I’ve always loved 20th Century abstract art, and one of my favorite painters is Piet Mondrian, a Dutch abstractionist known for his bright, playful works featuring different size primary color boxes separated by heavy black lines. I’ve even had Mondrian wallpapers on my computers at various times, along with a poster or two. When I heard that game production company Binary Cocoa had developed a 1-5 player abstract puzzle game based on Mondrian’s work, I knew I had to get a copy for myself and check it out.
I’m so glad I did: It’s one of the best and most intriguing puzzle games I’ve ever played and I’m hooked! The fact that Binary Cocoa sent me the deluxe personally laser-printed box was a fun addition (as you can see on the right), but it’s all about the cards. Like every great puzzle game, this is all about seeing patterns and planning ahead.
Mondrian: Color in Motion is also the antidote to the enormous games I’ve been playing recently (looking at you Kingdom Death: Monster) with a setup that’s under 60 seconds and cleanup that’s also lightning fast. The game consists of 80 cards, each of which has three big, bright-colored squares, and an array of black and white markers. That’s it. Here’s the setup from the first time I played the game:
The three cards at the bottom are my “hand”, while the blue-white-white card in the middle is the starting card for the puzzle. The stack of remaining cards are on the right, the “Binary Cocoa” fabric appliqué is just for fun (since it’s really cool!), the black and white tokens are on the left, and the instructions are literally a single two-sided sheet. That’s it.
On each turn, you have to place one of your cards so that one or more matching squares overlap a square or squares on the existing layout. Every square that does overlap gets a white token. You then jump tokens using basic Checkers rules (though you can also jump diagonally), keeping the markers you acquire. To ensure that there are always new white markers for the next card, players cash in 10 white markers for a single black one. That’s basically it, with the only additional rule that if you place a card adjacent to a square, the card must match that color even if the square itself is empty.
After a few playthroughs – one of which where I inadvertently made it harder on myself by omitting the diagonal jump rule! – I reset the game and started again in solo mode. This time, the starting tile was yellow-white-red, upon which I placed a white-red-white card, as shown:
Because the white and red squares overlapped, I added two white markers. Then I could either jump the red marker over the white and land on the yellow square, acquiring the other for a point, or jump the white marker over the red, having it end up on the white square. Just like Checkers!
The acquisition of markers is the scoring mechanism for the game because you can always place cards by stretching out the playing area puzzle. For a multiplayer game, markers once placed are owned by the game, not the player, so if you can jump and acquire a marker someone else placed, that’s fine. And vice-versa. For solitaire play, it’s just you trying to maximize your score, obviously a bit less competitive (unless, I suppose, you have multiple personalities fighting it out in your subconscious!)
A few cards later I’m going to fill in two empty spots by having the red square to the right match the empty square (you can’t place a card over a square that has a marker present). The other two squares of this card cover empty squares, but it’s only a legal move because the adjacent color squares match. In other words, if the bottom was yellow-red-yellow I couldn’t place this card since the white can’t be placed adjacent to a yellow square. This only applies to empty squares, so if I had a red-red-red, once this card is played, I could play it vertically covering all three red squares:
Notice an interesting dilemma on the right edge: Once this card is played a marker will be added on the right square, giving us three markers. But there’s no jump move because you can’t jump off the board. Markers can and often will wait for a dozen, even fifty cards to be played, before they can be acquired or utilized to acquire other markers.
A bit further along:
Things are starting to grow and the new white-blue-blue vertical card (with two squares overlapping and getting markers) presents a fun jump move: The lowest marker jumps upward, then the top marker jumps down. Two added to the board, two acquired for your point pool. Nice!
It’s also fun and rewarding to find three-square matches like I have below:
That will give me four markers in a vertical line, which should let me acquire two of them immediately. In fact, I found that the more you try to overlap 2 or 3-squares, the denser the puzzle and the higher your score. Lots and lots of markers on the board = the chance for a higher score.
Further into the game…
When looking at the above and calculating how many markers you can jump and remove, remember you can also jump diagonally, as long as you end up on a square. I pulled off five markers from the above position. Can you see the moves?
Down to the last twenty or so cards you can see that I have 6 black markers (10 points each) + 10 white markers, for a total interim score of 70 points. The board is relatively dense, but from an angle you can see that some squares have been built upon a half-dozen or more times:
See on the right side? That’s 5 levels you can see. One consequence is that you cannot keep the puzzle area perfectly rectilinear. I tried. 🙂
And, finally, I played the 80th card, jumped and took every marker I could manage, and had this final board and score:
There were ten markers left on the playing area, but you aren’t penalized. It’s all about your score, and in my case it’s 15 black markers and 5 white markers, for a final tally of 155 points.
I have to be candid, I really, really like this game. It might be one of my favorite puzzle games ever, with its simple play, elegant design, and simple setup and cleanup. You could explain this to a friend in under five minutes, no problem, and even younger children will understand both the card placement rules and the marker jumping rules. They’re easy. Somehow it just all adds up beautifully to a fantastic game. Even better, solo mode is also relaxing as you play because there’s no timer, no dangers to avoid, just a chill gaming experience as the board grows and your marker pile increases.
Highly recommended if you’re a puzzle game fan. Get a copy. You’ll thank me later.
Mondrian: Color in Motion, by Binary Cocoa. On Kickstarter until Mar 31, 2022. Base pledge cost is $25. Check it out: Mondrian: Color in Motion.
Disclosure: Binary Cocoa sent me a copy of Mondrian: Color in Motion in return for this review. Which was, as it happens, fantastic!