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Patrick Hickey
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Review: Sen So

Sen So is a programmed action game themed around an arena type duel between two or more ninjas.

At least, that's how it began. The Sen So staff is very hands on with the production of their game, and with interaction with players. Rather than release multiple types of ninjas, they have followed popular demand- so let me rewrite that first sentence.

Sen So is a programmed action game themed around an arena fight between ninjas, pirates, zombies, aliens, gladiators, vikings, archers, and robots. More will be arriving in due time.

The Core Rules

This is the heart of the game: Players begin the game by secretly programming two moves. For example, a player might move forwards, then leap diagonal. Lets call the first move the "locked" action, because its about to occur, and the second move the "readied" action. The locked action is revealed, and takes place. At this point the readied action becomes the locked action for the next round, and a new readied action is secretly prepared. This may sound complex, but in practice it is not. Each round you use your opponent's move to guess where he is going two rounds from now. You know that one round from now his move is predetermined, ie, "locked." He is plotting the second round from now simultaneously with you, based on what your character just did. You also know that your own move one round from now is locked, and you must come up with a plan that builds on that maneuver to hopefully surprise your opponent.

If you attack a space on which an opponent is standing, you gain 5 points, and he loses 5 points. If you attack a space next to an opponent, you gain 1 point for each opponent adjacent to that space. There are also blocks and shields which modify damage received.

Your Character's Abilities

Each character is essentially a deck of octagonal cards that define what that character can do. The ninja, for example, has a wide diversity of weapons, good mobility, access to shuriken, and access to a "block" which is a secret direction from which he takes reduced damage. By contrast, the zombie has fewer mobility options and a small number of weapons, but also an "arm-a-rang" (he throws his arm a short distance, and it crawls back to him over time, making it reusable), and "squishy flesh" (instead of a powerful directional block, he has a moderate resistance to all damage).

The Sen So staff is constantly involved in their game, and new characters are actively being written. And if you want, you can mix and match the character decks to create hybrids- want to play a zombie pirate? How about an robotic ninja?

The current characters are, in short description

Ninja: lots of options, shuriken.
Pirate: lots of options, flintlock pistols.
Viking: throwable small axe, high damage big axe, shield.
Gladiator: medium options, good at dual wielding weapons, shield.
Robot: medium options, rockets, repair mode.
Zombie: low options but surprisingly tenacious.
Alien: medium options, spawnlings, acidic blood.
Archer: infinite ranged attacks, poor melee.

The Components

Cards are mostly laminated paper, as is the board. Card sleeves are plastic. Characters are represented by plastic chips. Each character is also available as a pdf, and you are encouraged to print multiples. The components aren't expensive, but I haven't noticed any durability problems. If Cheapass Games products are a 1, and a high cost eurogame is a 10, then the components in Sen So are a 3. They're priced appropriately, though, and if they DO wear out, just print more. The basic set has a CD inside so you can do just that.

The Fun

Gameplay sounds complex until you see it happen. Then its really easy to understand. Its a combination of strategy, planning, and bluffing. And there's little cooler than successfully outguessing your opponent so that your character steps back out of the way of their deadly attack, and then scoring from a distance with a perfectly aimed shuriken.

This is a good game for groups, in my opinion, because more characters on the table means more hits, and more cries of victory or dismay. People get pretty into this game, because every round you have the chance to accomplish something really clever, or really get yourself in trouble. And since you, and you alone, know what you've planned for your next action, seeing this turn's action revealed can be really meaningful.

The diversity of characters and weapons really does create a variety of playstyles. A ninja with a kau-sin-ke and three shuriken might play as a sort of skirmisher, striking from a distance and fleeing, while a ninja with a pair of nunchuks will want to get into the heart of a brawl and thresh everyone down. The variety keeps the game fresh.

I heartily recommend this game, especially if you have the chance to play it at a convention. I'd also recommend it strongly for gaming clubs or anywhere groups of gamers hang out. Its a great game to pull out for a short pickup game or two. Even players who aren't very good at it will enjoy playing a zombie and throwing their own arm at a pirate's head.

PS: Conventions

The Sen So team gets most of their sales at conventions, where they operate an open play table and usually a dealer room table as well. If you're planning a convention, give these guys a call. I've found that this sort of game is a very positive addition. At every convention, you get two types of attendees. Those who come to play just one game, often one that takes 12+ hours to complete, and those who wander. Those who wander don't always have the best time. A strong pick up game run by friendly hosts with an infectious sense of fun is a great way to ensure that the stragglers in your convention get at least some time to really enjoy themselves.

PSS: It is possible that some of you may have seen some paragraphs from this review before. I am the author. This is a revision of a previous review which I placed on my own site, and which was linked to by the Sen So webpage.
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