1) Hi, what is the game about?
Thinking about theme, the game is all about the Mandala: the symbol of an ancient and sacred ritual. Coloured sand (represented by cards) is laid to create a symbolic map of the World, before the pattern is ceremonially destroyed and the sand cast into the river.
Thinking about mechanisms, the game is about hand management, bidding and set collection, with two novel mechanisms that drive when players draw cards, and how they must carefully order the collection of specific colours to try to maximize their value at the end of the game.
Thinking about experience, the game is an abstract strategy game of brinkmanship and timing, with a constant tension around when and where to play cards of specific colours to out-manoeuvre your opponent.
2) The theme "Mandala" is very unique. How did you come up with the theme?
For the majority of the game’s development, there was no theme at all. The idea for the game had started as a multiplayer card game with a fantasy city theme, similar to the building cards in "Citadels". But after a few false starts, we realised that the game really wanted to be a two-player game, and that the theme didn’t really fit.
We continued to work on the game, all the while struggling to think of a concept that might make sense of the colourful but abstract game play. It was only very later in the process, not long before we first pitched the game to a publisher, that Trevor landed on the name "Mandala" — which he almost immediately rejected! However, Brett emailed him straight back saying that it was a great name, and that there was a nice match between the game’s structure and the ritual of creating and then destroying a sand mandala.
The theme gave us some excellent language to use to describe the areas of play — the Mountains, the River and the Cup — and helped enormously to lift the presentation of the prototype. Although we did not start with the theme and build a game to reflect it, we think we eventually found a unique and meaningful theme, and that "Mandala" matches the game’s elegant, classical feel.
3) What makes this game so good in your eyes?
We love the game’s simplicity, and the unexpectedly strategic and emergent gameplay. The game is very unfussy, with no extraneous details or rules. The deck is 108 cards: 18 cards in each of 6 colours — but the cards have no numbers or other elements. In each turn, you can take one of three simple actions, each time playing 1 or more cards of a single colour. This makes the game very easy to learn and play, but the apparent simplicity leads to very tight, tense and combative game, which players who enjoy classic 2-player cards games like "Lost Cities" or "Battleline" will hopefully enjoy. It’s no coincidence that both those games were designed by Knizia: the refined classicism of many of his earlier games is something we both admire and aspire to.
4) How did you get in contact with the publisher "Lookout Games"?
Brett had worked with "Lookout" twice before — on his curious little kids game "Karnickel" which Lookout published in 2013, and on "Costa Rica", co-designed with Matt Dunstan and published in 2016 — and so already had a good relationship with the editorial team.
Brett pitched the game to (what was then) "Mayfair Lookout" at Spiel 2017, but it took a little while (May 2018) for "Lookout" to play the game and give us feedback, and a little while more (July 2018) for them to decide that they loved the game and wanted to publish in 2019.
We’re really excited to be working with "Lookout" on a two-player game, and love what they have done with the final product — including the linen playmat!
5) You both cooperated as a publisher team. How did the development process go?
Before we began working on the game that became Mandala, we’d already been successfully collaborating on a series of other games: including lots of dice games, four of which have been published — "Dice Heist" from "AEG" (2016), "Café Fatal" from "Zoch" (2017), "Rolling Bandits" from "Blue Orange" (2018), and "High Risk" from "IELLO" (2019).
"Mandala" is the first 2-player game we’ve designed, but that made the development easier. We could meet at lunch to play the game between us, without the need of any other playtesters! Of course, we trialled the game with other people too, but part of the effectiveness of collaborating on a game is always having at least one other player to play with.
The core mechanism of "Mandala" is actually based on a simple principle at the heart of a family tile game that we began working on all the way back in 2014 — so you will see that "Mandala" has had a long history!
Coincidentally, we’ve just a few days ago signed that tile game to a publisher with an expected release at Spiel 2019! It’ll be curious to see whether gamers will be able to detect the DNA that connects the two games, even though the experiences of a 2-player strategy card game and a multiplayer family tile game could hardly be further apart!