LAST UPDATED: 20.05.02

The essentials-only guide to survive Orendao

A quick note…

Learning Orendao is Exploratory.

This rulebook is a survival guide. It’s designed to get you essential information, quickly.

I like to imagine I’m stranded in nature.
 I scramble for basics, like fire and water, to survive. 
I’m clumsy, but I persist. 
 Eventually I master the elements, and encounter others who have.

And, to pass the time, we duel.

— Jared and the Hidden Hands

1. Orendao

Whose Orendao is greater? Duel for Control of the Elements in Nature.

Nature is an imagined 3x3 space with: 3 planes, 3 spaces per plane. Each duelist has the plane nearest them, with Nature’s plane between them.

There are 12 tiles: 3 of each Element. Each element will hop, swap, cover, or destroy the other elements.

To Duel: take control of elements in your plane. Then outmaneuver your opponent to remove their control.

To Win: Remove their control

The direction an element points determines it’s control: Horizontal ↔ neutral, Vertical ↕ controlled.

An element is either Neutral, Controlled by You, or Controlled by your Opponent. In this example: you control 3 elements; your opponent controls 2; can you spot them? Can you spot the 4 neutral elements?

To win: remove your opponent’s control of the elements, if their turn ends and they can’t move OR control any elements you win.

Every turn changes Nature. And Nature responds. Take care Nature doesn’t overwhelm you both.

The Duel begins in Day — When there’s a gap in Nature’s plane: fill it from the Day Stack — face-up, predictable.

When the Day Stack empties — cycle to Night: fill Nature’s plane from the Night Stack — face-down, bringing Void.

orendao nature storm (2) When both stacks empty — Storm: Destroy all elements in both duelists planes. If both duelists lose control, the Duel is a draw.

2. Setup

You’ll set up the Day Stack, fill Nature’s plane, and choose your opponent’s first element.

Sort all 12 tiles by element. Stack up, one at a time, in order: Water, Wind, Earth, Fire… Repeat to complete the Day Stack.

Fill all three spaces of Nature’s plane. Start nearest the draw stack.

Duelist 1: Choose your opponent’s first element. Move it to an adjacent space in their plane. Fill the gap in Nature’s plane.

Duelist 2 : Choose your opponent’s first element. Move it to an adjacent space in their plane. Choose an element to discard (into the Night Stack). Fill the gaps in Nature’s plane.

Who goes first? First round: whoever doesn’t own the deck, decides. Following rounds: the player who lost last decides.

3. Duel

On your turn choose an action: take control, or move, or both.

Take control of an element: point a neutral element, in your plane, at your opponent. You now control it. Elements remain under your control unless they are destroyed or covered (see Elements).

or, Move an element: forward, backward or diagonal, to an adjacent space. Interactions can trigger more moves (see Elements); when the last element finishes moving your turn ends.

or, Take control, then move an element:

  • You may move an element the same turn you take control of it
  • You may not take control of an element after moving it

After your action, your turn ends: but, before you pass the turn, Nature Responds.

Nature’s Response — check for the three Nature events: Fill when there’s a gap in Nature’s plane (common). Cycle when the draw stack empties (periodic). Storm when both stacks empty (uncommon).

If can’t take an action, you lose. If your turn ends and you don’t control an element you lose. (Void and covered elements don’t count towards control.)

Move Conditions:

  • You may move any element

  • You may not begin your move with an element your opponent controls

  • You may not make a move which only undoes your opponent’s last move
  • You may not move an element outside of Nature (the 3x3 play space)

4. Elements

When you move an element onto a target they interact based on their relationship.

Matched elements hop: Moving element taps the target; then continues moving to the next plane.

Allied elements swap planes: Moving element takes target’s space; then target moves back toward the plane moving element came from.

Balanced elements cover: Moving element is placed on target; target is covered. Cover is powerful (see Elements: Void and Cover).

Opposed elements destroy: moving element takes target’s space; then target is discarded.

orendao elements balanced (2)

Cover affects control example: When a controlled element covers a neutral element: take control of target.

Cover affects Control

  • When a controlled element covers a neutral element: take control of target.
  • When a neutral element covers a controlled element: neutralize target (see the Void example below).

  • When you take control of a top element (in your plane), also take control of the covered element

  • When you cover an element your opponent controls with an element you control: the element remains aligned to them, but they cannot begin their move with the covered element or count it towards their control.

Cover conditions

  • You may only cover two tiles high

  • You may uncover an element by moving the top element off it

  • You may not move a covered element with the top element
  • Void and Covered elements DO NOT count towards your control

When the Duel Cycles to Night you’ll Fill Nature’s plane from the Night Stack, face-down — bringing Void…

orendao elements void (2) Void covers: Moving Void is placed on target; target is now covered — all cover rules apply.

orendao elements void (2)

Void lose: the moment your plane is filled with Void, you lose.

Void conditions

  • You may take control of Void; all control rules apply

  • You may target any other element with Void

  • You may not target Void with any element, or Void

5. Nature

Your turn changes Nature: before you pass the turn you’ll perform Nature’s Response.

When there are gaps in Nature’s Plane:Fill them with elements from the draw stack. Always fill the gap nearest the draw stack first.

Cycle to Night — When the last element is placed from the Day stack:

  • Rotate the Night stack + all neutral elements (180 deg)
  • Flip all neutral elements face-down to Void 
- Draw from the Night stack; discard into the Day stack

Cycle to Day — When the last element is placed from the Night stack:

  • Rotate the Day stack + all neutral elements (180 deg)

  • Flip all Void; discard Void covering other elements
  • Draw from the Day stack; discard into the Night stack

orendao nature storm (2)

Storm — When there are no elements in the draw or discard:

  • Destroy all elements in both duelist’s planes. 

  • When both duelists lose control the duel is a draw. 

  • When both survive: discard destroyed elements in a new Day Stack and Cycle to Day.

Made by Jared C Chapman and the Hidden Hands


Orendao is the byproduct of countless conversations — and more than a few arguments — hosted and synthesized by Jared C Chapman.

The only direction has been to create a game that feels alive and timeless. Not tedious. Not frivolous. One that rewards reflection and exploration, rather than the endless pursuit of novelty.

These conversations have spanned several years among a fluid, multidisciplinary group of fascinating individuals defined by their commitment to meaningful work. 

Many of them have never met.

Jared has dubbed them the Hidden Hands.

More at jaredcc.com

Hidden Hands