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Tessen Review!


NOTE: Tessen is currently on Kickstarter and you can pick-up a copy for a mere $12!

I first came across Tessen in the dead of winter at Unpub 3. At the time I declared it my favorite game of the convention and now, nearly eight months later, it’s ranked as one of my all time favorite games.

Tessen is a real-time card game and it is so fast paced that it feels like a dexterity game. When playing, your heart pounds and your adrenaline surges to the point that even though a single round may only last a few minutes it’s more fulling than longer games. It’s like taking a shot of fun directly into your blood stream!


The goal of the game is to collect the most sets of animals. That sounds simple, but remember the game happens in real time and it requires a lot of multi-tasking because not only will you be collecting sets but you will also be using samurai warriors to attack and defend against your opponent.


“Tessen was originally going to be a sequel to another game we were working,” Chris Zinsli the co-creator of Tessen said. “We tested both games the same day, and while the original game was not very good, the sequel seemed promising, so we decided to focus on that. Then when we decided to focus on the sequel, we needed to re-theme the game. We made a list of some of the game’s dynamics, did some Google searches, and hit upon the Japanese war fan, or Tessen, which can be used for both attack and defense.”


Each player starts with a deck and the round ends when one of those decks is exhausted. You then score points for banking pairings of animals of three or more. The real genius comes into play when you use a warrior card. Once you play a warrior the game freezes and your opponent must either defend against it by playing their own warrior or they lose the stack of animals that they were collecting.

Tessen is the kind of game that sounds like it would be automatic. You simply collect sets and play a warrior whenever you draw one. That’s not the case. Not only is there skill in the amount of multi-tasking you must use, but there is also a lot of strategy. You pick when and where you use your warriors as well as the kind of animals that you are going to collect.

If I see my opponent has a set of five lions that she is about to bank I may throw down warriors on all his other animal stacks to confuse or throw her off track because the game is just as much about getting into your opponents head and messing with their ability to multi-task as it is about your own ability to multi-task. It’s also the kind of game where if you are the type of person who suffers from analysis paralysis then you won’t go very far. Tessen is about making quick decisions and constantly adapting to everything else that’s going on around you.

A basic layout of the gameplay can be seen below:

Gameplay Diagramss

What you might notice is that even though the art is really small it’s also different from what’s in the photos posted here and that’s because the version of the game that I photographed is being called Tessen Classic. It’s the version that was picked-up by A.J. Porfirio, the head honcho of Van Ryder Games, shortly after Unpub 3 and it’s being offered as a pledge level to Kickstarter backers.

“The first prototype was just a modified deck of playing cards. The second prototype, which became Tessen Classic, used public-domain art we found on the Library of Congress website,” Suzanne Zinsli the co-creator of Tessen said.. And now we have work by an incredible artist, Wayne O’Connor. His artwork makes the game look 100 times better than I could have ever envisioned it.”


The biggest gameplay change that has been added since Van Ryder Games picked-up Tessen is the inclusion of the Super Warrior. The Super Warrior is invincible against regular warriors. Since each deck only has one Super Warrior in it the question then becomes do you use it to attack knowing your opponent can later play their Super Warrior to get rid of it or do you hold onto it to protect yourself from when your opponent plays theirs?

“A.J. has come up with some really cool ideas to bring the game to the next level,” Suzanne said. “One of the major enhancements he made to the game was the addition of the Super Warriors, which we love.”


I’m lucky because I’ve had a copy of Tessen for months and I play it whenever I find someone new who hasn’t played. As of this writing, I’m currently undefeated, though I’ve only faced off against 10-15 people. From those matches, the best by far was the time I almost made Eric Leath of Games and Grub cry at Origins. I’ll let him tell the story…

I had the game down, I was a freakin’ Shogun … or so I thought. THEN I played someone who owns a proto, and he absolutely crushed me in three straight games. He razed my village and heard the lamentations of my ninja women (quintuple ninja attacks will help with that). The positive thing I took from this, however, was that I wanted to play him again. Frankly, I just want to play again. But, I’ll be gunning for him at GenCon in the tournament.

When played right and against a skilled opponent, Tessen feels like a sporting event. As silly as it sounds, Eric was right in saying that he was a Shogun. The theme is so emotionally there. When in a duel you really feel like you are in duel. You feel like you threw the handkerchief on the ground and are gunning for your opponent. It’s brutal and such a fantastics rush. Chris and Suzanne truly designed something special when they created Tessen.


“We’ve always loved games,” Suzanne said. “It’s a hobby that we enjoyed together from the time we started dating 12 years ago. We got into modern hobby gaming a few years ago after we had started work on our first design. Carcassonne was our gateway game.”

Tessen will be Chris and Suszanne’s first published game and you can help them make that happen by backing the project on Kickstarter. It goes live next week and you’ll be able to snag a copy for a mere $12. Plus you can pay a little bit extra and snag the amazing Tessen Classic which I personally love. In fact, Tessen is such a good game that even though I already have a copy I’m planning on backing it on day one. Seriously, it’s that good and I want as many people to play it and be exposed to it as possible.