Review – Patterns: A Mandala Game

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Designer Brett J. Gilbert, Trevor Benjamin

Artist Klemens Franz

Publisher Lookout Games (Asmodee North America)

Category Abstract Game, Two-Player Game

Length 30 minutes

Release Date Spring 2024

Player Count 2

Price $23.99 MSRP

I love card games. Not just “card combo” games like deckbuilders or dueling games, but classic colors-and-numbers games like Lost Cities, Jaipur, or Spades and Rummy. I was very impressed with 2019’s Mandala, in which each color scores differently for each player, depending on when they first earn said colors. In 2024, Mandala was reimagined as Patterns, and all they’ve kept is the variable scoring. What was once a card game is now an… abstract strategy game? What happened? What did they do to my game!? Let’s take a look!

The first question you might ask is, “If I like Mandala, will I like Patterns?” and the truth is that I just don’t know. This really is an entirely different game; the only mechanism they kept was the scoring method. That said, Patterns stands on its own as an accessible, fast, interesting abstract game.

The game’s rules might be a bit daunting at first. They are somewhat tersely worded, overly formal and mechanical. The upside is that the rules make it very clear what you can do and cannot do when you need to look up a rule, but it took me several rereads and then a few minutes into my first play for it to click. Yet, the actual game is pretty simple. You have a token that is essentially your “hand” for your turn and you can play it by swapping it for something else, or you can just keep it and spend a turn flipping a tile to “lock it in” for scoring. There are many more aspects to the game than this, of course, but the strategy is subtle and emergent, which is exactly how I want games to be. 

My main concern with abstract, open-information games is whether they will feel solved, or overwhelming, or routine. But while the open board gives you plenty of long-term strategy to plan, you can’t just assume you can and should do x-y-z next turn, because you don’t know what color your opponent will have in their hand next turn. This makes the swapping system actually really brilliant; the game is a perfect blend of long-term strategy and short-term tactics. The decision space is always fairly small, but tense; the game never has a dull moment (in part because of the nature of two-player games). It has that “knife’s edge” feeling because you could quite easily end up with a big pile of points (high-value tiles) cordoned off, or not even be able to start your sixth color. 

I have a few complaints about the game, some more important than others. I already mentioned the rulebook, though it’s honestly fine once you’re going; in fact, I find it easier to remember the rules than in Mandala. The box is near impossible to open, which is kind of hilarious but frustrating, but I think that solves itself with time and repetition. The issue I find most glaring is that the two sides of the tokens look way too similar, so it’s hard to tell at a glance which tiles have been flipped and “locked in” and which ones have not. It does make for a nice aesthetic, though.

All in all, Patterns is an excellent, fast-playing two-player abstract. While it’s a somewhat crowded genre, very few of these games turn out to be smash hits – but I think Patterns is a really worthy offering. It’s accessible yet tense and interesting throughout, colorful and fun. If your lunch our is usually you and a gaming partner, you could knock two games of this out pretty easily with minimal setup and teardown, and that sounds like an hour well spent to me. 

The Bottom Line

A surprisingly clever twist on Mandala, and it's just as fun as the original.

 

8

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.