After hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence, two Japanese villages are now at war and are preparing their finest ninjas for the final battle. Will you or your opponent capture the other’s village, claiming victory? Or will the conflict end after one side is massacred?
How It Plays
Ninja Taisen is a two-player game in which you control one village’s ninja clan. To win, you must reach your opponent’s village or eliminate all of their ninjas.
There are 11 tiles placed between players: two village tiles are at opposite ends of the nine path tiles. Players begin in their left-side home village and advance to their opponent’s right-side village.
Each player gets an identical set of 10 ninja cards with one designated as the shogun. The shogun is placed on their home village, then the ninjas are shuffled and placed randomly on predetermined tiles.
On your turn, roll three dice. You must use at least one of these dice to move your ninjas. So, if you choose a red 3, move one of your red ninjas three tiles. If there are any ninjas on top of your red ninja, they must move along with it. No more than two ninjas may move with the original.
If your ninja lands on the same tile as one of your opponent’s ninjas, combat ensues and is resolved using a variant of the classic rock-paper-scissors (aka roshambo) mechanism. Each ninja card has a combat category (rock, paper, or scissors) and strength (1-3). The shogun is wild, matching any ninja’s combat category, and its strength is 4.
Players begin with the topmost card and compare combat categories: rock beats paper, paper beats rock, etc. The losing card is removed from the game. If both categories are the same, then players compare their ninjas’ strength, with the highest winning the fight. If both strengths are the same, then combat is a tie and both ninjas must retreat one space.
If both players still have cards on the same tile, then the next battle begins. Combat continues until one or both stacks are cleared from the tile.
Play continues until one player ends their turn in their opponent’s village tile or all of one player’s ninjas have been removed from the game.
Join the Battle or Run Away?
At its heart, Ninja Taisen is an open information, hand management game: nothing is hidden and you can try to maneuver your ninjas to their most optimal spaces.
Since movement is dice-driven, luck plays a factor throughout game play. You can mitigate some of the luck with smart card play; by keeping an eye on where your opponents cards are, you can manipulate your own cards to give you an advantage. For example, if you see your opponent’s incoming stack of scissor ninjas, you’ll try to put together your rock ninjas so they can defeat them in combat. Of course, the moment that you move your rock ninjas, your opponent might bring their paper ninjas to the front of the line. I enjoyed how Ninja Taisen implemented the familiar rock-paper-scissors mechanism in this new and fun way.
This cat-and-mouse game of positioning your ninjas is what I found the most appealing in Ninja Taisen. Your tactics change after each card’s movement. While the dice give you the amount of movement for a color/type of ninja, it’s up to you to use that result to maneuver your cards into their most optimal positions.
Also, the rules restrict movement so that no more than two ninjas may move on top of the one you’ve chosen. This prevents you from merely stacking ninjas on top of each other and moving them together in a big ninja-nado, gobbling up your opponent’s smaller stack. And because you’re only required to use one die on a turn, you can ignore one or both of the other dice if they won’t help you.
At first glance the shogun seems overpowered since it matches any ninja’s color (rock, paper, or scissors) and has an unbeatable strength of 4. However, the shogun’s power decreases by its opponent’s strength after each fight, so players can’t just crush everyone with their shogun.
For example, the shogun starts by fighting a scissors opponent with strength 2. The shogun automatically matches the scissors and wins on strength, 4-2.
Now, the shogun’s strength decreases by its vanquished foe’s strength (2), leaving it with strength 2 for its next battle. If their opponent has a strength 3 ninja next in line, then the shogun is eliminated. However, if there are no more opponents on the tile, then the shogun survives and their strength resets to 4 on the next turn.
The shogun can also move only once per turn, so you can’t use all three dice to move it to the front of your clan. You’ll have to be patient moving the shogun and use it primarily as a last line of defense.
Iello is known for its excellent components. Ninja Taisen is no exception.
Iello is known for its outstanding components and they’ve cut no corners here. The path tiles are sturdy cardboard while the warrior cards are thinner bridge-sized cards featuring beautiful, vibrant artwork for the characters and a nice, subdued look for the path and villages. The dice are chunky with an easily readable font. After a few plays, though, I thought it would’ve been nice if they’d used the heavier board stock for the player cards instead of the path tiles, since they’re simply space markers.
With its easy-to-learn ruleset, quick gameplay, and portability, Ninja Taisen is an excellent micro game, perfect as a warm-up or in-between play at your game night. There’s no hiding in this game; you may take a few turns maneuvering your ninjas to their optimal locations, but you’re going to fight sooner rather than later. Its unique combat system resolves fights simply and quickly and while Ninja Taisen is not the type of game that you’ll play repeatedly during your regular get-togethers, it’ll be welcome at almost any gathering. And it’s definitely more fun than a game of roshambo.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Iello for providing a review copy of Ninja Taisen.