They say good things come in small packages, well that is certainly the case for the boardgame Kendo. The game comes in a package about the size of a cigar box.
Kendo is an excellent abstract strategy game from the same family tree as chess and checkers, sort of fitting half way between the two root branches of the abstract genre of games.
The game was created by K. Budden and Seven Towns, and was first released in 1989 by Ravensburger, one of the premier boardgame companies out of Germany which has released literally hundreds of games over the years.
In the case of Kendo, it is a game which had a fairly strong following in Germany over the years since its release. One play and you can understand why. The game combines simplicity with a depth of strategy which is often difficult to achieve on a game board.
The board comes in three folding pieces which when ready for game play interlocks in the same fashion jigsaw pieces fit together. The pieces are colourful plastic. While functional, this is an area they could have went a bit fancier to improve the game aesthetics.
Kendo has been called 'The Samurai's Favourite Game'. The slogan sounds intriguing, but really the theme of Samurais and Kendo fighting are pasted onto the game for flavour. The game is essentially one where you look to move your key piece to the centre of the board before the opponent does. Along the way you try to avoid capture, while taking out enemy pieces, much as one does in chess.
Each player has one prince, which moves one, three samurai which move three and four fighters which move two. The pieces must move their exact movement, and can't jump intervening pieces, either your own, or that of an opponent. When a piece lands on a spot occupied by an opponent's piece it is removed.
The game is played out on a hex board, with a player winning in one of two ways, getting his prince to the centre of the board, or by capturing the opponent's prince.
The game can be played by two head-to-head, but also allows for three- and four-player action.
Three player is rather lopsided, with two players being so close to each other they tend to be forced into battle, while the third moves his prince freely to the win. It would need some house ruling to really work.
Four player is rather chaotic too, although could work better if players played in teams.
Where Kendo shines as an abstract is head-to-head. The game plays rather quickly, but there are lots of strategic paths to take, which means you have to stay on your toes. The hexagonal board, and the way the pieces move creates lots of options, and is different enough from the regular check-style board to be fresh.
I agree with your review !
Kendo is a good underrated abstract, quick but always interesting (with two players). With four "deep" players the risk is AP and stalemate positions.