Sencha in the test: It There are board games on almost every topic. So there is also an exciting selection for all tea lovers. Whether with well-known titles such as Formosa Tea, in which players slip into the footsteps of tea plantation owners, or Chai, which demands the perfect tea blend. In 2020, the board game Sencha from Last Level Games, which was published in the German-language localization by Taverna Ludica, was part of this series of games with an infusion experience. The focus here is on the tea market in Japan's Edo period. Does that offer an exciting experience? Read it yourself.

In Sencha, Japan's largest tea production was to be built during the Edo period. An epoch between 1603 and 1868, which is considered the longest era of peace in Japan. To become the ruler of the Pleasure Market, players must collect tea leaves and trade themsthen sell it in the market and offer it to the temple. The game can be played by the game designer Paco Yanez with two to four players. Taking turns performing one of five actions. Because in Sencha there are neither specific phases nor rounds.

Board game not only for tea lovers

Play is played in turn until one of two predetermined circumstances occurs. The game ends when all demands on the tea market cards have been met or when a player has reached seven victory points. The player who has collected the highest number of victory points at the end of the game becomes the most successful tea producer in Japan and wins the Sencha game. The game is played with high-quality materials. Designed in an appealing and detailed way thanks to the illustrator Francisco Arenas.

Unsurprisingly, Sencha is about tea and its trade in ancient Japan. Photo: Volkman

Sencha's artwork is best described as natural-toned, realistic, and Asian. The colors of the existing tea varieties, Sencha (green), Sakura (pink) and black tea (black), are appealingly drawn through the entire content. This pleases the eyes and brings anticipation to the game as soon as the trade and worker placement game is set up.

If you take a closer look at the game material, you can see that all parts have been carefully worked, colored and printed. In addition, the practical, small game box immediately attracts attention, which should fit in every handbag and thus makes the Sencha board game the ideal game companion for on the go. It contains an organizer made of thin, white cardboard. The two compartments have to stow the game material neatly. On individual components, there are 39 large wooden dice, 9 green, 15 pink and 15 black, each color representing one of the types of tea, 8 small gray dice showing points and money, 20 houses in 4 colors (green, red, blue and yellow), 36 playing cards, including 4 temples, 4 plantations, 16 workers, 10 tea markets, 1 area and 1 reserve for houses, 1 black velvet pouch for the tea cubes and two rule books, one in German and one in English.

The theme is set up, but implemented coherently. Photo: Volkman
The theme is set up, but implemented coherently. Photo: Volkman

Initially, the general setup consists only of preparing the bag of tea cubes, laying out the plantation cards and the worker supply decks, the reserve for houses, and the tea market deck and territory card. What sets Sencha apart is that each player has their own game area, which at the start of the game consists of a temple card, a house in the color of their choice, a starting worker card and an area showing their current income and victory points. The game is played in turns and everyone plays for themselves. A player can choose one of five possible actions. He either buys a house, builds a house, hires a worker, produces and collects tea, or sells tea in the market.

Board game review Sencha
The illustrations are convincing. Photo: Volkman

Sencha combines history and trade

  • Buy a house: Houses are used for tea production. If there is a house on a plantation, tea can be grown and collected there for Yen. If the player wants to use another house from his reserve, he can do so with this action.
  • To build a house: To build a purchased house on a plantation, the player must pay a certain amount of yen and then place it on a plantation or territory. As a reward, five types of tea can then be placed on the plantation. As the game progresses, only one type of tea can be collected per house. If there are three houses per card, there is a construction freeze for this plantation. When building on a territory, the player receives an additional yen per house for each sale made on the tea market and one victory point at the end of the game. Danger! Houses cost taxes for which there should always be enough yen in the player supply.
  • Hire a worker: With this action, workers can be hired for different amounts of yen. There can be a maximum of three per player and these can be swapped out as the game progresses. Except for the starting worker. Each worker offers different benefits. For example, the donkey offers the player to collect two tea cubes, except for the Sencha variety, and the farmer offers any tea cube of any possible variety. Overall, the farmer, the donkey, the collector and the cart are available here with increasing prices and different advantages.
  • Producing and collecting tea: For each plantation on which you own a house, you can pay yen in this phase to produce random tea cubes. Then one of the types of tea can be collected for each house on the plantation. To do this, a worker must be sent who can only harvest the number and types indicated on his card.
  • Selling at the Tea Market: Either the player sells any amount of his tea on the market to collect enough yen for his subsequent actions or he offers his tea to the ruler in return for victory points. On the tea market, the different types of tea determine the level of income. In the temple, the ruler always prefers Sencha tea, in order to get a victory point from the other types, the players must combine the types as specified. The sales places on the tea market are limited per variety. Therefore, anticipatory play is important in this promotion. As soon as one of the shelf columns is filled, a new market card is revealed. As a result, planned moves are often interrupted. However, when the market is closed, those types of tea from your own supply that were already filled on the tea market can also be offered to the ruler.

If one of the two end events has occurred, the scoring phase will begin. For this purpose, the victory points are counted using the scoring cards. Workers and carts, a certain amount of yen, every house and the majority of types of tea in the temples earn additional points. The player with the most points wins.

Sencha board game test
Euro board game: Sencha is all about colored dice and points. Photo: Volkman

Infobox

Number of players: 2 to 4
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: about 45 minutes
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: medium
Genre: Strategic Board Game
Core mechanisms: worker placement, points

Authors: Paco Yanez
Illustrations: Francisco Arenas
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2020
Language: German
Cost: approx. 20 euros

Summary

Sencha is not only fun for connoisseurs of the hot infusion drink, coffee junkies and cocoa slurpers can also bring it to the table with enthusiasm. A lot of playful cooperation between the players should not be expected during the game. Rather, everyone plays to himself. However, Sencha offers a few opportunities for players to tactically intervene. For example by building a house or trading on the tea market. Due to the small size of the box, it is an ideal travel game. Sencha is particularly suitable as a challenging family game or as a nightcap for connoisseurs. Sencha convinces with its appealing artwork and short set of rules, which is easy to understand and still offers a somewhat more demanding gameplay.

The matching Asian design and the high-quality workmanship also attract attention. The basic theme is interchangeable. Whether you collect coffee or cocoa beans and trade them is irrelevant to the course of the game. But the historical background of the Edo period, Japan and the subject of tea fit together perfectly with the overall picture. Even trained expert players can enjoy Sencha. Not as the main game of the game night, but for a relaxed groove, as a nightcap or for on the go. Because trading games like Sencha offer the right mix of quickly explained rules and gameplay that is not too simple

The title cann can be played equally well in pairs or with up to four players, as the short action phases only increase low downtime comes. If you like, you can brood for a long time, but the waiting time until your own move is usually sufficient for planning. Because the tactical possibilities are limited, so that you are primarily concerned with your own advantage in the game. But that doesn't detract from the fun of the gameplay. Younger children will have little fun with Sencha, rather it appeals to teenagers and adults. Previous experience is not required, just a short but thorough reading of the rules and the structure. In summary, Sencha is playable with little preparation and offers a lot of fun for older players. If you get involved with the worker placement and trading mechanism without expecting an expert game, you will find a lot of enjoyment in the board and card game Sencha.

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