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Subject: Pretty Sneaky, Sis: Pyramid Scheme - a Zendo review rss

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Joe babbitt
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As always, this is a condensed version of the original post. To see it in all of it's posty glory, come visit us at

http://clevergamereference.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/building...

Zendo is a game of INductive reasoning, which is not to be confused with DEductive reasoning. I guess it’s important to explain the difference before we go on.

Deductive reasoning is the process of concluding that something must be true because it adheres to a principle that is known to be true. For example, the sum of the angles in any triangle is always 180 degrees. Whatever triangle you think of obeys this rule, it will always be true. Deductive reasoning is logically valid.

Inductive reasoning , while related, is not the same thing. Inductive reasoning is where you conclude that a principle is true because the cases you’ve been exposed to are true. If the only fish you have ever seen are goldfish, inductive reasoning would suggest that all fish are goldfish.

With deductive reasoning, the law proves the case. With inductive reasoning, the case makes the law. In this they are opposites.

Still with me? Good. Onto the game. You need at least 3 players for Zendo, and the pieces. Zendo is not available anymore by itself, but there are a number of different options for what pieces you use. I was taught the game using pyramids from Looney Labs, and purchased Ice Dice for myself, though I imagine you could substitute Legos for these. Worst case scenario, apparently there are bunches of games that you can play with the same pieces.

You’ll also need 3 different colored tokens. We used glass beads, which is what I will continue to use, but anything should suffice, even pocket change.

There are two roles in the game, One Master and all remaining players are Students. The Master thinks up a rule and uses the pyramids to build two structures, one that obeys the rule, and one that does not. S/he marks the one that obeys the rule by placing a white token in front of it, and the one that does not by placing a black token in front of it. Now the game is on.

The Students are trying to be the first to discover the Master’s rule. On a student’s turn, they will build a structure using that they feel obeys the Master’s rule, then announces either “Master” or “Mondo”

If a Student declares “Master,” they are asking if their structure follows the rule. If it does, the Master will place a white token in front of the structure, if it does not, the Master will place a black token in the same place. Play then proceeds clockwise, with all Students benefitting from the knowledge ascertained on other players turns.

If a Student declares “Mondo,” before the Master marks the structure, all Students get to guess if they think that it will follow the rule. We did this by palming a white stone if we thought that it did and a black stone if it did not, with all players revealing simultaneously. Students who guessed correctly gain a green Guessing stone.

On your turn, you may spend a Guessing stone to tell the Master what the rule is. If you’re correct, congratulations! You’ve won the round and become the new Master. If you are incorrect, the burden of proof falls to the Master who then must build a structure that both obeys the rule and disproves the incorrect guess.

That’s really the game in a nutshell. Simple, but like a handful of other great games, there is an exceptional depth and elegance in its simplicity. Let’s talk a little about this depth.

What makes a rule? There are a number of variables that rules can be created by that include:
- Number of pyramids used
- Color(s) of pyramids used
- Size(s) of pyramids used (there are 3 different sizes)
- Elevation/Grounding (what pyramids are touching the table versus what pyramids are stacked on top of one another)

The Master can mix and match these however s/he pleases. For example, the rule can be “must have blue,” or “must have a large piece,” or “must have a large blue piece.” Obviously there are more variables than the common ones I’ve listed, and the combination of them is limited only by the imagination (and cruelty) of the Master.

Simple rules may be quickly figured out, while more complex rules may take a while. This is where the game can get tricky. Being a good Master is an act of finesse. It’s very easy to make a rule that’s too difficult to find and really easy to underestimate the difficulty of your rule. It’s important to remember that the Students start with very little information, and you control a hefty share of the information they gain over the course of the game. Even with a relatively simple rule, there are a lot of variables for the Students to have to think about whether or not they are relative to the rule. Your rule may be “Contains one medium piece” but your Students have to wonder if color, number of pyramids, elevation, etc. are relevant when formulating their guesses.

The Master wants their rule to be challenging, but it’s a fine line to walk between challenging and obscenely difficult. If you make a rule that’s too hard, it takes a long time to figure out, which runs a high likelihood of frustrating the Students and creating a bad experience all around. In other words, if your rule is “Must contain a prime number of elevated pyramids of different sizes, at least one of which must be red” you are an asshole and Zendo is not for you. Coincidentally, neither are friends. That’s a Zendon’t. Don’t be that guy.

If your rule is too simple, at worst, the round is over quickly, a new round begins and you get a better feel for the capabilities of the players at the table. If your rule is too hard, no one wins.

It’s also up to the Master to control the flow and tempo of the game. For example, when someone uses a Guess token and they are incorrect, you can build a structure very similar to the failing one, which limits the information gained from the guess, or you can build a vastly different one than what has been shown, giving a lot more information to the Students and speeding up the game.

Zendo is probably my choice of Best in Show for GenCon 2013. Which is amusing as the game is quite old. It’s not the one I played the most, by far, but it’s the one I thought the most about afterwards. I like a lot of things about this game, namely…

It’s simple. Not a lot of moving parts or complicated rules to intimidate non-gamers.

It’s an excellent game to pull non-gamers in with. I explained this game to a non-gamer recently and she said she was excited to play it.

Visual appeal. The game itself is pretty and is good even for people not playing. I could easily see getting a fair amount of enjoyment just watching a game play out and trying to figure out the rule, and most likely being wrong.

It provides an interesting blend of cooperative and competitive play. Everyone wants to guess the rule and become the new Master, but only one will, and the Students have to work together to make it happen.

It scales well with multiple people. You are only limited by your amount of playing pieces, although I think that of you had more than six players, it might be difficult to keep up with all of the information and become unwieldy.

It works the brain in a good way, and can be a profoundly educational game. I bought this not only for me, but more for my daughter.

It’s a very relaxed and quiet game. Barring light table talk and guesses, this game is almost completely silent. There is a competitive element, but it never manifests in a negative way.

Most importantly, it’s fun and addictive. You have a great game when you stop physically playing but your brain keeps on going.

I’m not historically the biggest fan of logic games, and I thoroughly enjoyed Zendo, enough to think about it a lot, enough to buy pieces for it, and enough to write about it for my dedicated pair of readers. If you enjoy abstracts and/or logic at all, you should check this game out. You won’t be sorry.
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Nate Straight

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Jeff Wolfe
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amigo de fuego wrote:
On your turn, you may spend a Guessing stone to tell the Master what the rule is. If you’re correct, congratulations! You’ve won the round and become the new Master. If you are incorrect, the burden of proof falls to the Master who then must build a structure that both obeys the rule and disproves the incorrect guess.

It's not necessary to disprove a guess with a structure (aka koan) that follows the rule. In fact, sometimes it's not even possible. For example, if my rule is "all pieces must be green and upright" and your guess is "all pieces must be green", then the only way I can disprove your guess it to build a koan that has all green pieces, at least one of which is not upright, and mark it black.
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Alvin C
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jeffwolfe wrote:
amigo de fuego wrote:
On your turn, you may spend a Guessing stone to tell the Master what the rule is. If you’re correct, congratulations! You’ve won the round and become the new Master. If you are incorrect, the burden of proof falls to the Master who then must build a structure that both obeys the rule and disproves the incorrect guess.

It's not necessary to disprove a guess with a structure (aka koan) that follows the rule. In fact, sometimes it's not even possible. For example, if my rule is "all pieces must be green and upright" and your guess is "all pieces must be green", then the only way I can disprove your guess it to build a koan that has all green pieces, at least one of which is not upright, and mark it black.

Also, you don't need to build a koan if you can point to one that disproves the guess. Sheepish embarrassment ensues.
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Jeff Wolfe
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Tyndal wrote:
Also, you don't need to build a koan if you can point to one that disproves the guess.

However, if that happens, the student gets his guessing stone back. The only guesses that count are ones that are unambiguous and correct according to the table (i.e. every koan is marked the same as your guess would mark it).

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oystein eker
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Interesting to observe a human weakness that even real Scientists struggle with. When finding a rule you should test it to make it fail. But you certainly will try to confirm it instead. Not the way go.

Fun to see how the brain going into the same circles - not able to start from fresh. You have probably experienced: There are at least ten koans on the table. Nobody is able to find the rule. Then another guy walks by, stops, have a glimpse of the table, and instantly find the correct rule.

Nice review BTW



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Martin G
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Great review.

Quote:
In other words, if your rule is “Must contain a prime number of elevated pyramids of different sizes, at least one of which must be red” you are an asshole and Zendo is not for you. Coincidentally, neither are friends.


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Ulrich Roth
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Annoying rip-off of Robert Abbott's hugely superior classic "Eleusis".
Play that one instead, folks!
 
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Jeff Wolfe
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ludopath wrote:
Annoying rip-off of Robert Abbott's hugely superior classic "Eleusis".
Play that one instead, folks!

Zendo is superior to Eleusis in almost every way, but thanks for stopping by.
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Russ Williams
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ludopath wrote:
Annoying rip-off of Robert Abbott's hugely superior classic "Eleusis".
Play that one instead, folks!

"Annoying rip-off"?

Here's a real rip-off:
The Strategy Game is a rip-off of Blokus.

Calling Zendo a "rip-off" is silly at best, and nasty at worst (casually accusing Kory Heath of unethical behavior).

Zendo was partially inspired by earlier induction/discovery games, including Eleusis, as well as several other games. (See http://www.koryheath.com/zendo/ for acknowledgements.) It is also significantly different from Eleusis, so I can't see any rational or fair basis for using the accusatory term "rip-off".

You may as well call Havannah a "rip-off" of Hex, or call Mr. Jack a "rip-off" of Clue.
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