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Can you guess the master's riddle? Zendo is a game of logic in which the Master creates a rule and the students attempt to discover it. They do this by building and studying configuration of pyramids. The first person to correctly state the rule wins!
Played in a public place, Zendo is great for grabbing the attention of passers-by and getting them to sit down and play a game. The pyramids are eye-catching and fun to play with (and the rules of the game encourage you to be creative in playing with them), and the game itself is a simple unintimidating puzzle: just figure out what all the arrangements of pyramids which are marked with white stones have in common that none of the arrangements marked with black stones do. It only takes a moment to explain what's going on to passers-by who ask (and they will ask), and it's even practical to invite them to join in mid-game.
Even without trying to tempt new players to join, Zendo is fun to play. It's unusual in that although it's a thinking game, the logic of it is so intuitive that it doesn't feel like a 'brain-burner,' but rather it tends to be light-hearted and playful.
To top it all off, there are many other fun games that can be played using the pieces (rules can be found on the publisher's web site), making this set an excellent value for the money.
Zendo is a lovely puzzle game for 3 to 8ish players. It's one of my all time favorites. The game is played with a set of Icehouse pieces, which can also be used for many other games.
The premise of Zendo is simple. One player sits out from the competition and takes the role of the Master, while the other players are Students, each trying competing to be the first to uncover the riddle which the master has devised. The riddle takes the form of a rule for how structures may be built from the Icehouse pieces. If a structure is built in such a way that it obeys the rule, then it 'has the buddah nature.' If a structure defies the rule, then it 'does not possess the buddah nature.' This new boxed Zendo set comes with a deck of cards with suggestions for beginner-level rules, such as 'contains a red piece' or 'has all pieces standing up.'
Zendo has a lot going for it. It's easy to explain to new players. It's pretty, so you won't feel like a geek playing it in your corner coffeehouse. Strangers may even come up and ask to join. You can play it with opponents of all ages and experience levels, and it accepts a wide number of different players. Games are usually fairly quick, with 3 or 4 games lasting about 20 minutes each being a common pattern. For all these reasons, Zendo is one of my favotire games of all time. The fact that it now comes pre-packaged as a box set rather than needing to be collected is a boon for anyone who had not discovered it before.
Mastermind was always a favorite of mine, until it became too easy - just as Super Mastermind and Grand Mastermind. These games were supposedly multiplayer, but they were in reality solitary puzzles that one person played at a time, while the others watched in zoned out boredom. I read about Zendo (Looney Labs, 2003 - Kory Heath) on the internet, and it sounded like what I was looking for - a multiplayer logic game. The Icehouse piece pack, made up of several sizes and colors of pyramids, has always interested me, but I never really was so interested as to pick up a game. Yet according to what I read, Zendo utilized the Icehouse pieces, so that I could play those games (myriads of them) with this set also. Well, that sounded like an excellent deal, so I picked Zendo up, eager to pit my logic skills against others.
Zendo plays exactly like I thought it would, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Peel off the Buddha-nature theme that is so prevalent in the rules, and the game is straight logic. People who do not logic problems would probably dislike the game, and in my plays, found that a few people were not quite enamored with the game. However, those who love logic, and even those who like it just a little, really enjoy the game - as the pieces look fantastic on the board, and it is a highly interactive game (rare for logic games). The game can be scaled from easy to hard, and should even accommodate the most casual gamer. Being able to play other Icehouse games (several rule sets are included in the box) makes this purchase worth ones while.
A pile of pyramid pieces is placed in the middle of the table, of four different colors (red, green, yellow, and blue), and three different sizes (small, medium, and large). One player is chosen to be the Master, and all other players (Students) are given a black and white stone. The remainder of these stones, including a pile of green stones, are placed somewhere for easy retainance. The Master chooses a rule, and the game begins.
The rule the Master makes must be in regards to koans, an arrangement of pyramids on the table. The rule can be anything the Master wants, but a stack of cards is provided with example rules that the Master can utilize. Rules have some guidelines when being chosen.
- The rule cannot reference time.
- The rule cannot reference the playing surface.
- The rule is restricted to the koan itself, meaning that it cannot reference other koans, or anything outside the koan, including the stones.
The rules can range from simple (A Koan must have one red pyramid in it, All pyramids must be grounded (touching the table, The Koans total pip (markings on the sides of the pyramids) count must equal four, etc.) to medium (One yellow pyramid must point towards a small pyramid, A Koan contains only one grounded piece., etc.) to hard (It contains an even number of pieces being pointed at, and at least one piece not being pointed at, The total pip count is a prime number, No pieces are touching another of the same size or color, etc.). The harder a rule is, the more lengthy the game can become (and frustrating to the players). Once the Master decides upon his rule, he builds two separate koans - one that follows the rule (marked by a white stone), and one that doesnt (marked by a black stone). The Master chooses someone to go first, after which play proceeds clockwise around the table.
On a Students turn, they build a koan, using as many pyramids as they want. They then have a choice of saying Master or Mondo. If they say Master, the Master marks the koan with a white stone if it matches the rule, or a black stone otherwise. The Student may then guess the rule, or play passes to the next player. If, however, a player says Mondo, every player - including the current one - puts a black or white stone into their hand secretly, and reveals them simultaneously. The Master then marks the koan with the correct stone, giving one green stone to each player who guessed correctly.
After making this choice, the Student has the opportunity to guess the rule, but only if they have a guessing (green) stone. They give the stone to the Master and guess the rule, and if correct, theyve won the game! Otherwise, the Master tells them that they are wrong, and builds a koan that disproves their guess. The Student may guess again (if they have any green stones left, otherwise play passes to the next player. The game will end when one Student finally guesses the rule (or when everyone leaves the table in frustration).
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: If one is thinking about buying the Icehouse game, then Zendo is the perfect idea, because the box is superior to the regular Icehouse packaging. All the stones fit in one side of the cardboard insert, while the pyramids in the other. I do wish that more pyramids had been added, because we often run out, and then must break down koans to get the pieces we need. I may buy some more Icehouse sets to supplement my Zendo game, maybe even of other colors, to increase the combinations. The pyramids themselves are made of translucent colors, and really look striking on the table. The stones are glass stones, and are of the highest quality - I bagged them, but it really isnt necessary. You wont get much more here than you would with a typical Icehouse set, but the box is much better, and the stones are a nice addition.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is fairly extensive, even though it sometimes delves a little farther into the Zen nature of the theme, and I just want it to state the obvious for me. But there are pretty much rules for everything, and the rulebook takes the few simple rules for the game and expounds on them quite a bit. The twelve-page rulebook also has a section on Strategy, with some fairly detailed tips, and a long section on how to make rules. Two summary cards are also included with the game, which really help remember play sequence.
3.) Rules: When making rules in the game, it seems like a rule may be too easy, but we found that even what we thought were the most simple of rules could sometimes prove tricky for the students to follow, while the hard rules proved nigh impossible, especially for casual play. The cards included with the game are a good basis to start, and help ease everybody into the game. Once players get more comfortable, they can start making their own rules, as long as they arent too ambiguous or difficult.
4.) Internet: There is quite a bit of support for Zendo online, with many web pages providing sample rules that can be used with the game, rated and ranked according to difficulty. There are variants that can be used, strategies and tips - just enter Zendo into a search engine, and theyll pop right up.
5.) Other Games: Even if you hate Zendo, seven cards are included in the box with rules to other games. And online, at www.icehousegames.com, there are at least 100 rule sets to other games that can be played with these pieces. Now, not many of these, from what I hear, are great games, but several of them are quite good, and certainly justify the price of Zendo, even if one isnt thrilled with the game.
6.) Logic and Fun Factor: People who have a hard time with logic may or may not like the game. Its fun to stack the little pieces, regardless of whether you know what you are doing, and players can guess the answer, and perhaps get lucky - which is enough for some people. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out the logic, and so did the others I played the game with. It is NOT, however, a rip-roaring fun fest, with everybody laughing and having a hilarious time, but for some more staid fun, in an elegant manner, Zendo can hit the spot.
Being a logical person, I quite liked Zendo. Others who played the game also liked it, although not everyone was quite as fond as I was. Still, it will hit the table again, because everyone once in a while we need a brain-burner, and this fits the bill. And even if we get tired of the game, there are so many other games that can be played with the pieces, that Zendo is worth it alone! I dont think that this game will be pushed to the back of my shelf anytime soon, and its one Ill often gladly play. (Of course, the fact that I do well at it has NO bearing on that decision whatsoever. :) )