From Looney Pyramid Games Wiki
Kory Heath
A Zendo game
Players achieve satori when they discover the secret rule that explains which koans have the elusive Buddha-nature
:Players Players: 3 - 7
:Time Length: unknown
:Complexity Complexity: Medium
Trios per color: 5
Number of colors: 4
Pyramid trios:
Monochr. stashes: 4
Five-color sets: 5
- - - - - - Other equipment - - - - - -
marking stones (~20 in each of 3 colors)
Setup time: 2 minutes
Playing time:
Strategy depth: Medium
Random chance: None
Game mechanics:
Theme: Zen buddhism
BGG Link: Zendo
Status: Complete (v1.0), Year released: 2001

Zendo is a game of inductive reasoning in which one person (a non-player known as "the Master") selects a secret rule that determines whether a small group of pieces (a "koan") should be marked with a black stone or a white stone. The players try to discern this rule by building koans and proposing possible rules. The winner is the first player to successfully guess the secret rule.

In Zendo jargon, a koan which receives a white stone is said to have "Buddha-nature", while a black stone marks koans without Buddha-nature.

Zendo was designed by Kory Heath, and first published in Hypothermia #14. Boxed sets were published in 2003 and 2017, though the latter is no longer a Looney Pyramid game. (The only pyramids in the 2017 edition are pip-less mediums.)

The 2017 edition removed the Zen theme and included Zendo Rule Cards to make it easier to create rules at the right level for the players. These cards were ported back to pyramids for the Pyramid Quartet Kickstarter in 2020, and are available from the Looney Labs store. As of 2024, the 2017 version will not be reprinted.

Examples of secret rules[edit | edit source]

Some typical Zendo secret rules, arranged (roughly) from easiest to toughest:

  • A koan has the Buddha-nature:
    • if it has at least one blue pyramid.
    • if it has exactly three pyramids.
    • unless a red pyramid touches the table.
    • if no medium pyramids point at yellow pyramids.

Keep the rule simple. Avoid compound requisites ("and", "or") and avoid arcane math, like prime or square numbers. The most common mistakes a neophyte master can make is to:

  1. make a rule too difficult on accident, or
  2. make a rule too difficult on purpose.

If you think your rule is too easy, then it is just right.

Awards[edit | edit source]

Online play[edit | edit source]

Zendo is fully implemented (image, text, or numbers) for 3-6 players at SDG.

SDG also hosts a Povray framework and image library for the creation of Zendo koans at [1].

There was an attempt at online Zendo at LiveJournal.

Variations[edit | edit source]

Speed Zendo is played without turns or Mondos.

Zendo-Tao is an variation of Zendo redesigned for asynchronous play, such as over a wiki. One implementation is Sandbox/Zendo-Tao.

Ikkozendo is a turn-based or real time single-stash variation where only two koans exist at a given time: one with the Buddha-nature and one without. The master rebuilds one or both of the two koans to disprove guesses until a student correctly induces the rule.

Dharma duel is a variant for two players, each playing alternating roles as master and as student.

See also[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

Links to more information about Zendo:

Zendo pages in other languages:

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