Zensu is a two player strategy game in which you move pieces around a 6x9 game board in an attempt to outmanoeuvre your opponent. Each piece can move in any one of four directions, and jump over other pieces, turning this simple strategy game into a battleground.
The aim of Zensu is to break through the front line of your opponents pieces and cross into their home territory, the first player to accomplish this wins the game. Each piece has the ability to move a certain number of spaces forward, left, right and backwards, adding to the game's complexity. By manoeuvring your pieces around the board you can “jump” enemy pieces and remove them from the board. To win you must remove enemy pieces and get one of your pieces into your opponent's home territory.
The set up for Zensu is quick and easy; you unfold a simple 6x9 game board and place two sets of pieces on the board, green and red - one colour for each player. Each player also has two types of piece: the ‘1’ tiles create your front line and the ‘2’ tiles occupy a second row, your home territory. The front row pieces can move forward one space at a time, while the rear row can move forward two spaces at a time. Once you know what you’re doing this whole setup should take less than a minute.
Players then take it in turns to move the pieces according to the numbers drawn on each tile. Any time an opponent's piece is jumped over or landed on that piece is captured and removed from the board. This sounds straightforward, but pieces can move a certain number of spaces in any direction. This means that players need to be aware of each piece's surroundings and consider how they want to attack and defend.
The aim of the game is to manoeuvre one of your pieces across an opponent's front line and into their home territory, which is marked on the board by a unique row of squares. Once a player crosses into an opponent's home territory the game is over and that player wins.
At first Zensu seems like a simple game, and to some extent it is. The instructions are well written and easy to understand. The pieces feature arrows and numbers indicating the direction and number of spaces they can move; which means you are unlikely to forget the basic mechanics of the game.
The depth of the game comes from the multi-directional movement of the pieces. During early playthroughs it is easy to fall victim to silly mistakes and lose a piece, or miss a prime opportunity to capture an opponent's. Likewise, a game of Zensu can be slow to get going; each player must spend time manoeuvring their pieces into position. However, once players get a feel for the game it offers an opportunity to explore a range of strategies. You can take a defensive stance and try to lure an opponent into making a mistake, or you can be aggressive and try to control as much of the board as you can. Both approaches can work, and the fun of Zensu lies in figuring out which approach works best.
It is hard not to compare Zensu to some of the classic strategy board games, such as Draughts and Chess. It has more depth than the former; some pieces can move up to four squares at a time and move in multiple directions. But it can be much simpler than the latter; it only has two main types of pieces compared with the standard six used in Chess. Zensu definitely lies between these two extremes.
The simplicity of Zensu is its outstanding feature, however it can also be its biggest disadvantage. After enough playthroughs winning strategies begin to emerge which can lead to slightly repetitive gameplay. For some people that will be fine, but for others they may develop a desire for more complicated strategy games.
Overall, there is nothing bad about Zensu, however after a few playthroughs it can be difficult to find something spectacular. It is a simple, easy to learn and enjoyable board game. However, it feels like a game caught between two worlds; a straightforward piece moving game and a complex strategy game. If you’re looking for something in between those examples then Zensu is ideal, but be aware that you might feel the need to graduate to something more complicated over time.