Review Aug 7, 2013

Today’s Game Review is a guest post from Charlie Ecenbarger. Enjoy!

While trying to get Double Up to the table in the Board Gaming Room at this year’s Origins, Matt and I had the opportunity to meet Chris Zinsli, one half of the married design team Cardboard Edison. After chatting it up for a bit we learned that we were all designers, started talking about our games, and we quickly became acquainted. I learned that Chris and his wife, Suzanne, live a mere 45 minutes away from my home in Pennsylvania, so we talked about hanging out post-origins. It was a couple weeks later that I ended up at the Cardboard Edison residence for a day of gaming which is where I first experienced Tessen.

It was towards the end of a long day of gaming when I asked if I could check out Tessen. Chris and Suzanne were happy to oblige and proceeded to explain the rules to me and a buddy.


From the Tessen Kickstarter campaign –

Tessen is a card game featuring simultaneous real time play. Two players take animal cards from their decks and play them to 5 spaces in front of them. Players may save sets of 3 or more, but beware! The opponent may use a warrior card to “attack” a space forcing the player to give up the attacked animal cards. The attacking player may then take the cards for his own. Also, warriors may be used to “defend” and nullify an opponent’s warrior. Whomever has the most saved animal cards at the end of a round wins!

It seems simple, especially with the brevity that the rules and concept can be explained, but once you get into the action of the game – it makes your brain work and work fast.

The design is quite fluid and doesn’t feel clunky at all. Since the game is fast-paced, it is encouraged for the players to announce when they are attacking and defending with the samurai cards. Players are thinking very fast when playing Tessen, so this subtle suggestion helps keep the players aware of what’s going on around them.

Tessen is played in three rounds and the person with the highest amount of points at the end is the winner. A round can last anywhere from around two minutes to five minutes depending on how fast the players are playing cards, a complete game is around 15 minutes. Perfect for a filler game, if you and a friend have been knocked out of a player elimination game, or if you just like fast paced games. In any category, Tessen can hold its own.


From what I have gathered, everyone’s first experience with Tessen is about the same – slower than your second game and involves an A-HA! Moment. Like most games, your first go is just trying to figure the game out, find the strategy you want to work with, and then play; however, Tessen doesn’t allow for that sort of methodical thinking. Tessen is a game about making split-second decisions in order to score as many points as possible.

The A-HA! Moment, for me, was when I realized it is very hard to win by just paying attention to your piles of cards – this is also when the game becomes intense. Once you realize that your opponent’s stack of animals is just as important as yours three things happen: Your attention becomes split so a sense of urgency is created, your pattern recognition and memory kicks in to high gear, and split-second decisions need to be made between using samurai cards to attack, defend or concede a pile.

Since both you and your opponent are thinking the same way (or should be if they understand the game), any real long-term strategy just doesn’t work. A round of Tessen can take as little as two minutes, so formulating a long term strategy is just out of the question – your decisions matter right then and there, and you need to react to those decisions right then and there. Hesitation can easily put you behind in points.

Most of the time two player games move a bit slower, involve thinking ahead, and deep strategic decisions.  What’s special about Tessen is that it doesn’t follow that formula. The game is fast, super-fast, and you need to think about things as they are happening – not how they are going to be. This makes the game very fun and gives it a ton of replay value. For someone who enjoys fast paced competition, this game is a dream come true.

Art & Design

So here’s the thing with the art of Tessen. For a limited time, you can get Tessen CLASSIC – which is the art that Cardboard Edison did themselves out of public domain images. Here’s the other thing – it looks freaking awesome. Really, Chris and Suzanne just put together a really sleek looking layout out of free images that they could find and it came out incredibly. I wish I could put together a prototype that looks as good as these do.

Van Ryder Games, Tessen’s publisher, commissioned a new set of artwork which is equally impressive. The colors are a bit brighter, the images stand out more opposed to the muted almost faded Tessen Classic cards.

Both versions definitely pull you into the game. Tessen is a mechanically elegant and could be played and enjoyed without any theme to go along with it. However, the decision to work with the idea of feudal Japan and samurais really adds to the experience. There is something about the idea of old Japan; respect, elegance, determination, and dose of large armies and conquering forces. Tessen gives you this same feeling with its fluid game play, serene imagery of mystical beasts, and the fierce samurai warriors that are vital to winning the game.

It is also worth noting that Tessen is language-free. Given the pace of the game, this is extremely important. Having to read or memorize a deck of cards before being able to unlock the games full potential would have definitely been, in my opinion, a poor design decision. Luckily for all of us, Cardboard Edison was well aware of this and kept the words off the cards and in the rules.


Before being picked up by Van Ryder Games, Cardboard Edison took the route of all indie game designers: moving from con to con playing their game with people. Over the course of about a year, the married couple took Tessen to several different events on the east coast – play testing, building an audience, and networking. It all paid off at an Unpub Event in the winter of last year where Chris was approached by Van Ryder Games.

Now half a year later, Cardboard Edison is still doing the rounds at cons, still playing Tessen, and they have a Kickstarter campaign running. As of writing, the campaign is two days in and at 70% of their goal. The campaign is very solid with lots of pledge options for the potential backer. Van Ryder is offering a limited number of Tessen CLASSIC decks along with Tessen itself. The campaign is also offering two exclusive Kickstarter cards, not as stretch goals, but as Day 1 Rewards.

Van Ryder Games and Cardboard Edison are very accessible, friendly, and willing to communicate whenever they can. Everything is pointing towards a very successful campaign with lots of happy backers, and rightfully so. To just net yourself a copy of the campaign the minimum pledge is a mere $12 with shipping included.

From a design standpoint Tessen is fluid, elegant, different, and a ton of fun. Anyone who appreciates good, clean, fast fun will be a fan.

Tessen Kickstarter
Cardboard Edison
Van Ryder Games

Charlie Ecenbarger is one half of the design team known as sizzlemoth. Alongside Matt Dickens, the two are currently working on their first release called Double Up, a dice and card game geared towards family game nights. Charlie has BS in visual communication and is currently Master’s degree candidate in Ball State University’s Digital Storytelling program when he is not using his brain power to work on tabletop games. He can be found tweeting away on the twitter machine @sizzlemoth or updating the sizzlemoth design diaries on their tumblr.



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