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There’s only one anime show that I currently watch and that’s Naruto Shippuden. I’ve watched the old classics like Dragonball Z, Trigun, Hellsing and even the original Naruto series in full, but right now, I’ve only got the time for Naruto Shippuden and it doesn’t seem to want to ever end (seriously can we stop it with the filler episodes please?). I love the ninja setting, I love the variety of characters and I especially love the music.
However Anime’s don’t often translate well into board games. Naruto’s first outing in the UK was the recently released deck-building game, which hasn’t had a great deal of buzz. Other board games using an Anime license are practically unheard of or worse, never spoken of in gamer conversation, and so they are generally restricted to the video game market.
Here we have another attempt to break this trend with the official Naruto Shippuden: The Board Game, published by Yoka Board Games. I had no idea this was in the pipeline until I saw its release and at first glance I could certainly see that it was going to stay true to the series, but will it be just another licensed game that gets forgotten?
Designer: – Nicolas Badoux & Cyril Marchiol
Publisher: - Yoka Board Games
Ages: – 13+
Time: – 60 Minutes
Players: – 1-5
What’s The Story? – FUTON! RASEN SHURIKEN!!
So if you haven’t watched the series, these heading names are going to be complete gibberish to you, but hey I’ve got control of the keyboard, so there!
Let’s see if I can paint a picture of what’s going on in this Naruto Board Game for you assuming you’re completely new to the anime series. Naruto Shippuden is a co-operative game based on the first half of the anime series, where Naruto and his friends are tracking down the Akatsuki, a criminal ninja organization. Consisting of a number of highly skilled and dangerous ninjas, these black and red cloaked figures are hunting Jinchuriki; Humans who are host to powerful mythical tailed beasts, of which Naruto (the main character) is one himself.
They are attempting to extract the tailed beasts from their bearers and use them to power their ultimate weapon, The Gedo Mazo, a gargantuan mobile statue with incredibly destructive capabilities. The players goal is to hinder the progress of the Akatsuki and eventually take down the leader Tobi and the Gedo Mazo, whose power becomes greater for each tailed beast the Akatsuki stole on their way to the final showdown.
The Akatsuki start at one of the nine ninja villages on the game board, spend at most 3 turns there and then move on to the next village. If they are not defeated by that point, then they have successfully captured a tailed beast of which there are nine in total, including Naruto. The villages are distant from one another so players cannot race from one village to another after them, but must either divide their forces to protect multiple villages or prepare for conflict and choose wisely which battles they must accept to lose.
Each player has a character card showing Combat (the number of fight dice), Chakra (spent to power abilities) and Strategy (hand size) values, as well as an experience track that allows them to power up over time. Each character has a deck of fourteen ability cards, most of which are unique to that character and based on their abilities in the actual show, and they all have a specific theme such as being aggressive, supporting or healing.
Each turn a character takes two actions, either move, meditate (regain Chakra) or fight. When you move, you will trigger traps along your path which may consist of small enemies or exploding tags (bombs essentially). When you fight you roll dice hoping for shuriken, which you can boost with the use of your ability cards, but cards and Chakra are finite resources. Once the Akatsuki arrive at the Hidden Leaf Village (Naruto’s home), the final battle takes place and players must succeed here to win the overall game.
Staying True To The Theme – NARUTO RENDAN!!
Let’s start with the obvious here. The setting is perfectly represented here. All the character decks, all the still captures, all the board artwork, it’s all directly tied to the show and as such you can’t help but get all nostalgic about the Naruto show when playing this game. Each character functions as they do in the show with their stat lines matching their strengths as we know them.
For example, the character Shikamaru was always the ultimate strategist and so his initial stats give him a higher strategy value to match that because he is able to consider so many options in a fight or game at once under pressure. Equally, in the show, his moves were all based on shadow techniques, resulting in support and immobilization, rather than doing direct damage, and that’s exactly what they do here.
It’s clear the designers were fans of the show when incorporating the theme and I’m glad that they didn’t just simply paste it on, however nothing is explained on the cards themselves about who these characters are, you’ll have to turn to the rulebook for that. So if you’ve never seen the show, chances are you’re not even reading this review, but just in case, you may be a little lost as to who’s who, but maybe playing this will make you check out the anime?
Component quality is pretty decent also. You get some basic miniatures that look like the characters, the board artwork is nice and contains snippets that you’ll recognise from the show like the Hokage Monument Mountain from the Hidden Leaf Village, etc. The rules are pretty straightforward and aside from the odd ambiguous writings, the book was easy enough to follow to get stuck into the game.
The cards are fine, nothing special, and it’s hard to comment on artwork when they use still captures from the show, but I can vouch that they are authentic and you might even recognise a few scenes. All you need to do is whip up the soundtrack from the show and you’re off to a solid start for immersion.
Of course, the issue is that, if you’re going to try and get others to play this game, you might struggle if they’ve never heard of the Naruto anime before. This is definitely a game for the fan base, much like many games that use popular intellectual properties and as a result you’ll need to work extra hard on selling this to others.
Rinse and Repeat – SAGE MODE!! FROG KUMITE!!
Now to begin with, there was good enjoyment to be had in Naruto. It’s fun to have your favourite character in front of you and have a unique deck tied to their abilities. It’s almost like what you get in Sentinels of the Multiverse, but we’re not talking anywhere near the level of variety or depth here. For the first couple of battles you’ll enjoy laying the smackdown on the Akatsuki and hurrying to the next village to save the day. . . . . until you realise that’s all you do the entire game with little to no change whatsoever. You run to a village, smack the guy around, then rinse and repeat for the whole game including the final climax, which is exactly the same, but harder.
On top of that, you will quickly realise that it’s physically impossible to save every village. They are spread out so far with dozens of traps/enemies laid out in between that I will bet any amount of money that you can’t save every village no matter how good your luck is. And so with that in mind, Naruto feels a little scripted and linear. You know that some villages are going to fall and there’s no difference between the various tailed beasts so you just ignore some areas and leave them to their fate. In fact after a couple of games with the same group you’ll start actively stating which villages you’re going to ignore before you even get started on the first one. That seems a little strange thematically and broke the immersion for me.
One really weird rule that exists is that when your character gets knocked out, you spawn back, but you lose all your experience. . . why? Why after being knocked out of action would I suddenly forget everything I learned, did the injuries cause brain damage or something? And it takes a fair amount of kills to gain any benefit from experience and characters only have two upgrades available in total anyway, so it’s a big smack in the face when a die roll robs you of all your hard work.
A Rollercoaster Of Difficulty Spikes
There is also a big scaling issue on the player count. Naruto can be played with two to five characters at once. However the number of enemies that spawn in each village increases to two when you reach four or more players. Normally it’s just the one. Other than that there is no other changes based on player count.
Now you’ve probably already guessed the problem here. Dealing with one enemy with 3 players is obviously much easier than with only two players. And dealing with 2 enemies is much more challenging with 4 players than it is with 5. That means you end up with weird difficulty spikes up and down as you go through the different player counts. This seems like such an easy thing to avoid and yet it’s just left unchecked here.
Verdict on Naruto Shippuden: The Board Game – RASENGAN!!!
This makes me sad. I want a good Naruto game I really do. And this one isn’t bad, but it’s disappointing. On the plus side, the theme is wonderfully represented. The character decks tie in to their anime personas perfectly, the screen captures bring back all sorts of memories from the series and the sense of co-operation required to win is strong. All well and good, unfortunately that’s just a shroud of nostalgia and if you have no idea what the show is about, you’re unlikely to give this game a second glance anyway as all the references are just going to sail right over you.
The rest of the game is a combination of luck and constant repetition. A game of Naruto will go your way or not depending entirely on your dice rolls. You can make sound tactical decisions about where to go and play your cards right, but a bad roll will sting you badly and there’s nothing you can do about it.
On top of that, the game play doesn’t change throughout. It is entirely a running frenzy between villages back and forth for the whole game, rinsing and repeating the same thing over and over. As it’s physically impossible to save every village, you eventually start getting into the habit of simply ignoring some villages to their fate so that you can gang up on the next one, which is just plain weird thematically. Even the final battle is simply the same thing you do throughout the game, just with a slightly harder opponent.
I’ve almost got tears writing this. I really want to like this game and I love Naruto Shippuden, but this board game just isn’t what I wanted. Now it’s certainly got an audience, I believe that fans of the show who are happy with the randomness will probably enjoy this a lot and if so, pick it up, because you will not find a more faithful representation of the Naruto theme anywhere else. But I wanted a kick-ass epic fighting experience and I felt all I got was un-necessary filler.
YOU WILL LIKE NARUTO SHIPPUDEN IF:
You are a fan of the anime and want to see the theme represented pitch perfectly.
You want a co-operative game that requires a good amount of team-work, i.e. no lone ranger issues.
You are happy that the randomness may sting you at times.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE NARUTO SHIPPUDEN IF:
You have never heard of the anime – I think without that connection, you’re not going to be immersed in this.
You feel that the repetitive game play will ruin the experience for you.
You will be adversely affected by the player scaling – it quickly switches from hard to insane mode depending on the count.