Tabletop Spotlight – Tenzi
Since I really haven’t had a lot of time to do much gaming, aside from jumping back into my play through of A Link Between Worlds and since I figured you probably didn’t want to hear more Zelda ramblings for a bit, we’re going to take a step away from the pixels for today for a quick jaunt into the world of tangible games. I’ll try not to make a habit of this, since the primary focus of this blog is video games, but when you break it down, modern video games would be vastly different things without the influence of games like Dungeons and Dragons, Chess, or Backgammon. So, since it’s on the shoulders of these giants that our shiny new games stand, I think a look back at the basics is warranted every now and then to see what we can learn about how tabletop games overcome the limitations of their medium to create unique, engaging experiences.
Today we’re going to talk about a game that I just picked up called Tenzi. It’s incredibly simple in concept and the entire game composes solely of 40 six-sided dice and a rolled up instructions sheet. It works like this: Each player gets a set of ten dice, color coordinated for sake of ease, and when the game is ready to begin, every player rolls their sets of 10 dice over and over until every face on their set reads the same value, after which they shout “Tenzi” to win the game. That’s the whole thing, seriously. The game comes with a few suggested variations such as a version where players must stack all 10 of their same-face dice to win, but they are just that: variations. My verdict on the game is that it’s fast paced, incredibly frantic, and relatively exhausting due to the short nature of each round. Replay value is pretty dependent on the mileage you get out of the game as well as the people you play with. However, the thing this game does that I’d like to talk about most is how it is almost entirely design-less. The game itself has one rule: roll until you reach the goal, and nothing else. This, while leaving quite a lot of space for dishonesty…
… is actually a great thing because it means that players can extrapolate to their hear’s content or keep things simple, I think it’s a beautiful example of what some might call a “non” game, because of how much room for player agency the rules leave, but at the same time staying within clearly drawn limitations and very physical confines. The great part about Tenzi isn’t how much fun it is to play (and it definitely is fun) but how much you can do with the system that it provides. It’s more of a suggestion than a game, a set of dice that not only come with loose guidelines for playing, but that actively encourage the creation of new ways to play. I feel like this style of communal, creative game design gets close to the essence of true engagement and play than many of it’s more complex counterparts. It’s the fundamental, low-res version of what games like Day-Z and No Man’s Sky are looking to do, just in the form of a game that seems and feels like it’s been made up on the spot by a kid who found a giant bag of dice lying around. It also is incredibly easy to turn into a raucous drinking game. The beauty of a light touch and freeform game design, in a nutshell.