Ninja, the Legend of the scorpion plan is one of my favorite games and I think it is sadly underrated. I guess that a negative review from a popular reviewer didn't help this game.
Before I begin my review, I think you should know a bit more about me. I'm mostly a casual gamer. By that I mean I get to play 2 or 3 games a month, I own less than twenty games and I prefer lighter games in general. I also tend to prefer games where the theme and rules work well together.
The game comes in a medium sized box, with a nice insert that allows you to easily put everything back in the box.
You get 4 map pads used to take notes during the game, 3 deck of cards, 20 guards figures, 3 drunken guards figures, 1 ninja figure, 1 traitor figure and two lanterns to track the turn number and alert level. You also get 6 sturdy objective tiles, 4 players screens, a rulebook and the map board.
The quality of the components is great, the miniatures are nicely detailed and the cards don't show any sign of wear after many games.
I do have a a few complaints. The players screen are blank on the inside, and I think it would have been really useful to have some kind of player aid printed on it. And while the board is beautiful, it is sometimes difficult to tell where a space ends and another begins since they are all irregular shapes.
The rules to this game are really simple. Unfortunately, the rulebook isn't the best out there and it is not easy to learn how to play with it.
There are two intruders from the Scorpion Clan, the ninja and the traitor, each trying to accomplish a secret mission and flee the castle before the time runs out, without being killed by the guards. There are six missions in the game and each intruder randomly pick his mission at the beginning of the game.
They will also choose their starting location. The ninja has to start on the outside of the castle, while the traitor starts inside the walls. They choose the two entry points of the secret passage and they each choose a limited hand of cards from their own deck to use during the game.
The ninja gets the following cards:
- kenjutsu, that allows him to kill a guard on his space but raise the alert level by one.
- Rope that allows him to climb over a wall.
- Secret passage that allows him to move through the secret passage.
- Shuriken, that allows him to kill a guard from one space away, without raising the alarm.
- Shadow walk, that allows him to move through a space occupied by a guard without being detected.
The traitor gets the following cards:
- Kenjutsu, identical to the ninja card, but raise the alert level by two.
- Rope, same as the ninja.
- Secret passage, also identical to the ninja card
- Potent sake, which makes a guard on his space become drunk, rendering useless for the rest of the game.
- It was a cat, which cancels a Listen card played by the guards.
Opposing them is the guard player from the Lion Clan, who will try to find them, and kill them before they succeed in their mission. The guards players decide where he will put the 6 objectives on the map, with some constraints, and a few hidden guards, sleeping guards and traps. He will also put 8 sentry on the map, and 3 patrols. He finally choose 24 cards from his deck, and shuffle the rest.
While the guards player will cycle through his deck during the game, the intruders can only play each cards once, except for the secret passage.
The guards have the following cards:
- Kenjutsu, which allows the guard to wound and intruder.
- Secret passage, which allows a guard to enter the secret passage.
- Awaken, which allows you to put a new guard on the board.
- Sentry/Patrol Listen, which allows you to hear the noise made by the intruders, and raise the alert and move if succesful.
- Sentry/Patrol Search, which allows you to move a sentry or a patrol.
Each turn, the guard will pick a number of cards(0 to 3)from his deck depending on the alert level. It is vital for the guard player to find a way to raise this level. Without cards, the action the guard player can take during his turn is harshly limited. The alert level also dictate how many cards (2 to 5) you can play during the turn. The alert will go down 1 level after the guard player has drawn his cards.
The ninja and traitors can move as they want on the board, but have a very restricted hand of cards. They can move each turn from 0 to 3 spaces, and play any cards that they want from their hands. But once a card is played, it is gone for good. And the further an intruder move during his turn, the easier he will be to detect by the guards.
And while the guards are visible on the board, the ninja and traitor secretly plot their moves behind their screens, never to be seen unless they make a mistake.
Playing as the intruder or the guards is a really different experience.
While playing the guards, you will feel the tension rise and fall throughout the game. There are quiet periods, during which you have to be patient, not wasting cards. You won't have any idea where the intruders are. But the clues will come; a rope is played, one intruder enter the secret passage, a guard is killed, an area is searched by the intruders. Now is the time to act! Listen! Did you hear that? Sound the alarm, awaken the guards! Move, quickly, quickly, before he slips away! There he is, you manage you wound him, but he disappear again into the darkness. But don't worry, he'll be back, he didn't accomplish his mission. Things slowly goes back to normal, the waiting game resumes.
As the ninja, you have to keep quiet, proceed slowly, and avoid detection. You'll hold your breath while a nearby sentry pause and listen, you heart will falter when you trigger a trap while searching for your target, and you'll run like hell to disappear again into the night, waiting until everything calms down, then try again. But don't wait too long, dawn is near. You can eliminate a few guards to ease your way in, but there are too many, you are not strong enough to fight them all.
As the traitor, it's easier to access the inner castle, the guards knows you, and don't suspect a thing, but you are ill equipped. Get a few companions drunk while they listen to your tall tales, blame the strange noises heard by your fellow guards on a cat. And then strike into the heart of the Lion.
And I just love this game, it's dramatic, thematic and full of tension. You have to be patient, but not too much, you have to manage your cards carefully, you have to take some risks if you want to succeed, and act decisively when the time is right. The rules don't get in the way of the immersion at all and goes hand in hand with the theme.
While other hidden movement games like Scotland Yard or Letter for Whitechapel allows you to narrow then, and finally deduce the exact position of the bad guy, and the bad guy must constantly flee from the police, Ninja has a different take on the genre. As the intruder, you have to flirt with danger, and you will be detected. Will you be able to flee? As the guard, you have to rely on instinct, you can't deduce the exact position of the intruder. You have to use your cards wisely, and carefully position your figures to allow them to intervene when the times come.
- Last edited Tue May 6, 2014 12:11 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Tue May 6, 2014 1:16 am
I couldn't have written this review better than you.
You understood very well that Ninja is more than a game. It's a story in which you are participating as a key player. As in any roleplay, you must immerse yourself in the theme to enjoy it completely.
Note that you can download (in the files section) freely the expansion with a more difficult castle to penetrate.
I think what gamers expected, a constant chase and precise deduction, as seen in other hidden movement game, clashed with what the game offers, which is more about patiently setting up a trap and perfect timing.
It's really similar to wildgame hunting in fact. Except this time the prey has a sword and shurikens...
For the expansion, it would be a perfect candidate for kickstarter.
- Last edited Thu May 8, 2014 6:07 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu May 8, 2014 6:06 pm
Fantasic review! This was how I felt about the game while reading the rules, and imagining how it would play. However, there were some other reviews that were negative and discouraged me from playing the game...but after reading this review, I'm ready to get the game to the table! Greatly appreciate it!
I wish this was the way the game played for me. But we found that playing as the guards it was easy to set yourself up to make winning as the intruders impossible.