Zendo Review

One of the first games that I was introduced to once I moved to Philadelphia was Zendo. (As a note, you can't buy Zendo anymore as a standalone game, but it utilizes the "Icehouse Pieces", so you can easily make your own version of the game, as I intend to do.)

Zendo is a game all about patterns and rules. Yet, there are very few rules to actually playing the game. To start each round, one player determines a "rule" (pattern) that all of the other players are attempting to discover. He then creates two examples - one that matches the rule (or the "Buddha nature") and one that does not. After this, each other player builds a structure and either says "master" or "mondo". "Master" simply asks the moderator (rule creator) to tell everyone whether that structure matches the pattern. "Mondo" allows all of the players to guess whether or not the structure matches the rule - and each player that is right gets a guessing stone. On your turn, if you have a guessing stone, you are allowed to guess what the rule is (and if you're wrong the moderator will create an example that disproves your guess). The first person to guess it correctly is the winner, and they get to make up a rule for the next round. That's the whole game - you keep playing as many or as few rounds as you want, and you make the rules as simple or as complicated as you want (and your group is willing to put up with; if you came up with a 5-part rule, I would probably never play with you again. Especially since it would take us hours to figure it all out.)

What's the rule?
So.... you know how sometimes you just feel like you're going to hate a game, before you even try it? Zendo was like that for me. It was explained as a game "of figuring out the rules", and so I immediately thought of the atrocious card game "Mau." (I absolutely hate Mau. If you don't know what it is then: 1) consider yourself lucky, and 2) you can find more information about it on Wikipedia.) However, since I claim I'm willing to try any game (and to be a good sport since I had just met these people), I tried it. I was wrong - Zendo actually wound up being a very fun, laid back game. Therefore, my first pro is this: Zendo is a relaxing game. Most games that I play are fairly intense. This is because I'm (hyper-)competitive. I like to win. I'm willing to lose, but while I'm playing a game I'm doing everything I can to win. Zendo for whatever reason doesn't matter as much. Sure, I'd like to win, but it's also just fun to try to figure out the pattern.

Secondly, I like that the difficulty of Zendo is scalable based on the group. I'm not incredibly dedicated to the game, so I probably won't ever play where there are complex rules (such as there has to be a red pyramid and there must be a small pyramid). However, for those people that do enjoy more complicated patterns, this is perfectly legal. You can make the pattern as complicated as the other players are willing to accept.

Can you figure out this one?
My third pro is that the game is very inviting. It's something that could be played by most anybody (it might be problematic if you're color-blind). It can be enjoyed by both gamers and non-gamers alike, and it could even be a decent ice-breaking game. You could start playing it with 3-4 people, and before you know it there would be people around watching it that you could include in the next round (or if you're willing, you could even let them jump into that round). It's a very fluid and inviting game and is great for playing just to enjoy the experience.

I don't really have any direct cons for Zendo, but at the same time I realize that this isn't a game that I'm going to get together specifically to play. This keeps it out of my upper echelon of games. However, this doesn't mean that Zendo isn't something that everyone can enjoy. I could easily see this being played at coffee shops, or any other gathering of friends.

Overall, I give Zendo an 8.5/10. I try to reserve 9+ for games that I would get together specifically to play, and that's really the only thing that keeps Zendo from scoring quite a bit higher!  If you somehow find a copy, or if you happen to have Icehouse Pieces (or were thinking about buying them for a different reason), I would definitely recommend that you try it out.

It's hard to recommend games "like" Zendo. But, you might check out Tsuro, Jin Li, and Blue Moon City.

1 comment:

  1. This game reminds me of an obscure game called Lemma, which is reviewed at BoardGameGeek.