A tile-laying game themed around the Japanese art of Origami, with cute art by Alba Aragon. If this sounds genteel then first looks can be deceptive. SenbaZuru is actually quite an aggressive head-to-head two player strategy game.
Designers Anna Lucini Canals and Pau Moré Gómez have taken the title from the Japanese legend that those who make 1000 Origami cranes will have their wishes come true. There is, however, no paper folding in this game. It's played using a stack of 30 tiles, each of which shows a blue, red or green crane in either a light or dark shade of colour. Players sit on opposite sides of a table and each has a hand of three tiles. A single face-down tile is placed in the centre of the table. On your turn you place one tile oriented towards yourself and you replenish your hand with a tile from the five that form a face-up display. The tile you place must be orthogonally adjacent to one already in the tableau subject to the one restriction that you cannot have two tiles of the same colour but different intensity orthogonally adjacent to each other: you can't, for example, place a light green crane next to a dark green crane tile.
Tho' tiles of the same colour but different intensity cannot be orthogonally adjacent, you will want, where possible, to place a tile so that it is diagonally adjacent to one that's the same colour but different intensity. Do this against a tile laid by your opponent and you 'catch' that tile - switching its orientation so it faces you. If the tile has a 'crowned crane' icon on it, you also win a scoring chit.
The net result is a game where players are jockeying for position; trying to set up opportunities to 'catch' the other player's tiles while avoiding making their own vulnerable to capture. It's a game that favours 'card counting': you know what tiles your opponent has picked up because hands are always replenished from an open display, so you will often have a good idea of what they have in hand. You also know that there are five copies of each of the six colour types (ie: three different colours, each in two shades), so you can keep track of which tiles remain...
Tho' the theme has a certain charm, SenbaZuru is really an abstract strategy game. Play takes around 20 minutes, and the game benefits from mainly simple rules. We say 'mainly' because tho' the rules are short, they aren't as crystal clear as they should be - at least in GDM's English translation of the originally Spanish rules. Some of the tiles have an additional 'crowned crane' icon on them. Not only do these give you a scoring chit as an extra bonus for 'catching' them, a player apparently gets a scoring chit simply for laying one of these. That means there's a big incentive to snatch them up when they are in the display. In addition there are 'crowned crane' tokens. The rules say these have to be placed on a tile you control whenever you place or catch a 'crowned crane' tile. There are tho' only four of these tokens supplied. We assume these are subsequently moved from those already placed out on the tableau but that's not explained in the rules. We were also unclear as to the significance of the golden crane icons printed on the face of some of the tiles. Perhaps these are intended to score double (ie: counting as an additional scoring chit) in end-game scoring. Again, tho' there's no mention of this in the English rules.
We couldn't find any further clarification on BoardGameGeek but we were readily able to apply sensible house rules for the elements of uncertainty, so any lack of clarity hasn't proved to be a bar to our enjoyment of this fascinating filler-length abstract game.