Cardboard time machine: My 2011 in life and board games

2011 was a trauma-free year for me. Highlights included a great visit to New York with Zoe (where I picked up Pizza Box Football in a small game store) and a visit to the Beautiful Days festival, seeing some of my favourite bands (Carter USM, PWEI, Levellers) topping the bill.

Work ticked over nicely, including a fantastic week in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (an annual thing, then, for a few more years). And while music was still my ‘big’ thing, the board game obsession was continuing to grow.

The two-weekly local sessions (firmed up in 2010) were still going strong. This was giving me a good excuse to keep buying new games, as my exploration of Board Game Geek continued. And the guys had started picking up a few games of their own. All of us with very mixed results! But one of the highlights was definitely The Works filling up with a bunch of great game overstocks (more on which below), many of which I still have today.

I continued my tentative trips to the Cambridge board game meetup at Cambridge Union. This I generally did alone, and ultimately quite rarely. Cambridge is quite strange (people-wise) at the best of times – and the attendees of these events were a colourful bunch. Too often I failed to enjoy myself, after falling into a weird group. So I didn’t keep it up for long. But it did introduce me to some fantastic games. And later in the year, I had my first few trips to London on Board (see below).

My game plays in 2011

I recorded 349 plays on Board Game Geek – nearly 100 more than the year before and double what I’d managed in 2009. Quite a few months saw me playing an average of more than one game per day – thanks largely to our main group’s continued obsession with Race for the Galaxy. It again topped the playlist, with 55, in 2011.

Dominion, Ra, Ticket to Ride, Macao, Ingenious, Archaeology: The Card Game and Rattus continued to be favourites. And all but Rattus are still in my collection today. New favourites I picked up (via research) included Downfall of Pompeii, Pickomino and Alhambra. While Stone Age and Endeavor were also in heavy rotation. The big hit of the year that didn’t last was Glory to Rome – a fun game, but a bit fiddly. It was selling for silly money, so I cashed in.

As mentioned, for a year or so The Works became a great place to get good clearance games. Usually it was full of largely crappy books and art supplies. But a buyer (Laura Lemon – a legend on BGG for a while) picked up a shedload of game overstocks – and hit gold. I got Hamburgum, Cuba, Pergamon, Oregon, Notre Dame, Maori and Alhambra – plus most of its expansions. But you could also find the likes of Aqua Romana, Caylus Magna Carta, La Citta, Royal Palace and more. Light euro heaven at £7.99 a pop.

Being taught new games

The likes of Battlestar Galactica, 7 Wonders, Merchants & Marauders, Alien Frontiers and Qwirkle were introduced by local friends in the first half of the year. It was great to have other players bringing new games to the party. But none of them got into it as much as I did.

I was probably buying at least five new games to every one they picked up! And yes, I realise I was the one on the wrong end of that equation. But with such a good resale market, it was still proving to be a relatively cheap hobby.

Perhaps more significant were my first visits, in November 2011, to board game club London on Board. I was having to go to London quite a lot for work. So if I had afternoon meetings or events, why not hang around for the evening to play some games? The group was held in various London pubs (as it still is today). Which appealed to me much more than an afternoon in a social club. I wish I could remember who I played with the first few times I went (which included an epic game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains). But I did get taught a few games by John Bandettini, who I’m still playing games with to this day.

My hindsight Top 10 Games of 2011

I wouldn’t describe this as a vintage year for the hobby, by any stretch of the imagination. I only own four of the games below, although I’m still on the lookout for a copy of Vanuatu.

And I still play a few more (Trajan at Boite a Jeux and Drako at Yucata) online – both of which are available for free. You can read a detailed post on my best games of 2011 here, so I won’t go into much detail. But my choices were:

  1. Kingdom Builder: Simple placement/area influence game with a twist.
  2. Vanuatu: Viscous worker placement game.
  3. Castles of Burgundy: classic Feld tile-placer.
  4. Trajan: Another Feld euro, this time with a mind-bending mancala mechanism.
  5. Artus: Tricksy, interactive and underappreciated abstract.
  6. Letters from Whitechapel: One vs all cop/criminal game.
  7. Village: Well regarded worker placement euro game.
  8. Drako: Asynchronous two-player fantasy abstract game.
  9. Friday: Solo survival card game
  10. King of Tokyo: Yahtzee-style family game, with battling and monster powers.

I did own King of Tokyo in 2011, and we has fun with it. But ultimately I found it was too light for my main groups. I borrowed Friday from a friend in 2012, enjoyed it, but didn’t actually pick up a copy until 2018. I also played Village in 2012, enjoyed it, but never quite pulled the trigger (as with Fresco the year before). The rest I came to later. Kingdom Builder, Castles of Burgundy and Artus sit on my shelves, while I play plenty of Trajan online.

Mage Knight and Eclipse also came out in 2011 and are still high in the BGG Top 100. I owned Mage Knight, but it was just too long and mathsy for us to really get into. While local friend Howie bought Eclipse (in 2012) and I enjoyed my first few games. Before realising it was all just building up to a big, stupid, inevitable battle at the end each time.

The year’s end

By the end of 2011 I had a pretty decent (around 50, I think) board game collection. I also had a solid local group, plus some new friends at London on Board. But despite this, things were about to go next level. 2012 would prove to be a fantastic year for new games. Which coincided with my first trip to Essen, a Greek board gaming holiday, plus two UK game conventions. Not to mention a day on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the Olympics…

If you’re looking for my thoughts on games from other specific years, check out my Board Game Top 10s list page. Or drop me a line to request something specific I haven’t yet covered.

Board games that help with maths

As someone who hated maths at school, it feels strange loving working out the number puzzles inherent in board games. I think like many kids I was fine with the basics. But when letters starting appearing in equations, and I stopped seeing the connection to my life, I thought – what’s the point?

But I was good at basic maths – and I know many kids aren’t that lucky. And whether its lack of motivation, or just getting to grips with the concepts. Board games can play a genuine part in helping children improve mathematics skills. Hence why I’ve put together this list of board games that help with maths.

Below you’ll find a list of useful games, many of which have proven their worth in the classroom. I have several close friends who are teachers and teaching assistants, across all age and ability ranges, which certainly helped put it together. But they can prove equally useful at home. what can be better than having fun around the table, while sneakily actually teaching your kids something?

But I’m aiming things slightly higher than most lists you’ll see elsewhere – everything is from 6+ and beyond. Here, my focus is on the parents enjoying themselves too! There’s not a game below I wouldn’t play myself, and enjoy it, with other adult gamers. Links below go to my full reviews. And you should easily be able to find all these games to buy. I’d suggesting stating via Board Game Prices (which will also help the blog).

Board games that help with maths

  • Qwirkle & Ingenious
    (2-4 players, 45 mins, ages 6/8+)
    These are both colourful pattern and shape recognition games with nice chunky pieces. There are multiple versions available of both games, and in high street stores. Every good family games collection should have at least one of them.
  • Tsuro & Kingdomino & Carcassonne
    (2-8/2-4/2-5, 20-30 mins, ages 6/6/8+)
    While perhaps a less obvious maths skill, spatial reasoning is super useful. Tetris is a classic example, but you get some real meat (and no time pressure!) in the board game world. Tsuro is an abstract game, where you try to build your paths using tiles. Carcassonne take it all up a notch, having you create roads, towns and fields to score points. While Kingdomino seats neatly between the two. Again, all are very easily available.
  • Ticket to Ride
    (2-5 players, 60 mins, ages 8+)
    Ticket to Ride is a great example of multi-step problem solving. Collect coloured cards, which you then use to complete train routes on a board. And you can then use the routes placed to extend on to complete more routes. A massive best seller for a reason.
  • Zeus on the Loose
    (2-5 players, 15 mins, ages 6+)
    As a tool for understanding maths calculations, this little card game should be in every teacher and parent’s arsenal. I often see it in charity shops for a couple of quid. But at retail, it’s only about £10 anyway. It basically gamifies simple calculations in a fun way.
  • Yahtzee & Can’t Stop & Pickomino
    (2-6/2-4/2-6, 20-30 mins, ages 6+)
    We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to board games that help with probability. Yahtzee is another game you can essentially have for free by printing off some score sheets – or by finding in most charity shops. But my favourites are Can’t Stop (very simple dice push-your-luck game) and Pickomino, which takes Yahtzee up a small notch and adds a little flavour.
  • Sushi Go
    (2-5 players, 15 mins, ages 6+)
    This pretty and fun family game helps teach probability, deduction and strategy. A great game for any family, with cute artwork and theme.
  • For Sale & Catan
    (3/6/3-4 players, 30 mins/1-2 hours, ages 8+)
    money and value seem impossible concepts for children. Monopoly is an obvious example, but it’s too long to be fun. Light card game For Sale cleverly uses basic bidding and seems a good learning tool. While Catan relies heavily on negotiation, and attributing value that way. Property game Acquire is also brilliant, if you want to look more specifically at real estate.
  • Outfoxed
    (2-4 players, 20 mins, ages 5-10-ish)
    A popular ‘first cooperative game’ choice, as well as helping children with their deductive skills. Gather clues together to solve the mystery, and win or lose together.

Online versions

  • BGA – Can’t Stop, Carcassonne, For Sale, Kingdomino, Sushi Go
  • Yucata – Can’t Stop, Carcassone (a slightly mote complex version)
  • App stores (Apple, Google, Steam) – Carcassonne, Can’t Stop, Catan, Ticket to Ride, Tsuro, Yahtzee

Alma Mater board game: A four-sided review

The Alma Mater board game is a medium to heavyweight euro game for 2-4 players. It takes 2-3 hours to play and, due to its complexity, is suggested for gamers aged 12 years and up. This is definitely a game for experienced gamers.

Thematically, you’re each playing as the headmaster of a 15th Century university. Attracting lecturers and students while publishing books to (you guessed it) score victory points. Mechanically, this is a worker placement game. But it is more interactive than many, thanks to each player having their own currency (their books) which become an important part of play. And the theme works nicely to help gel everything together.

Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find Alma Mater for just under £40 – which is a bargain for the amount and quality of components. In the box you’ll find a large main board and four player boards; 180 cards; 150-ish cardboard tokens; 44 wooden pieces, and 120 cool little plastic books. The box also has a handy dandy plastic insert, and overall the art and presentation are top notch.

Teaching the Alma Mater board game

The Alma Mater board game is quite a tough teach. It’s one of those euro games where you really need to know everything before you start, as all the options and routes to points can be available from turn one. But I’m not going to go into detail here, as there are plenty of good rules videos available. I found the rulebook OK for learning the game. And it has a good set of appendix pages to cover all the game icons. But I found it a little frustrating when trying to find little rules and exceptions.

As mentioned, this is at its heart a pretty standard worker placement game. You have one (potentially two) worker spaces on your board, plus 13/10 (depending on player count) on the main board. You start with four workers, with two more available per player as the game goes on. Most spaces cost one worker for the first person to arrive, two for the second etc. But a few of the more boring spaces (get money etc) are non-competitive.

The bulk of the game sees you attracting students and lecturers to your university, while increasing the reputation of your books by rising up the research track. Both students and lecturers can give you income, special abilities and victory points. The first person to claim a particular lecturer sets the ‘price’ for them, which includes which type of book is required to trigger their ability. Students have set prices, but these vary depending on which players’ books are highest on the research track. Which is where the interactivity/clever bit comes in.

Buy the book

While there is money (ducats) in the game, each player’s books (by player colour) also work as an important currency. Rising on the reputation track (which mostly means paying books/money/VPs, or having met certain requirements) means your books will be required to get more/better students. While getting in quickly on top lecturers means your books will be needed to both collect and trigger those lecturers for other players.

Your own player board action/s allow you to buy your own books. These can either be kept for payment, or put up for sale in your shop (placed on your player board). So the more people need your books, the more profit you can make. Especially as players have to first buy any available books from you, not the bank, when they need them. This is a key element of the game and really makes it stand out from the crowd.

After six rounds the game ends and the majority of scoring takes place. This is very much a point salad euro, with pretty much everything scoring endgame points. For example, you’ll be scoring for students; lecturers (by type); lecturers (amount) multiplied by your position on the research track; etc etc. But luckily all the ways you’ll score are listed on your player board. And, of course, most points wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Alma Mater is a very well designed and produced euro game, as we’ve come to expect from Eggertspiele. And the clever book currency mechanism elevates it from average to excellent. But personally, despite the excellent artwork and integrated theme, I failed to connect with the game emotionally. For me it has a little too much ‘converting stuff into other stuff’ going on to leave room for a soul. Which I need to make a game a genuine keeper.
  • The thinker: What an excellent game. Once the long teach was over, I found myself quickly coming to terms with the mechanisms. But like most complex games, you really need to play through and score once for it all to come together. I’ve seen players do a bit of everything and win, and others succeed by concentrating more on a single path – which is always a good sign. While there is enough variety in the cards (if not the students – see below) to make each game feel different.
  • The trasher: The books in Alma Mater add a clever level of interaction between players. But it really couldn’t be done in a more ‘euro’ way! That’s not a criticism – but it really isn’t for me. Sure, there is some competition for worker placement spaces. But with basic planning you should always be able to do what you need to – its more about doing things efficiently. So while I recognise this as a good game, its not one I’ll be coming back to.
  • The dabbler: I love the presentation! The art style and component quality is definitely above the average, especially for a euro style game. But wow, it has a real learning cliff! Everything interacts with everything else – and there are a lot of bits! And so many icons. You even get to choose your own starting resources, which is hard when you don’t know what is going on lol. It could’ve done with a standard set up for that, for beginners. It’s the kind of game I’d have to play very regularly to keep in my head – and I don’t really want to.

Key observations

The Alma Mater board game is a tough teach. Made all the worse by a huge array of unconvincing icons. It takes ages to set up, and then you’re probably looking at about an hour of rules. And then you’ll be in and out of the rulebook the whole game looking up cards in the appendix. Which is crazy, as the following week (with the same players) we had the whole game done in about 90 minutes. But in this day and age, with so much choice out there, first plays can make or break a game.

Representation has never been more important. But unfortunately, here, in terms of ethnicity, you’ll find an all-white cast. A few of the professors and students are female. So it wouldn’t have been hard for them to add some people of colour too. Because this is not a game that relies on its use of theme in a true historical context, beyond naming the chancellor (not professor) cards. You’d hope this was simply an oversight. But the outcry on this topic has certainly proven this is a topic publishers need to take seriously.

The two-player experience

Due to the amount of interaction required in the game, the two-player rules introduce a third ‘dummy’ player. This works OK, as it only involves a small amount of set up each round (a few cards). But (for me) it very much diminishes the experience compared to playing with three or four. This is always tricky in a game where interaction is key.

Another issue is the lack of variety of students. You use the same 16 types in each game, which is odd as everything else has loads of setup variety. Clearly recognising the mistake, they’ve released a mini expansion (for less than £10) that adds four new ones. But even at this price, it seems steep.

Finally, some commenters have been disappointed having come to Alma Mater from its spiritual cousin, popular euro game Coimbra. The games share some of the design team as well as art style and theming. But this is definitely a more complex game. So if you liked Coimbra, but felt it was the edge of your enjoyment in terms of difficulty, you may want to give Alma Mater a miss (it is rated 3.8 (vs 3.3) for complexity at Board Game Geek).

Conclusion: Alma Mater board game

Alma Mater is a very good mid-to-heavyweight euro game. It nicely blends its theme into familiar mechanisms, while introducing a nice twist to make it feel fresh. While it also looks fantastic and offers solid value for money. So if heavier games are your thing, I’d definitely give it a try. But personally, the thought of teaching it again brings me out in hives. And while I enjoyed my plays, I didn’t fall in love with alma Mater. And nowadays a game has to get over that line to stay in my collection.

Board game Top 10: Abstract games

Before I start with a top 10 abstract games list, I should define what I’m going to take ‘abstract games’ to mean. It’s a never-ending (and pointless) debate, so I’ll cut to the chase. Here I’ll be talking about games that lack any meaningful connection between theme (if they have one) and mechanics. Rather than those that lack all randomness (such as Chess or Go) – but there are some of those on the list too.

But I won’t be talking about dice games, or tile-laying games, as they have their own lists. This is games with very simple rules, but deeper strategy as well as tactics. Where you tend to just do one simple action on a turn, but which can have far reaching consequences. But despite this, these tend to be games that will only take up to around 30 minutes to play.

I think all these games should be available. So if you’re looking to pick any of them up, please use this link to comparison site Board Game Prices to help the site out. I’ve also linked to any of my full reviews below. As well as linking to online versions of the games (where available) if you want to check them out first. No order to the list, just great games.

My Top 10 abstract games

Azul
(2-4 players, 30-45 mins, ages 8+)

Players select tiles from randomly arranged sets to place on their own board, trying to create rows and columns to score points. But what you can take becomes limited as a round goes on. Meaning other players may force you to take a colour you can’t have – giving you negative points. This need to think in two directions helped make Azul an instant classic.

Mandala
(2 players, 20 mins, ages 8+)

Mandala is somewhere between a set collection and area control game. On a turn you usually play coloured cards to the centre of the table (in one of two areas), or to your side next to one of those areas. The colours you can play to particular areas becomes limited as time goes by. And once all colours are represented in/by an area, that area is scored and some cards are won. The later you take a particular colour in the game, the more each of that colour will score. So it soon becomes a tactical cat-and-mouse affair.

Spirits of the Forest
(2 players, 20 mins, 8+)
Play online (as Richelieu) at Yucata

A grid using all 48 tiles (12×4) is randomly created at the start of the game, with 8 (of 12) bonus markers placed on some of them. Players take it in turns to take tiles from the ends of the four rows, claiming bonus tiles and also reserving tiles for later. Scoring is by majority by colour, kept interesting by the secret bonus tiles. But what really makes the game sing is the tile blocking. As you can spend a block token to get around this – but then it is gone forever.

Drawing random pieces

The Rose King
(2 players, 30 mins, ages 8+)
Play online at Yucata

Players take turns to move a single shared piece by playing a card, then placing one of their coloured pieces on the landing space. It’s not as random as it seems, as on your turn you take a card or play one – but all cards you take are placed face up. You have a few chances to flip pieces to your side, but use them wisely. When neither player can move, the game is over and large territories will win you the game.

Uptown
(2-4 players, 30 mins, ages 8+)
Play online at BGA

In uptown, you’re faced with a 9×9 grid of spaces, with each associated with a number, letter and icon. You have one of each tile (so 27), plus a single wild. Your job is to place these tiles (drawn randomly – you always have five to choose from). But to finish with as few groups of tiles as possible. You can knock other players’ tiles off the board – but only if they’re on the edges (so as not to create more groups for the opponent).

Ingenious
(2-4 players, 45 mins, ages 8+)

On your turn, you’ll place a domino-style hexagon tile onto the main board then draw another, so you always have six to choose from. There are six colours of tile halves. And you score by lining up as many as possible to your placed piece. The trick is, the loser is the player with the lowest score in their worst colour. So as well as scoring big points, you need to balance your scoring – while trying to limit your opponents weak colours.

My Top 10 abstract games: Pure abstracts

These games have perfect information, so the only randomness is how your opponent plays.

Adios Calavera
(2 players (2-3 with expansion), 30 mins, ages 6+)

You’re simply racing to get your pieces across the board. The twist is you’re playing at right angles to each other, and the distance you can move is dictated by how many total pieces are in the row as you see it (so your row is your opponent’s column, and vice versa). Can be played as a basic abstract, of flipping the tiles allows you to play with individual powers.

Blokus
(2-4 players (or specifically 2 with Blokus Duo), 20 mins, 6+)

Players start with an identical set of Tetris-shaped pieces and a large empty game board. Taking it in turns, they build outwards by joining their own pieces by corner – so no two of your pieces can touch side-by-side. This cleverly leaves ways for other players to breach your defences. Because the plan is to place as many pieces as possible – so the further you get around the board, the better your chance of winning.

DVONN (from the GIPF series)
(2 players, 30 mins, 10+)
Play online at Boite a Jeux

In DVONN, players begin by strategically filling the board with their pieces. They then take turns moving their pieces (putting them on top of others) to gain control of stacks. These stacks can then move as far as the amount of pieces in them, which gives the game a great arc as your options begin to shrink. Most controlled pieces wins.

Patchwork
(2 players, 30 mins, 6+)
Play digitally on the official app (Steam, Google, Apple)

This another Tetris-piece game, but this time you’re trying to fill your individual board with pieces. The tension comes from what pieces you buy and more specifically what you then leave available to your opponent. Some pieces have currency, which you need to buy more pieces. So limiting your opponent’s piece/currency opportunities can win you the game.

Mandala Stones board game: A four-sided review

The Mandala Stones board game is an abstract family game for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes to play. It is listed for ages 10+, which is probably about right. But younger gamer kids should be OK, as you can walk through the rules easily (there is one hidden component per player which you could leave out).

There have been some lazy comparisons of this game with Azul, but the games don’t feel similar to me. Yes, you’re collecting coloured pieces to make sets to score points. But while your choices are tactical due to an ever-changing array of choices, the strategic side is far less interactive. It feels thinky but in a different, less interactive way.

The most striking component is a bag of 96 colourful Bakelite ‘stones’ (cue the lazy comparisons mentioned above). You’ll also find two boards, four thin cardboard player boards, plus a small handful of cards, wooden tokens and cardboard chits. The stones are lovely, while everything else is functional. For less than £30 (various sources via comparison site Board Game Prices) I’d say it’s very good value for money.

Teaching the Mandala Stones board game

During setup you’ll empty the bag of stones by randomly placing them in stacks of four on the board. They come in four colours, and each piece is adorned with one of two patterns. Between these stacks sit four wooden pieces (‘artists’), each of which also carries one of the two patterns. The four colours, and two patterns, are all equally weighted.

On a turn you’ll do one of two actions. Usually that will be taking stones from the main board and placing them on your player board. To do this, you first move an artist from any spot to any other vacant spot. There, you collect any of the four surrounding stones (in clockwise order) – as long as they have the same pattern as the artist, and are not ‘guarded’ by another artist. No matter many stones you take (1-4), you choose (an empty) one of five spaces on your player board in which to stack them (in the order you picked them).

Scoring

Alternatively, you can choose to score. Or, if all five of your player board spaces have at least one stone on them, you have to. You can score in one of two ways. Option one is to take one stone from each player board stack (of your choice) and score a point for each stone. This is a bit crap, but you may do it to set up a more lucrative ‘option two’ next time.

Option two lets you score each stack that has the same-coloured stone on top. You still remove these stones from the top of each stack. But you score each differently, depending on which pile it was removed from. So, one stack scores a point for each different coloured stone it its stack. While several others score depending how high the stack was when you removed the stone. Doing this well can score 20 points or more. Quite the difference.

Either way, the pieces you remove are placed on a central board. Some spaces here also give bonus points, so good/lucky timing can be lucrative. While it also acts as a game timer. Once X stones are placed on the main board, depending on player count, the game is over.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: There are some great aspects to the Mandala Stones board game. But for each nice component or idea, there’s a slightly shonky one. The in-game scoring, for example, is clever and thinky. But there’s are also a set of half-arsed end-game scoring cards that feel rushed and tagged-on. While the Bakelite pieces are colourful and chunky. But the player boards and thin, bland and dull (if functional). These things make it hard to fall in love with the game, which needs to happen in such a busy market.
  • The thinker: I enjoyed this one with two players. The zero-sum nature of turns means every mistake can be punished, so you need to think hard. Equally, its tactical nature means you can’t plan between turns. so only having one opponent is a godsend. With more, the game quickly lost its appeal. I was bored between turns. While poor play from others simply meant gifts for the player on their right. So with two, this is an intelligent and thinky abstract. But the game lost appeal with three and four players.
  • The trasher: Not much for me here. Rather than robbing your opponents, Mandala Stones is more about making sure you don’t give out any gifts! You want to score well, of course. But what’s the point in taking a strong set of stones if it gifts an opponent an even better set? You do want to keep an eye on the central board to look out for bonus points – especially the +2 spaces. But these are unlikely to swing the game your way on their own.
  • The dabbler: Oooh, lovely Bakelite stones – and so colourful! Plus, this is a great little family game. The rules are simple, except the scoring. But you soon get the hang of that. And you can just walk people through it the first few times. The game also plays quickly once set up (which does take a while). And it looks super inviting on the table. One problem is winding back turns when you’ve done something silly. As its hard to remember where things went lol. But overall, a really nice abstract family game.

Key observations

For me, Mandala Stones feels like a good two-player game stretched to 3-4 players, with a few end-game scoring cards tacked on to keep an element of surprise. This makes it a bit of a quandary to recommend. As it’s a big old box for a two-player game. But I’d genuinely flip from a 7.5ish to a 6 from the two to three player experience (as an out-of-10 rating). I wouldn’t play again with four.

The complete lack of being able to plan is akin to something like Five Tribes. But at least with that, you have a bit more to think about long-term. So you can potentially think a little more about what options you want to look out for. Not so here. So, when it isn’t your turn, it simply isn’t engaging. This changes with two players, as you’re only waiting for one player to act. While knowing what they do will directly affect your next turn.

And please believe me, the Mandala Stones board game is no Azul. Not even close. There simply isn’t any interaction – which is what makes Azul sing. Here, the reason to take stones in a particular order is purely about your scoring. And here there are barely any ways to plan for later moves – even with just two players. That’s fine if you like a good heads-down puzzle. But Azul it ain’t. Not a criticism, merely an observation.

Conclusion: Mandala Stones board game

With two players Mandal Stones is fun, fast and thinky, thanks to its cleverly implemented in-game scoring. But with three and four players it drags a little, even as a short game, because the downtime is a little frustrating. That said, if I had unlimited space, I’d keep Mandala Stones purely for the two-player experience. And if that’s the kind of abstract game you’re looking for, I’d certainly recommend it. But with my shelves already bulging, there are simply too many abstracts ahead of it in the queue for it to hold a place.

In fact, this reminds me I haven’t done a top 10 abstract games list. I’ll put that on my to-do list right now. But until then, some examples of games this isn’t beating are Azul, Kahuna, Manhattan, The Rose King, Divinare, Ingenious and Blokus Duo. In fairness, these are all classics in my book. So to be close to these but just missing out is still a pretty worthy achievement.