GTM #201 - Sensei
Reviewed by Rebecca Kaufeld

According to the Wiseman, there is a balance in everything. Springtime and harvest, black and white, “yes” and “no”. There is a time and a place for everything, and everything knows its time and place. When one listens, understands, and truly connects with the harmony of life...  there is peace.

For the Monkey, the time is never right. He runs when he should walk, climbs when he should run, and never wants to meditate. And then, after proving himself completely unable to adjust to the calm, collected lifestyle of the Sensei… he dares to ask for the keys to the temple.

The Wiseman is finally at his wit’s end. Then, in a moment of brilliance, he suggests a game to the young apprentice: the first one to cross the Sacred Court to his opponent’s side wins the temple keys and becomes Sensei.

Winning, however, will be more difficult than they imagine.

~ The Game ~

The rules are simple. Each player has seven wooden stones of their color, and must build a path to the other side of the board without letting their opponent through. On each turn, they may do three things:

  • Move a stone of their own color
  • Move a second stone of their own color, or move the first stone again
  • Step to an adjacent stone (or series of stones, following a path)

The premise is simple, but the challenge unfolds quickly. Strategy evolves from careful and crafty actions, allowing players to draw on both the wisdom of the Wiseman and trickery of the Monkey to achieve their goal. During the moves that follow, each player will evaluate their own actions, their opponent’s movements, and combine the two ideas to best benefit their own victory.

~ A Challenge ~

The strategy isn’t just how the stones move. It begins when players choose which side of the board, or Sacred Court map, they will compete in. For beginners, the basic board is perfect: 49 tiles square, straightforward and methodical. All squares are open for play, and there’s no need for extra precautions.

However, should a greater challenge be necessary, there is also a darker, more challenging Sacred Court: a square of only 46 tiles, with three deep pits in the middle of the board. Only four squares (rather than all seven) connect the two sides of the board, creating a minor inconvenience for whomever wishes to cross to the other side...

~ Other Influences ~

If that wasn’t complicated enough, there are also two versions of gameplay for players to agree on at the beginning of the trial. The first one, Version Arashi, allows players to select a stone and move it through as many squares in one direction as they wish (instead of moving one square at a time).

If players wish to use this method with the more challenging 46-space board, the rules suggest a variant: even though stones cannot be placed on the pit squares, the Wiseman and Monkey pieces may “levitate” and cross them as if they were their own stones.

The other gameplay alternative, Version Shizukana, restricts players to moving one square at a time. This creates more of a chess-like experience, allowing one player and then the other to move his or her pieces across the board (rather than racing from one end to the other each turn).

The optional Shizukana variant, instead of altering the rules, changes the beginning setup of stones. Instead of a line of matching stones on opposite sides of the board, players switch two of their own stones for their opponent’s color. It works as both a blessing and a curse, as having those two stones on the opposite side will shorten your opponent’s journey, but it also creates a dangerous illusion of being closer to the goal…

It begins…

Whether you identify more with the Wiseman’s calm lifestyle or the Monkey’s gleeful curiosity, Sensei will give you and your opponent the opportunity to prove yourselves in the Sacred Court. Will your strategy be as solid as the stones beneath your feet, or develop reactively through personal craftiness? Will you choose a traditional path, or favor the road less traveled? Will you rely on skill or impulse?

And, will you become the next Sensei?

Fast Facts:

  • 2 Players
  • Ages 7 and up
  • 15-minutes or less
When a whirlwind of whimsical words beckoned from worlds away, Rebecca knew she had to follow. She fell into a rabbit hole of metaphors and cliches, mixed with more similes than water drops in a storm. Somewhere along the way, she picked up a love of games that would use her words to create beautiful reviews, and that's where she is today.