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Subject: Review: Ninja Dice rss

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Chris Cully
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A while ago I posted my first thoughts about the game, after an initial play through over lunch with some friends from work.

Read the previous post here...

This is a more thorough review now that I've played a few more times.

What is the game about?
In this game you are one of a group of rival ninjas, and in true ninja style, you’re trying to break into houses and steal the valuables before the night is over. Will you be a passive, stealthy individual and sneak past the occupants and guards, or go in (ninja) stars flying and kill whoever gets in your way? And most important: will you nab more loot than your competition?
Beware: competition is rife, and other ninja can steal from you as the night continues. And if the sun comes up, there are no more shadows to hide you…

What do you get?
In the game, you get the following components:



• 15 dice:
o 6 black House dice – used each round to generate the house that you’re going to encounter
o 5 white Skill dice – used each round by the active player to combat the house
o 4 white Threat dice – used each round by the inactive players
• 35 Plastic coins – treasure stolen throughout the game:
o 21 copper,
o 7 silver,
o 7 gold
• 1 game case – a ninja-themed cube-shaped zippered case, to hide your dice and coins form other sneaky thieves!

In my particular copy of the game, as a Kickstarter Backer, I also received the first and second retail packs of location cards, and some KS exclusive cards, that I’ll cover separately from the main game.

What makes Ninja Dice different?
Unlike many dice games, while the active player is rolling their dice, the other players are not passively waiting for their turn – the other players are rolling the threat dice against the active player, introducing the time limit for a turn with the hourglass symbols, and stealing loot from other players (not just the active player) with the attack symbols. So to quote the Kickstarter “It’s not a multiplayer game of solitaire!
In addition, an important part of the game is not just the results on the dice, but the position and facing of the dice relative to others. Some faces on the dice have a line on their front edge, and those dice can modify other dice that are partially or completely in front of them. So, for example, the Threat die’s Attack face means that you can only attack a player whose dice landed in front of your threat die. And the Fortune die, when it lands with another of your skill dice in front of it, multiplies the symbol on that die by 4x. You can even stack fortune dice against a single die, turning a single fight into 8 fight with two fortune dice.

In the example image above, the Fortune dice can be used to target either the fight, or lock-pick die results. There is no need to target the Block symbol, even though it is in the area of effect of the fortune dice.

Playing the game
The game plays over three rounds. In each round, each player encounters a house, generated by the player to the right of the active player rolling the House dice.

House dice have symbols for guards, occupants, and locks. In the first round, four black dice are rolled, and in each subsequent round a die is added, making the houses progressively harder as you work through the rounds.
When your house has been generated, you roll the white Skill dice and attempt to combat the house.

Skill dice have symbols for sneaking, fighting, and lock-picking to combat the house, and catching arrows, which are used to combat the Threat dice.
At the same time as you roll your Skill dice, the other players each roll a Threat dice.

Threat dice have arrow symbols for stealing from other players, catch symbols for protecting yourself from attacks, and hourglass symbols, which provide the time-limit for a player’s turn.
The active player can re-roll any of his dice (including those that have been saved from a previous roll) as many times as he likes, hoping to generate better combinations to take down the house. However, each time the active player rolls the Skill dice, the other players re-roll any threat dice that haven’t already rolled an hourglass. When four hourglass symbols have been rolled, the night is over, and the active player scores no points for this round.
If the active player chooses to stop rolling, their dice are compared to the house, and the player takes a coin for each dice that is beaten. If the player managed to beat all of the dice, they take extra coins depending on the number of dice that comprise the house, and if the house is defeated without fighting, an extra coin is taken as a reward.
Play then passes to the next player, and continues in the same vein through the rounds until the end of the game. The ninja that scores the most treasure wins.

Location cards
The location cards add an interesting variation to the game, whereby the locations you target in your turn can be more than just a random dice roll. There are location cards for each round, and players can chose whether to face a location card or not.
Some location cards increase the difficulty of the house, either by specifying additional die symbols that must be overcome, or limiting the effect of fortune dice. There are some beneficial locations, however most add more of a challenge to the game. The advantage in going for a location card is that the cards also specify bonus loot if they are completed.



By the admission of the game designer, not all of the location cards are precisely balanced. Some of the location cards are more powerful than others, and some are downright nasty. There are variations of rules that dictate how the location cards are used, ranging from blind draws to open selection, and including adding coins to non-chosen cards to make them more appealing later in the round.

Personal opinion
Personally, Ninja Dice for me fits into the “enjoyable filler” game category – It’s quick to pick up and learn, even for beginners, and doesn’t take a long time to play. I’ve played it a few times in lunch hours at work, and have had people coming back and asking to play it again (and some people asking where they can pick up a copy!). I’m hoping to get it into my regular gaming group soon, but the opportunity hasn’t arisen yet.
If there’s anything letting the game down (and it’s only by a little bit) it’s the location cards. As mentioned, some are more overpowered than others, and some to the point that you need a perfect roll on both the house dice, and the skill dice, to beat the house. However, the game can be played without the cards without detracting from the game, and there are many variations on how the cards are used, so if they’re causing issues for you, there are many options you can try. The rules are flexible enough, and the game strong enough, to handle some house-ruling without breaking the flow of the game. Despite this comment, I’m happy they were included in the game, because they add to the replayability of the game and mean that the game should stay in my collection for a long time to come.
Going forward, I’d be interested in seeing an expansion that enables player-specific skills. For example, one player may have the special rule that they count one dice as having one additional sneak when a sneak result is rolled, however they count fight dice as one less. I’m not sure how many variations of this would be possible, but it would be something to add a little variation to the players.
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The War Chief
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Good solid review.thumbsup

Where can I find the variations on using the location cards?
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Chris Cully
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Hi Chief, thanks for the question, and thanks everyone for the thumbs up

The variations on the location cards are spread around the forums. A few of them that I think are most interesting are:

1. At the beginning of each round, deal location cards face up equal to the number of players. Each player must pick a card to encounter. A coin is added to each card that is not chosen by a player, to make the other cards more appealing and balance the first player advantage.
Variation: choosing a card is optional - players can simply encounter a random house by rolling the dice, for the standard reward. remainder cards are cleared before the next round.
Variation on the variation: Don't clear cards end-of-round, but only add coins to cards drawn this round. This leaves previous-round cards available but doesn't overbalance the adding of coins.

2. At the beginning of each round, deal all round cards face down. Players make a random choice of a house card to encounter.

3. Make the symbols on the cards scoring - in the written rules, you don't get points for bypassing the symbols printed on the card.

4. Make the conditions on the card optional (the "no stealth/half-fortune" bits), but if the condition is ignored, there is a score penalty (either half points for card completion (top-right value), fixed-cost, etc)

Basically, if it makes sense and doesn't benefit one player more than others, it's a simple house-rule job to fit your preferences. Personally, I prefer the first variation from 1. above, where the cards are optional, but rewards are greater if you're later in the round (and probably facing harder locations)

I know Rocco (the game developer) is active around the forums - he's the one that put me on to some of the variations (in my previous post), maybe he can comment further..?
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Rocco Privetera
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Hi Chris, thanks for the great review!

The random assignment was probably the easiest way to make it work with the least rules. It works, but it's not my fave.

My personal favorite for assigning location cards is #1 (adding coins to make un-picked locations more valuable and worth the risk). This way the killer cards in a 3-4 player game, say, get a 3-4 point bonus.

I also think that getting a point per "die" on the card is the way to go. Mechanically it's the same as the regular game. I think the cards are truly tough challenges and the extra points are fair compensation.

As for individual player powers, I just had a test last night of a proposed expansion I'm about to pitch to GreenBrier, and you must be some kind of fortune teller. Maybe I can mail you a PnP to eyeball?

Probably a good idea for someone to start a variants page.
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Rocco Privetera
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...so here's a Variants thread!

http://boardgamegeek.com/article/16327560#16327560
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