Mandala is a Sankrit word that means “circle,” and it refers to a complex abstract design with an identifiable center point that arrays outward. Classic mandala art can contain geometric and organic forms, and it is used in Eastern religions to support spiritual practices.

Mandala Stones – designed by Filip Glowacz, art by Zbigniew Umgelter, and published by Board & Dice – is an abstract game that combines set collection and pattern building. It plays 2-4 players in about 30 minutes.

The Board & Dice team combined the mandala art style with satisfyingly-chunky components reminiscent of another popular abstract game, Azul. Different than Azul, Mandala Stones’ most “photogenic moment” occurs during setup, as the game starts with the main board full. This also supports variety (every starting board is a little different), and it gives players an opportunity to identify potential point-scoring strategies before their first turn.

Start of Game Setup

Gameplay

On each player’s turn they choose to conduct one of two actions: They can pick stones from the main board following a series of rules, creating a tower on their player board; or they can score points by moving two or more stones of the same color from their player board to the shared mandala board that also serves as the game’s timer. Scoring options vary based on the number or color of stones in a given tower. Removing a stone from the top of each tower reveals new scoring potential for upcoming turns.

I really liked the decisions Mandala Stones asked me to consider, and I needed to think ahead in preparation for future turns, looking at my own player board, the main board, and the mandala board to predict what picking or scoring opportunities might be available later. My tweet about this aspect of the game caught the attention of the publisher.

Visual Accessibility and Modifications

Color Vision

Mandala Stones uses four different colors: yellow, red, blue, and purple. I did not have trouble with yellow and red, but the blue and purples stones were difficult for me to distinguish, especially in lower-light conditions. It was frustrating, as the gameplay was great for me, but my experience was limited by my color vision deficiency. I shared my experience online, and I appreciated Board & Dice’s quick response.

“Sorry that you experienced problem with the colors. When we were choosing colors for stones we consulted with color blind people and designers, but when we started exploring the subject we discovered that the ‘color blind’ spectrum is very wide.”

– @BoardAndDice

Indeed, the colorblind spectrum is wide, with three identified types and variations within each. This is the reason I continue to promote Ian Hamilton’s three steps to colorblind accessibility:

  1. Don’t use color difference alone to differentiate.
  2. Check with a simulator to pick up on contrast issues.
  3. Run it by colorblind folk to pick up issues you’ve missed.

And even when designers and graphic artists do their best at #2 and #3, no simulator or colorblind individual can verify accessibility, because each gamer’s deficiency is different. Thus, back to #1 – the best solution for colorblind accessibility is double-coding.

Low Vision

The stones have two different mandala-style designs (I called them the flower and the swirl), and the difference between the two is vital for gameplay. I found the two designs easy to distinguish from each other, but low-vision players might have trouble since they are thematically similar.

Color Vision Modifications

When modifying games, I take a minimal approach to maintain the original artist’s intent, reduce potential distraction for other players, and ensure I can play. Although I could not play Mandala Stones out of the box, I was able to modify it quite easily with two small additions to the purple stones.

I hereby grant you permission to mark up your games. Please do it.

Due to how the components are used during gameplay, I added a small dot on the faces and three or four dashes on the sides of each purple stone so I could better distinguish them from the blue stones. Similarly to how I marked only some sides of the Century: Spice Road cubes, I realized that I didn’t need to draw a solid black line around the entire component. The small dashes were enough for me to see at least one regardless of the stone’s orientation.

Conclusion

I enjoyed Mandala Stones and intend to go back to it often; the game is beautiful and approachable, and I found it a pleasant level of challenge. While it is not a colorblind-friendly game off the shelf, I found that a simple mod allowed me to play it just fine. Depending on others’ needs, they may need to consider different accessibility modifications.

You can pick up Mandala Stones at the Board & Dice website or wherever games are sold.

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