Full disclosure: A review copy of Zen Tiles Solo was provided by Big Cat Games.
Whew, it’s been tough to get a lot of the doujin games back to the table, this year. I’ve largely been playing games online or solo, neither of which benefit the nontrivial number of games I ordered from Japan or the games I received recently from Big Cat Games, which is infuriating. So many of them were trick-taking games, and I love trick-taking games. It’s crushing. Thankfully, this one is solo, and it’s hitting Kickstarter soon for a wider distribution of a multiplayer mode, so I figured I’d write up the solo game, and if I get a chance, I’ll try out the multiplayer version, as well. Am I double-dipping? Absolutely, but I reviewed MetroX and (essentially) Strike twice on here and y’all haven’t come for me yet. I appreciate your patience and your grace, and this might be the perfect way to demonstrate that, with Zen Tiles Solo!
So, Zen Tiles Solo. This game doesn’t have much of an external plot, since it largely depends on you. It’s a game about exploring the previous day (or longer time period, if you want / have the memory for that sort of thing). Your goal isn’t to win, but it’s to take some time to collect your emotions and find some clarity, which might be more important. Plus, I don’t think you can win, though I logged all my plays in BGStats as “wins” because I didn’t lose either, and, there’s not really a “experienced the game” option, so here we are. I am limited by the binary state of winning and losing. That said, mindfulness is important, so let’s see how this shapes up!
Not much. First, set up the timeline with 0 on one end, representing 12:01AM that day (or the start of your day, whatever you prefer):
Then set the emotion tiles into a face-down pile and shuffle them around:
You should be ready to start!
To play, you simply flip over a tile from the stack and place it somewhere along the timeline where you felt that emotion today. If you felt it strongly, place it farther away (vertically) from the timeline. If you felt it weakly, place it closer to the timeline. If you felt this emotion had a negative connotation for you, place it below the timeline. If you felt this emotion had a positive connotation for you, place it above the timeline.
For the first game, try using 10 tiles. Once you’ve gotten comfortable doing that, try doing all 20. If you can’t place one, place it to the side in a discard pile.
Either way, once you finish, reward yourself somehow! They include a pretty marble in the game so you can kinda look at that, if that’s your thing.
Player Count Differences
None! It plays exclusively solo.
Yeah, so we’re going to have A Talk About This; this isn’t a game that you really win or lose; it’s more of a set of pieces that let you play a little mindfulness exercise with yourself. Think of like flipping a deck of cards to choose prompts for your journal randomly; it has a similar energy to this game. As a result, there’s no real strategy advice. Instead, just a few other pieces of advice to try and help you have as much success as possible:
- I try to play this late in the day as a way to reflect before I go to sleep. I think that’s when I tend to have the best perspective on what happened during the previous day, and that’s usually after midnight so I can use the entire bar without many problems. It works, for me, at least; if the morning works better for you, try doing it then.
- Try hard to keep emotions on the timeline, even if you don’t think they’re especially relevant. The game recommends at higher levels of play not discarding anything, but, being real, I think that you just may not feel all 20 emotions on any given day, and that’s totally fine. Don’t push yourself, but as you play you may find that you’re able to better label how you feel as you get more experience.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself while you’re thinking through your day, but try to be honest about how you felt. Yeah, like I said, just try to be honest with yourself. It’s a solo game for taking inventory of the previous day, so let it be for that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do like games with lasered wood components. They look classy. It’s just an aesthetic thing, honestly, but I’m very into it.
- It’s a very quick game. You can really get through it in 5 minutes or so. I’m going to play another round after writing this.
- I actually think, especially through 2020, having a little mindfulness activity I could do every day was a nice thing to have available. It probably would help give my therapist more context on my mood, but, I wasn’t using it at the time. We’ll see if it gives me a better framework for our next session. Either way, 2020 was terrible, and having more things that encourage us to check in on ourselves isn’t a bad thing in the slightest.
- It’s extremely portable. Honestly, the entire game can fit in your pocket, depending on your pocket privilege.
- This is a very interesting concept. I think it’s cool that we can use games as exploration tools to learn more about ourselves at any particular period in time. It’s nice to have that sort of experience readily available, as well. This publisher tends to do cool stuff like that, and part of the reason I wanted to write up this game (and the multiplayer version) was to give them a bit more exposure in the public sphere to talk about why I think this and other games are neat.
- While I appreciate the portability, everything is a bit tiny. I have (I feel) medium-sized hands, so having everything be 50% larger or so (even if that expands the box size) would be nice. I could still throw this in a backpack or something without much trouble, even then. Right now, the game will comfortably fit inside of my Nintendo Switch case with room to spare, so, larger wouldn’t be too bad.
- The emotions cover a good range, but there are plenty of days that I just don’t feel like I can identify any particular examples of that emotion. The one issue with 2020 (and, I suppose, 2021) is that it’s been negatively impacting my memory (since all the days blended together for about 9 months, there), and that makes it hard to place when something happened yesterday or in November or two weeks ago.
- It would be nice if the timeline board were larger, so that the tiles could fit within one hour as opposed to kinda taking up three. I have a decent memory, so I can usually be like “ah yes, I was doing something I was really passionate about at 2PM”, but I may not have been doing that from 1 – 3. The tiles are large, though, so they kinda straddle the line. I’d say smaller tiles, but they’re about as small as they can be while still being legible.
- If you’re buying this expecting a like, strategy board game or anything other than a gamified mindfulness activity, you may need to recalibrate those expectations. This really isn’t that (the multiplayer version sort of is, but it’s still very much not). This is something for you, to help you explore your emotional state at the end of each day, in a quick way and on a regular basis. It’s on Kickstarter, and that’s cool, but also this publisher tends to make games that are a bit more off the beaten path, so to speak. That part is not a con by any stretch of the imagination (I played Jikkuri Millet, which rules), it’s just something to keep in mind if you’re considering getting this or other games.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
I was actually originally not going to give Zen Tiles Solo a score, but changed my mind. It’s an odd game, since it’s not exactly a game I’m chomping at the bit to play all the time (hence the score), but I think it’s also going to be one that stays in my collection for a while. This kind of exists along a different axis to the types of games I normally play, and I think largely it’s hard for me to score this for myself because I think every person’s experience with this game is going to be fairly personal? You get out of it what you put into it. If you want to make space for your mindfulness and time to dig deeper into your emotional state, you may get a lot out of it! Depending on how you’re feeling, though, you may not necessarily enjoy what you get out of it, but you’ll get a lot out of it anyways. I don’t really want to get into the “game” versus “activity” debate here, because 1) it’s dreadfully tedious and 2) I don’t think that really applies here, anyways. It’s a way of gamifying attempts to give yourself time to think about your emotions and how they applied to your previous day, and that’s important. So I kind of think everyone should give this a try at least once. If I think everyone should play a game, that usually means it deserves a high score, but I’m not really recommending the game as much as the experience that the game helps facilitate, you know? It’s more, for me, that people should take time to explore how the day went for them and what they got out of the day, emotionally, and that can be a good way to take inventory at the start of a new day, at the close of a long day, or anywhere else in between. I think Zen Tiles does a nice job of facilitating that, and as a result, I think it’s worth checking out! I’m not really into meditation (it interacts with my anxiety in a weird way), so this kind of focused game experience accomplishes a similar result while still giving me something to do with my hands. Hopefully Zen Tiles Solo works well for you, if you feel like this kind of experience is helpful for you.