefer to roll it after ironing the mat.

The problem is that the crease created by folding the mat does get in the way of where we place the card but it is not a big deal. The bigger deal is that it actually kind of ruin the artistic of the mat.

The Two Giant Mandalas

In the middle of the play mat, we can see two giant Mandala areas. These two will be the two playing areas shared by both players where they will place their cards.

There is a big long strip crossing both Mandalas that divides these 2 playing areas into two player’s side of field. The strip is called as MOUNTAIN in this game and considered as neutral area because both players can play their cards here.

The strip is like an empty space but if we look closely, at the center of each Mandalas, there is a smaller opaque Mandala. I don’t know if it was intended but both smaller Mandala are different from each other.

The strip line is also defined by a series of even smaller Mandalas with different colors and inner geometric shape. Somehow they are different than the art from any of the Sand Cards.

At the start of the game, we will place 2 starting Sand Cards on each Mountains. Over the course of the game, player can add more cards in this strip line.

Each of the Player’s field of the Giant Mandalas has the same monochromatic Mandalas. This is where only the corresponding side of the player have the control of placing cards from their hand.

The arts of this parts is not really matters because during the game we will be covering them with colorful Sand Cards. Considering that this is mostly abstract, it is reasonable that the playing area is not as visually more attractive than the cards so it will not be very confusing to look at.

Each of these 3 areas have a width that perfectly fit the square Sand Cards. So, we can place a single row of cards on each of them. Although, even if we can put up to 5 cards on each two Mandalas, the game will probably require more so we will need to a bit stacking the card on top of each other.

Cup and River Area

When a Mandala has been completed, the sand sculpture will be then destroyed and washed away from Mountain to the river.

The River refers to a series of empty square boxes on each player’s side with a number at the bottom from 1 to 6. This is where player will define the value of each type of cards for the scoring phase later in the game.

The number represent the value or victory point of any type of card in that box. During the game, players will take the card from the Mountain part and start placing one of each type in these boxes, started from the lowest value.

So, the type of card we get earlier may worth lower and the one we get later will be worth higher. Each player can have different set of value and for different game session.

One type of cards maybe worth just 1 VP each for a player but their opponents can put them in higher value. So, even if that type of card doesn’t mean much for one side but it can be very valuable for their opponent.

The zero sum nature of this game will keep any player to engage even in the type of card that the player don’t care much. Also, by allowing to create our set of value, the game has a bit of replay value. It will be different experience from game to game.

The last final box on each player’s side has no number at the bottom. Instead, it has a trophy icon but very subtle. This is the CUP where we will collect all of the cards which will score VP.

We take one card of each type to the RIVER for defining VP and the rest will go to this Cup, face down. The other player can keep track but most of the time they will not know exactly how many.

Each player also start with 2 random cards in their cup that the other player will not know until the end. For that player, these 2 cards can become an objective that they have to make sure that they are worth some points.

So, this gives another variable for different setup.

I think I can see a bit more of thematic explanation between Mountain and River concept. In some religious perspective, the Mountain is considered as the sacred part because it is considered being closest to Heaven.

This game translates that as scoring just cards from the Mountain. The River where we define the score, is like the lowest point of the world, how we value things from the world’s perspective.

Not that this is the official explanation though.

To be honest, I think the playmat is not necessary. We can play the game with just the cards and imagine that every aspect mentioned above from the playmat is there.

But the Playmat does elevate the experience.

Well, that is all of the components used in Mandala card game. Some people say that because this uses a fabric as play mat we can play on uneven surface.

We can easily fold or roll the mat into smaller size and just bring these square cards without the box. This makes the game an ultimate travel game.

Now, we can learn how to play Mandala card game.

How to Play

Mandala card game officially only supports two players. For solo mode, see below.

It is a competitive game. The estimated playtime is about 20 minutes but it can take a bit longer depending on how the player take actions.

The next video by W. Eric Martin from Board Game Geek channel, shows how to play the game.

Setup

First, we place the PLAYMAT in the middle of play area between the two players. We probably want to have a table slightly bigger than this mat.

Second, we shuffle all of the SAND CARDS thoroughly to create a single draw deck. We place this deck face down beside the playmat.

Also, we might want to spare some space for discard pile right next to the deck. Most of the time, we can use some space like the end of both MOUNTAINS line for the deck.

Third, we draw 2 SAND CARDS from the deck for each giant Mandala and put the cards in the middle of the giant Mandala, face up. See the illustration from the rulebook below.

Fourth, we take the ACTION OVERVIEW CARD and place the card in front of each player. This is just a reminder card and we can return to the game box if we are sure about the action we can take.

Fifth, we draw 6 SAND CARDS from the Draw Deck as the STARTING HAND for each player. Players will then keep their hand a secret from each other.

Sixth, we draw 2 SAND CARDS from the Draw Deck for each player and put those cards in the player’s CUP section on the mat, face down. The corresponding player can check those card but keep the cards hidden from the opponent.

Seventh, we can decide which player will go first.

That is it with the setup.

Gameplay

Each player will take turns do one of the 3 actions, starting from the first player until the end game is triggered. See End of the Game below.

Here are the 3 possible actions that we have to take one of them during our turn.

1st. BUILD A MOUNTAIN AND DRAW
2nd. GROW FIELD AND NO DRAW
3rd. DISCARD AND REDRAW

For each action we have to follow the RULE OF COLOR and check whether we have COMPLETED A MANDALA or not.

If so, we have to proceed to DESTROY THE MANDALA phase. Next, we check whether we have triggered the END OF THE GAME or not.

If so, we move to the SCORING phase which will decide the winner of the game.

Build Mountain Action

There are 3 parts of this action. First, we choose exactly one card from our hand and place it face up in one of two MOUNTAIN areas. We have to respect the RULE OF COLORS.

We have to remember that any cards in the Mountain will be claimed by us or our opponents when the Mandala has been completed. These cards will become Victory Points at the end of the game.

Second part, we draw up to 3 cards from the Draw Deck and add them to our hand.  There is a hard limit of 8 cards which once we have 8 already, we cannot draw again.

This is not  where we can draw more and discard the excess after.

Third part, we have to check whether the Mandala is complete or not because of this action. If so, we proceed to COMPLETING AND DESTROYING A MANDALA phase.

Otherwise we continue the game and it is the next player’s turn.

Grow Field Action

This action has 2 parts. First, we choose exactly ONE COLOR but we can play one or more cards of that color to one of our two Fields face up. We still have to respect the Rule of Color.

The idea is to have more cards in our field than the opponents in theirs of the same Mandala. This way, the one with the most cards will be the first to choose the color from the Mountain.

However, we have to remember that we will not score any points from the cards in the field. They will go straight to the discard pile.

So, in addition of the Area Control element, we also need to consider how to manage our resource or cards. We may want to consider not playing too many cards but there is a chance that the opponent will add more cards to their field and complete the Mandala.

NOTE: WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE NO CARD IN HAND AT THE END OF THIS ACTION.

Since we will draw no cards after this action, and we need to play a card to draw more, at the end of this action we must have at least one card in hand. So, this is another consideration before we actually take this action, probably even from the previous turn.

The second part of this action is that we need to check whether the Mandala is complete by this action. If so we proceed to COMPLETING AND DESTROYING A MANDALA phase.

Otherwise we continue the game and it is the next player’s turn.

Discard and Redraw Action

This is the last possible action that we have to take if we cannot or do not want to play any card using the other two actions. First, we choose one or more cards of ONE COLOR from our hand and put them into the discard pile.

Then, we draw the same number of cards from the Draw Deck. After that we immediately end our turn.

Since we still draw blindly, there is no guarantee that the card is not the same as the ones we discarded. This can also be a push your luck thing if we somehow build up cards from the same type.

If we only exchange 1 card we will not get worse but as bad as the card that is already in our hand. However, by trading several of them, there is a chance we may have more variety.

It is possible but not really a viable tactic in this game.

Completing & Destroying a MANDALA

A Mandala is considered as completed once the sixth color has been placed in any of the 3 areas for the given Mandala. This can happen by any player doing either the A action (Build Mountain) or B action (Grow Field).

Then, the Mandala has to be destroyed at the end of the player’s turn. Here is what is going to happen when destroying a Mandala.

First, we check which of the player has the most cards in their field. That player will then choose 1 color of the Sand Cards available on the Mountain from the Mandala that is being destroyed.

If there is more than 1 color on the Mountain, the other player can choose next what are left. Then both player keep taking turns choosing the remaining color on the Mountain.

When we choose a color in the Mountain area, we take all of the cards that match the color. We then add these cards either to the River or to the Cup as the following rules.

If the color is a new one, not available in the River, we take one card of that color and place it face up in the first empty space of the River with the lowest value. Each of this empty space can only have 1 card or color.

The next new color will go to the next empty space with the lowest value available. We cannot change the order of these cards later.

Then, if the color has more than 1 card, we put the rest of them to our Cup face down. So, if there is only 1 card with new color, we will place that card in the River but nothing to the Cup.

If it is the sixth color in the River, see the END OF THE GAME phase below.

For cards that we take that already have the color in the River, we simply put the cards straight to the Cup face down.

We can continue taking turns claiming these cards until nothing is left in the Mountain area. Then, we discard all of the cards from either Field of the destroyed Mandala to the discard pile.

If we didn’t trigger the end game, we reset the Mandala. We draw 2 SAND CARDS from the Draw Deck and put them in the Mountain area of the new Mandala.

Then we can continue the game and the next turn is the player who didn’t complete the Mandala.

NOTE: IF A PLAYER HAS NO CARD IN THIER FIELD.

If this happens when a Mandala is completed, that player still participates in taking turns for choosing the cards. However, that player will not place the chosen cards in the River or the Cup but to the discard pile.

With that in mind, the winning player of this turn still have to consider which of the cards they will not take.

End of the Game Phase

The end of the game can be triggered if one of 2 things happens. Either if the Draw Deck is exhausted or one of the player has added their 6 cards in the river.

1st. If the DRAW DECK is exhausted, we have to reshuffle the discard pile to create a new Draw Deck. Then, we continue the game until the next Mandala is completed.

After we destroy the Mandala and each player has taken the cards from the Mountain, the game ends immediately.

So, for this scenario, it can take a couple more turns before the game ends. Each player can keep adding more cards to both Mandalas but it will end when one of them is destroyed.

2nd. If one players add their 6th type of cards in their RIVER, the game ends once every player has taken all of the cards from the Mountain of the Mandala that is being destroyed.

Either way, we then discard the remaining card from each player’s hand and all of the cards from the incomplete Mandala. Then we can proceed to the Scoring phase.

Scoring Phase

For the scoring phase, each player reveal the cards they have collected in their Cup and sort them above the corresponding type from their River line. I don’t know why but the rulebook suggests to put the cards below the River, which will cover the point value and take more table space.

Each player will have their own set of value and calculate their cards accordingly. Every card is worth either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or even 0 points depending on how the player set their value.

The zero point cards usually come from the first 2 cards that we draw at the start of the game. If there is no corresponding type in the River, the card is worth nothing.

NOTE: We don’t score points for the cards in the River itself that will setup the value.

On the other hand, it is possible that the card in the river has no matching card from the Cup. In that case, we score nothing for that type of cards.

The player with the highest total point WINS.

In case of a tie breaker, the player with the fewest cards in their Cup wins.

That is it with how to play MANDALA card game.

Experience and Thoughts

My impression for Mandala card game is that this is a game where we cannot play aggressively. Somehow it makes the game thematically accurate.

The immediate reaction when it comes to an area control game, we want to increase our control immediately. That may not always be true in Mandala.

The card we play to our field doesn’t necessarily give us point at the end. If we play to many cards, it is like wasting resources just to get 1 or 2 points. Especially if the opponent only has one card in their field.

If we play the card recklessly, we may be losing on the next Mandala. Hand or resource management is still an important aspect.

If we play like more than 2 colors, we can only add cards of one color per turn while the opponents can add several. More color means more opportunity. However the number of cards will be the one to decide who wins over the Mandala.

Of course, we should at least have one card to any Mandala so that we can get something at least.

It is easier to forget that we should focus on what we can get from the Mountain. We can add cards which will give us extra point and another supply to our hand.

If the situation is 2-2-1 in our favor, we should add the sixth card to the middle and get 2-3-1. That way we get 2 type of cards.

But when it comes to 2-2-1×2 we can only turn it into 3-2-1×2. Otherwise, the opponent will be the one to choose because the number of cards is tied.

Sometimes, we should just complete the Mandala immediately just for the small win. Both players will only get 1 card.

However, we also cannot aggressively add cards if we cannot make sure we win that Mandala. The opponent can instead be the one to get more cards.

Even when trying to claim the cards from the Mountain, we have to very carefully calculate which color will give us more point. It is not always the one with the most cards or the highest value.

3 cards with 3 points each is still higher than 1 card worth of 6 points. 10 cards worth of 1 point each is still lower than 3 cards with 4 points each. Also, we need to consider the zero sum nature of this game.

The point from color that we don’t take means we are giving the opponent some points. Moreover, the value can be higher for the opponent.

So, it is not that obvious. The same goes for trying to get more color in the river. There is a big chance that the last color will not have any cards to score at all.

The one who trigger the endgame for having the sixth color first may not necessarily win that game. Racing to the end will not win us the game. So, there is a lot of things to consider for taking action in this game.

We can actually make the game longer by denying other player to get new colors. Not that this is going to make us win the game.

We know what the opponent’s River so we can predict what they are going to do. However, this is not a strategic game where we can plan for long term what we will be doing for the entire game.

Sure, we have 2 starting cards in cup but then we have no control of when the matching color will show up on either Mountains. At most they are just 12 points while we can chase like 50 points.

In fact, if we are so busy trying to make those colors so they can have highest value, those 2 cards maybe the only cards we score. For that matter, there is no guarantee that we can even make it to the sixth color. We can exhaust the deck even sooner.

I think those 2 starting cards is just a surprise element because we can always track what the opponent is getting. The rule doesn’t state but maybe we don’t have to reveal the number of cards in hand to our opponents. That could be another consideration to predict what the opponent will be doing next.

We also need to manage the control of 2 Mandalas not just one. Which means not just our 2 fields but 2 Mountains as well.

Being tactical is the way to play the game, by keep switching from both Mandalas. Timing is also an important role. Do we complete one Mandala now and let the opponent take control over the other one?

Or, we focus on the other with the risk of the opponent being the first to choose the color? It is possible that we may never destroy the second Mandala for a couple of turns, not that it is a good way to win.

I think, especially when we have exhausted the deck, maybe the focus will only go to just one Mandala. Both players will keep add cards to the Mountain so they can score more.

Overall, I like this game mostly because of the simplicity. Some people may consider it as too abstract but other may find it as a modern classic.

For me, the beauty of this game doesn’t come from the components but more from the rules. All of he six colors have a set of 18 identical cards. Some people on the forum even try to replace the card with other game pieces.

As mentioned before that  the biggest improvement from other head to head area control game is sharing the result. The losing player if the area will not just abandon that area because we can still get something.

In fact, we can even get higher points.

The other similar 2 player only head to head game that I have played is Jaipur. I have not written a review for this though.

Jaipur is considered as one of the best 2 player only game but I prefer Mandala to Jaipur. In Jaipur, the competition is rather obvious. Both players can hold the same type of cards and they are waiting that the next card will that type so they can be the first to score.

In Mandala, we are modifying the cards that we will score. It can worth higher or lower. Even if the winner will be decided by the next card draw, we can still predict it. This can soften the blow even if we lose that battle.

So, Mandala is more friendly for player who doesn’t like direct confrontation with the gaming partner. Jaipur on the other hand relies heavily on the randomness of the next card draw.

If we are not lucky, the opponent will obviously take advantage of that. That is not the case here with Mandala.

However, typical in any set collection card game, we do have to shuffle thoroughly so the same type of cards will not show up consecutively. This is still a filler size game, which we can play in 15 or 20 minutes.

But we do have to shuffle over 100 cards where in Jaipur we only use about 50 cards. In Jaipur we are encouraged to do best of 3. I think I will at most play Mandala twice in a row.

Not only because of the shuffling issue but completing each Mandala feels already heavy enough. There are already a lot of things to consider when taking an action in Mandala. While in Jaipur, the actions and scoring are much simpler and we are just waiting for opportunity.

Both games are still great but for different experience. Mandala has simpler components and nice playmat but deeper in gameplay.

It is still a filler game where we might be excited for a while and eventually get bored but then come back to in the future. Also, since this is designed for 2 players specifically, the game will be more interesting if both players has the same level of experience.

Fortunately, Mandala is simple enough to teach.

Solo Mode

I’m not sure if this is an official variant from the developer. A user (@qswanger) from the forum said that this variant was released in the publisher magazine August 2019 edition.

I think it was originally a German rule, and that user translated into English using Google Translate and posted the file that we can find it here. We just need to create free account with BGG to access it.

The file says that the idea of the rule came from Grzegorz Kobiela. Basically, in this variant, we will be competing against an AI which we will be referring to as Master Yoga.

Master Yoga will take two consecutive actions, one for the left Mandala first and the other for the right, from our point of view. We simply flip the card from the Draw Deck to decide where Master Yoga will place that card or stop his turn.

He will have no hand of card but score just like in the regular two player mode. Other than that, the setup is the same. We will draw two cards face down for each player’s cup and seed MOUNTAIN with two face up card for both Mandala.

Also, we as the player always start first.

The next video is the solo playthrough video by Meeple Overboard! YouTube channel.

How does the AI work?

The AI always do 2 consecutive actions during his turn, except maybe during the end of the game. We simply flip the card and the color or type of card will tell us what will happen.

The AI still respects the Rule of Colors. We flip the card for the AI and three things can happen.

One, the color is already in the Mountain area. We then add them to the Mountain. If it is the left Mandala, the AI proceeds to the right. Otherwise, the AI ends his turn.

Two, the color is already in our or player’s field. We simply discard that card. The AI proceeds to the right Mandala or end his turn.

Three, the color is not available in either of those or already in the Master Yoga’s field. We put that card in the field and draw again still for the same Mandala.

If the next card can be played in Master Yoga’s field, we keep adding them. However, if the next card has color in the Mountain or the player’s field, we discard that card and Master Yoga proceeds to the right Mandala or ends his turn.

If the card he played is the sixth color, we do complete and destroy Mandala as regular rule. Then, Master Yoga proceeds to the right Mandala or ends his turn.

Special Case. If Master Yoga is already winning the Mandala, instead of adding the sixth color to his field, he will add the card to the Mountain. This way, he will always get more colors to score.

Now, how do we destroy a Mandala? How does the AI choose a color from the Mountain?

First, the rule suggests that Master Yoga will always receive cards even if there is no card in his field of the Mandala being destroyed.

The selection still follows the regular rule. It starts with the player with most cards then take turns until there is no card left in the Mountain area.

Second, the rule suggests that Master Yoga will always choose the color with the most card in the Mountain area.

Third, the rule suggest several steps to determine which color in case of a tie. The easier variant which the rule also suggested is that Master Yoga will choose the color he doesn’t have first. Otherwise, he choose the color that the player doesn’t have.

The game keeps going like until the end game is triggered, just like the regular rule. If this happen during Master Yoga’s action for the left Mandala, Master Yoga will not do the following action for the right Mandala.

We score as usual, and if we have higher points than Master Yoga, we win the game.

That is it with how to play the solo variant.

Comments and Suggestion

This variant is really hard. Most of the time, we will be playing like defensive or reactive to the AI. We can still win but that is really because of luck.

I think Master Yoga or the AI does too many actions than the player. There will be times when he has way more cards in his field while we have only 1 or nothing.

Since he does two actions, one for both Mandalas consecutively. That is already overpowered. It is true that in any or both of those actions, he will just add cards to the Mountain.

This can be a benefit for the player but only if we have more control of the cards that we get.

Then, if he can add card to his field, it can be any number of cards. It is also true that he will be wasting his cards or being inefficient. The problem is, he has no limit while we have to figure out when to draw more cards.

It is also possible, however, that the AI may keep adding cards to the Mountain without being able to add anything to his field. Yet, the rule suggests that he will still get the second color.

There is a discussion here about how to modify this variant. Somebody suggested to limit the AI action for adding new color to his field to just one or two. This way, the AI will not keep adding more color of cards in a single turn.

However, that still takes a lot of work just for running the AI.

The way AI takes card from the destroyed Mandala can actually become the key. He will always take the most cards from the Mountain which is not necessarily his highest value color.

So, we can keep playing cards to the Mountain just to add more cards in hand while preventing him to progress with his river. That way, with always having 8 cards, we have more control of how to complete a Mandala.

Not really sure if this can help us win the game though. If this variant is too hard, check my variant below.

My Solo Variant

I’m not any designer so there is no guarantee that this variant is good. This is just an idea of how I modify the solo rules above to make it more manageable and hopefully fun.

In this variant, the first change is the consecutive turns for the AI. Master Yoga will only do once per turn either the left one or the right one. He will always try to focus on one Mandala but there is a chance that he might switch depending on the card he draw,

Master Yoga will not have any hand of cards, just like the solo rules above. However, I added a limit of how many cards he can play each turn.

Setup

First, we setup the game as usual with the PLAYMAT and DRAW DECK. Both sides will have 2 cards face down in their Cup and we seed both Mandala with two cards each.

Second, we draw 6 cards as our starting hand. Master Yoga or the AI will not have any.

Third, we can determine which one to go first. We can flip a coin or just choose randomly. If we just want to use the cards from the game, we can divide the colors into 2 groups, one for the first choice and the other for second choice.

It doesn’t have to be this combination but I suggest Red – Yellow – Orange for the first and Black – Purple – Green as the second. Just for example, first group means the player goes first and if it is the second, the AI goes first.

So, if we flip the card and get Yellow, that means, it is the first group and the player goes first.

Fourth, we determine which Mandala Master Yoga will play first. We can use the method above.

I suggest using one of the Action Overview Card as the MARKER to mark which side Master Yoga is going to focus on. We will move this card to the other Mandala after the AI has done taking the action but there will be exception.

That is the setup. As the player, we will play like regular game but we will also run the AI.

How does the AI work?

We simply flip the card from the Draw Deck, just like the solo rules above. Then one of these several scenarios can happen.

One, if the AI can play the card to his field of the active Mandala, he will place that card. Then, he will also draw 2 more cards from the Draw Deck.

However, he will only add one or both cards to the field as well if the color is already in his field. The idea is to replicate the Draw Three after playing on the Mountain but instead the AI will get it here.

So, for example, if he already had a Yellow card in his field and then he draw Black card which he can add to the field. He then draws two more and if they are either Yellow or Black card or combination of them, he can add them to his field.

After that, we end the AI’s turn and move the Marker to the other Mandala.

Two, this is similar to the special case of the solo rules above. If the AI is already winning the Mandala, when he draws and can play the sixth color, he will instead add the card to the Mountain.

This way, the AI will get additional color to score or the River. We end the AI’s turn and move the Marker to the other Mandala.

Three, if the card we draw for the AI is already in the Mountain area, we add that one card to the Mountain and ends the AI’s turn. We then move the Marker to the other Mandala.

Four, if the card we draw for the AI is already in the player’s field, he will then try to add that card to his field of the other Mandala. If he can add the card to the field, we resolve like the scenario ONE above.

We draw 2 more and only add them to that field as well if the color is already in that field. For this scenario, we don’t move the MARKER card.

Five, just like scenario FOUR above, but this time, the AI cannot play to his field as well because the color is already in either the Mountain or the player’s field. For this, we simply discard that card and repeat the action for the current active Mandala.

He will not add that card to the Mountain of the other Mandala even if the color is there, not in the Player’s field.

Now, how does the AI choose card when a Mandala is complete and we have to destroy it?

My suggestion would be to just count which color of the available ones will give the most points to the PLAYER. The AI will then take that color.

So, basically, we count the possible VP that we can get from the colors in the Mountain area. If there are 3 choices and we go first, the AI will choose the highest score for us from the remaining two.

Then we continue the game as usual, discarding all of the cards from any field of the Mandala that is being destroyed. We reset the Mandala by adding two cards again unless we have triggered the end game.

The end game still follows the original rule. It is either from exhausting the deck or one of the player add their sixth colors to their River. The scoring is also the same as the regular rule.

That is it of how to play my solo variant for Mandala.

Comment and Suggestion

I feel that we will run out of cards from the Draw Deck sooner than the regular mode. There is still a chance that the AI will  keep adding too many cards for his field, even though he is already winning.

This is also true for the original solo mode. We can end the game with just 3 or 4 cards in the River for both players.

I thought about ignoring this end game trigger and just use the sixth color in the River. But unless the player makes the call to add their sixth color, it is possible that the game keeps going until we actually run out of cards.

I think in this variant, I still have more control instead of just being defensive against the AI aggressiveness from the solo rules above. We can still have a chance to draw more cards.

I think one of the reason is because we can predict where the AI is going to play the card. We can use that chance to add cards from the other Mandala or ignore probably one side. But the twist can still happen.

This is definitely easier but not really sure if it is too easy. I did lose as well or maybe I just play the game poorly.

It is possible to get stuck as well and the AI will keep adding cards in the Mountain area. Like, we can find the final color from the draw deck but it is always when the AI get it but cannot play it. So, the AI will then discard that.

If that happens, we are probably losing for that Mandala. The interesting thing is that we can try to balance the result. So, even if we know we are losing, we still get as many cards as the AI.

During scoring phase, if that is what happened, either of us can get like 5 or more cards of one color. We then still need to consider that the AI will take the one that grant us higher score from the Mountain.

If that color is also worth higher value for the AI than us, we could be losing the game. Also, I found that I use the Discard and Redraw action more often here.

I can discard like 4. That is because we are stuck and I want to find that sixth color and almost always have 8 in hand. The push your luck become more apparent here while in regular mode, this action is like the last resort where we only have 1 card and cannot play that.

Again, this is just an idea. If anybody tried this variant, please share your experience, questions or suggestion via the comment section below.

Conclusion

Mandala card game is one of the two player only card game. The components are just a deck of 110 cards and instead of a thick cardboard, we have a linen playmat which makes the game very portable.

The theme comes from sacred ritual of Buddhist monk where they create a sand sculpture as part of meditation and tool for training to be focus. Instead of using sand, we will be playing cards with 6 different colors trying to complete two Mandalas.

There is a rule of color that the player has to follow where each Mandala can only have the same color in one of 3 areas of that Mandala. One area is called the Mountain where both players can take turns to add cards here.

Cards from here will become victory points at the end. The other two areas are the each player’s field which only that player can add cards to this field. If the player can have more cards in their field than their opponent, the player win the control of that Mandala.

Unlike other area control game, the winner of that area will not take all of the cards but only become the first to choose which type of cards they will score. Then the losing player will choose from the leftover and they keep going taking turns until all of the cards have been claimed.

These cards they claimed will go to their own Cup and River. The River is where they set the value of that color, starting from 1 point per card up to 6 points per card.

As the game progresses, each player will have a different set of value of colors for up to 6 colors from each other and from each game. This will be the replay value of Mandala card game.

Since players will take points from communal area, this introduce a zero sum idea to the game. The points we don’t take means the points we will give to our opponent.

Because of the different set of value, the colors that is worth very low point for us maybe highly valuable to the opponent. That means, the choice is not as obvious and this will affect how we try to dominate the Mandala.

With the idea of sharing the result, the losing player over the control of that Mandala can still get something. In fact, they can easily balance and get almost the same point as the winner of that Mandala.

With all of that in mind, we cannot play the game aggressively. Each action we take even when choosing the color to score, there are a lot of things to consider. The game is rather simple, easy to teach and fast to play but it has depth deeper than most similar filler games.

Also, with the idea of sharing the result, the game becomes very less direct confrontational. This is ideal if we play with our significant other who doesn’t like too much conflict.

However, like other set collection card game, there will be some issue where we need to shuffle the deck thoroughly and the use of square card doesn’t help. Especially if we want to play it again immediately considering how fast the game is.

Some people say that the game feels like a timeless classic. For me, the value of this game is not just from the beautiful components but from the rule. I think it is not that hard to come up with different game idea using these components.

Mandala card game is probably not for everyone mostly because the game feels like an abstract as well. Also, like most 2 player only game, Mandala will be more interesting if both players has the same experience.

Mandala may not be the best game overall but it may be one of them in its genre.

More Games

If this is not  game for you or you might be looking for more great games, you can try checking this article. It is my review for Rahdo Runs Through YouTube channel about board games.

There are still a lot of these great tabletop games whether card games or board games that I haven’t played. Here is the list for games that I have written a review for previously.

Adventure of D, 2nd Ed. (Fantasy Adventure Card Game, Multi Game Modes)
The Big Book of Madness (Cooperative, Deck Building, Wizarding Theme)
The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game (Competitive, Civilization Building, Set Collection)
Hero Realms
 (Competitive, Card Game, Fantasy Theme, Deck Building)
Finished! (Solo only, Puzzle, Card Game)
Fleet (Competitive, Card Game, Auction, Fishing Theme)
Goblins vs Zombies (Tower Defense, Card Game, Fantasy Theme, Card Game)
Imperial Settlers (Civilization Theme, Engine Building, Competitive)
Oh My Goods! (Engine Building, Push Your Luck, Competitive, Worker Placement)
One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows (Dice Rolling, Fantasy Theme, Cooperative)
Peloponnes the Card Game (Auction, Competitive, Civilization)
Tybor the Builder (Civilization, Card Drafting, Competitive)
Villages of Valeria (Civilization, Fantasy Theme, Action Following)

Keep checking this website or the complete list here. I might have added review for more games.

Final Words

That is all I can share with you about Mandala, a card game. I have tried several two player only games before but this is the my first review of the genre.

I probably have missed something. Please don’t hesitate to point that out and share what you know related to this game and I will update this article.

I keep saying that these tabletop games can be a good way to spend some time without looking at the screen of our gadget.  If we do have someone close, that we can play with, there are other games where we can play cooperatively or competitively but with more player interaction.

The game can be very fast or like a filler type or it can take hours to play.

So, what is your experience on playing this game? If you know other games similar or even better than this, please do share via the comment section below. I would love to learn and play that game, assuming I can get a copy.

This article is just my notes about what I can find from the internet. Hopefully this can help anybody who reads it.

Thanks for reading.

 

Mark M.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *