Zeno is characterized by four key features. These define the nature and the style of the game. Key features were specified before any of the other rules took shape. The game has therefore grown around them.

Strong Player Engagement

Players must remain constantly engaged with the game. This aim is served by three mechanics.

Firstly, there is minimal downtime. Players take turns in clockwise order until the game ends. There are no time consuming phases or adjustments. In addition, players are deeply involved in each others turns, directing the outcome of key events by playing cards in their hand. You will have important decisions to make during your turn and also during the other players turns; decisions that will have consequences for all of you.

Players do not get eliminated. If your last survivor dies, you acquire a new one at the start of your next turn. This survivor wakes up in the cryogenic chamber. This may set you back a little, but you are never out. If you begin to fall behind the other players, you remain in contention because you can use haste to catch up. You will just have to take more risks!

Finally, players who fail to complete their objectives still have a path to victory. They can instead focus on helping everybody else. If your evacuation target is the highest and everybody else wins, so do you!

Brisk Play

The tempo of the game is maintained by various means.

While there are no restrictions on general game chat, players cannot confer regarding their current or future moves. Zeno is not a game in which the players pause to work out a grand scheme to win or interrupt each others turns to give advice. This is incompatible with intermoderation (see below). Players make their own decisions. All the information you need is either in your hand or on the board.

Turns are quick. The actions available to you are several, but not complicated. You do not have enough information to analyze every possible outcome from your actions. The other players know more, but since they cannot confer with you regarding them, there is little scope for analysis paralysis. You will have to do the best you can and trust to the other players!

Cards are aggressively streamlined, using art, senryu text and interpretation to convey what is happening. There are no lengthy narratives to read out. The game is itself a modular narrative which you build through your joint actions.


This feature is the beating heart of Zeno. While there is necessarily some randomness in the game, what happens in a scene almost always happens because a player decided it would happen. Or he consciously made another choice that meant this would or could happen.

Each player essentially acts as a games master for all the other players. You begin the game with a hand of scene cards. None of these can directly harm or benefit you. They are the narrative interludes you will present to the other players.

When a scene is triggered and it falls to you to play a scene card, you may play an eligible card. You will have good cards and bad cards but in general your hand will dwindle until you have no choice at all. If you have no cards remaining you must draw cards and this fully replenishes your hand.

The good and bad cards in your hand will come out eventually. Your job is to play them so the harm on bad cards is averted and the benefit of good cards is enjoyed. Or vice versa, obviously. If one player is rushing for the shuttle and nobody else is close to winning, a few unfortunate events are to be expected.

Limited Alpha Play

In some co-operative games the players openly strategize, formulate a plan and put that plan into execution. Zeno is not like that. It is implicitly rather than explicitly co-operative.

Zeno is more like a game of bridge. If you have played bridge you will appreciate that while members of the same team can communicate, they must do so through their actions (by bidding). There is no open strategizing. In Zeno all the players are on the same team.

As we saw (see intermoderation), every player is effectively a games master for all the other players. Just as a games master in a role playing game would not openly strategize with his players, the players in Zeno may not openly strategize with each other. It would be like bridge players telling each other how to bid. For this reason, players are prohibited from conferring regarding actions or scene resolution. You may know exactly what will happen if a player moves his survivor into an Engineering section rather than a Tactical one. Therefore, you cannot advise him.

The way Zeno is designed significantly reduces the opportunities for Alpha Play.