Karesansui: A Meditative Gaming Experience
Karesansui, or Stone Garden, as it is known in English (confusingly there is a different English game called Karesansui) is the most unique Japanese-themed board game I have had the privilege of playing—and yes, I've played quite a few in case you're wondering. Reviews abound on the Internet, and the place to go for those is Board Game Geek. This preamble aside, let's get on with the why you should buy it.
One of the striking things about this game is the sheer quality of the materials. From the artwork, to the recessed player game boards, to the durable plasticized cards, to the uniquely designed garden stones, it appears no expense was spared in the production of the game. In short, you won't regret paying a high price for this game when you see what's inside.
Another interesting aspect of the game is how it expresses the aesthetics and spirit of Zen gardening. Quite simply, this is a game you don't play to win, but to immerse yourself in the garden design experience. Yes, there is a point scoring mechanism that rewards certain design combinations that might even conflict with your personal tastes, but it somehow seems secondary once you get involved in matching the garden tiles you draw along the way. When the play concludes and the point scoring starts, I find that it doesn't really matter if I end up winning or losing by ten points because I just enjoyed the game experience itself.
Perhaps my personal favourite element is the use of real gardens and gardeners for the player cards. While Shisendo's garden isn't in the set, the ones that were chosen all merit inclusion. I was pleasantly surprised to see the lesser known garden of Entsuji included with such classics as Ryoanji. My biggest thrill was discovering Ishikawa Jozan in the gardener set. It was satisfying seeing him recognized alongside such garden masters as Muso Soseki and Kobori Enshu.
If a final proof is needed that this game transcends what you would normally expect from the genre, I can tell you that on more than one occasion my family has simply used the pieces to design gardens before or after the game itself. It is a game that invites creativity and facilitates a mood in which you get lost in the placement of tiles and stones in a pleasing manner. Karesansui is that rarest of game—one that I would recommend to people with no actual interest in gaming so long as their curiosity is piqued by the chance to explore the creative and meditative elements that it facilitates. I can think of no higher compliment to pay the game's designers.