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Offline Simon

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Zendo: Realizations
« on: December 16, 2018, 07:01:37 pm »
Realizations about Zendo
Part 1: Different piece sets

I will write several posts about the tabletop game Zendo.

Background knowledge: Rules of Zendo, a game of inductive logic.

In Zendo, you build structures of pieces. Any source of pieces is eligible, but ideally you have many copies of each piece and can compose pieces in many different ways. The structures should be easy to grasp by looking.

Example piece sets



The 2017 Zendo release ("Zendo 2.0") has 3 shapes in 3 colors each. Everything is the same size, there are no pips on any piece.



Icehouse pieces. Everything is a pyramid. The 2001 Zendo boxed set has 4 colors of pyramids in 3 sizes each. Large pyramids had 3 pips, medium pyramids had 2 pips, small pyramids had 1 pip.



Digis, and structures are then natural numbers.



Letters from the alphabet. We played Zendo on Lemmings Forums where structures were finite-length strings over A-Z.

Good piece sets

Above, I've already sorted the piece sets according to how good the resulting game feels. The Zendo 2.0 pieces are the best. Geometric shapes and colors seem to fit the game much better than letters or numbers. Visual pattern recognition is a deep part of Zendo.

I have an irrational soft spot for the Icehouse pieces over the 2.0 pieces. The Icehouse pyramids come in green, the table looks more colorful with red/yellow/green/blue pieces, and still the number of colors is small enough.

I've always thought our Lemmings Forums A-Z game produced insidious problems with harder rules. That will warrant an extra post these days. Until then!

-- Simon

Offline Simon

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Re: Zendo: Realizations
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2018, 03:38:27 pm »
Part 2: Downsides of letter strings

Consider Zendo with strings of letters A-Z and Zendo with strings of digits 0-9.

Letters have some nice properties: Some are vovels, they have an alphabetical ordering, some have straight lines, some have only round strokes, some letters enclose hollow areas (A, B, D, O, P, Q, R), some form Roman numerals.

The problem with letters is that, no matter what rule you play, the set is too big at 26 different letters A-Z.

For example, the letters A-Z have an inherent ordering (A, B, C, ..., Z) and this order requires mental energy. Can you tell at a glance whether KLMUTW is alphabetically sorted? We had rules like "the first letter comes alphabetically earlier than any other" and, for this particular game, the set of letters was not optimal. It would have been easier to play this rule with digits as pieces. Digits require little mental energy to order. The rule works perfectly well with 10 game pieces instead of 26.

Consider the rule "contains at least one Roman numeral, and no misformed Roman numerals". This would have been easier to play with far fewer noise pieces. All of A, B, E, F, G, H, J, K, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, W, Y, Z are pure separator pieces. The rule was hard, and it didn't help that there were 19 pieces of noise when a single separator would have been enough. Similary, the rule "must contain at least one of AKHTBN and all such letters must appear sorted like this among the other 20 noise letters" was very hard. At least, both of these rules generated helpful single-letter koans, pointing exactly to the important few letters. But will you always analyze all 26 single-letter koans? Both of these rules would have been easier with fewer noise letters.

Even with 3-dimensional pieces, 3 different colors make the game very interesting already with 99 % of all rules. 4 different colors aren't needed, they make the game more colorful and I like the 4th color, but it won't enrich the game much. If the 4th color is already expendable, surely some of the 19 or 20 noise letters were expendable.

The set of letters is okay if you absolutely require the exact same set for all games, but even then, the digits 0-9 seem preferable with fewer pieces and a much clearer ordering.

Next part: 3-dimensional pieces make for better games than any string game (letters, digits, or emoticons).

-- Simon
« Last Edit: December 21, 2018, 03:45:26 pm by Simon »

Offline grams88

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Re: Zendo: Realizations
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2018, 12:39:27 am »
Just a quick thought

Actually could you use Lemming levels in a game of zendo as you could say that Mayhem levels have the buddha nature or whatever else you can think of. (etc)


Offline Simon

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Re: Zendo: Realizations
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2018, 09:29:23 am »
Right, you can play Zendo with Lemmings levels as structures. Tiles would be the individual building blocks, and entire levels would be be koans. To show koans to other players, one could post screenshots or the level files, or merely name the level if it's a well-known level from DMA's games.

The downside is that it takes long to build new levels. When your building blocks are letters or 3-dimensional blocks in real life, you can easily combine them and finish a new koan in seconds. That's important to test new theories quickly.

You could also restrict the game to level titles from DMA's games, then you wouldn't need screenshots or self-bulit levels. But then you could theoretically win merely by testing all of the finitely many levels.

-- Simon
« Last Edit: December 26, 2018, 09:38:15 am by Simon »

Offline Simon

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Re: Zendo: Realizations
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2019, 01:00:26 am »
Part 3: Geometrical games feel nicer than sequence games

By sequence Zendo, I mean Zendo where the koans are numbers, or strings of letters, or sequences of emoticons, ...

We have often played Zendo without turns, as single-team puzzle: Everybody proposes koans and guesses the rule whenever they like. In our games on Lemmings Forums with strings of A-Z, I've often wanted to write a loop. E.g., I wanted to test all strings of length 5 that start with A, and see if they're all white. Or I want to test ZA, ZAA, ZAAA, ZAAAA, ..., up to length 100.

Since everybody is allowed to ask koans at any time, asking all koans in a loop would be legal. Because we shun bureaucracy, the loop itself should be legal. If you tested only a few possibilities with sequence koans, you always believe you're still lacking so much. Testing only a few sequences doesn't feel satisfying. You wouldn't accidentally run into important features to which the loop might lead you.



Compare this with Zendo with 3-dimensional shapes, such as Zendo 2.0 blocks (left) or differently-sized pyramids (right).

With 3-dimensional shapes, it becomes less tempting to test in a loop. There are so many variations already with 2 or 3 pieces in a koan. You can test for color, certain sizes, or other relations, but these tests will rarely require a loop over all possibilities. For most properties, it's easy to select a few most important cases to test with 3-dimensional shapes. This feels satisfying.

When some 3-dimensional koans are built during the early game, many fundamental physical properties arise naturally from the test cases even though you haven't tested explicitly for them: All pieces must relate to all other pieces in some way, some must touch the table, they all must have corners, sides, at least one piece has to be the highest, ... It is natural to develop a surprisingly reliable, though vague feeling for the rule merely from these seemingly-random physical properties exhibited by completely unrelated test cases.

Maybe the most important reason for 3-dimensional shapes is human pattern recognition. We love to find geometrical relationships. Sequence Zendo lacks this visual pattern recognition.

-- Simon
« Last Edit: February 14, 2019, 03:47:22 pm by Simon »

Offline Simon

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Re: Zendo: Realizations
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2019, 12:43:37 pm »
I still want to write a comparison between Zendo 1.0 (with pyramids in 4 colors and 3 sizes) and Zendo 2.0 (with 3 geometric shapes in 3 colors). That's for sometime else.

Part 4: Link dump

I'm interested in game design in general, be it computer games or tabletop games. Here are some collected links.

Zendo homepage by Kory Heath. Scroll down for the links for further reading. I recommend the design history, tips for the student, and tips for the master.

Journal of Elegant Game Design by Kory Heath (designer of Zendo) from 2001 to 2003, on archive.org. The best piece is the article about coercive rules: Rules that don't feel natural in a game, but rather feel tacked-on to force desirable player behavior.

Old Zendo homepage by Kory Heath. Most is already on the current homepage, see first link in this list. But the old homepage has variations for two players (one should probably only play the simple variant, i.e., treat Zendo as a singleplayer puzzle without scoring), and other variations (handicapping).

Elegantly Wasted by Nick Bentley, a list of game design goals. I agree with nearly everything, I'm sure not everybody else will agree. Lovely reading.

Andy's Eleven Principles of Game Design by Andrew Looney, with a focus on the practical side: Playtesting, maintaining a gaming/testing group, and getting honest criticism on your designs.

Archive of The Games Journal by various authors, with hundres of lovely articles on tabletop game design. To get truly lost in the vortex that is late-night quality internet reading.

-- Simon
« Last Edit: April 29, 2019, 03:47:20 pm by Simon »