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Ninja All-Stars» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Ninja All Stars Review rss

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Miguel A Fernandez Rico
Spain
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This weekend a friend of a BoardGame WhatsApp group suggested we play a 3 men game of Ninja All Stars. It was a game he has been recomending for a long time, although I had zero information about it. As my gf was sleeping I decided to try it so I went to the FLGS with little expectations, just that he keep saying the game was great, and the feeling that, judging by the name, it would had to have ninjas on it. This theme was in fact the fact that atracted me the most, because as I was driving to the store i realized it was a little underrepresented in the hobbie. Bordering Rising Sun, that I know it comes this year, I couldnt name 3 ninja related Boardgames.

I entered the store and when he showed me the box, I thought that it must be a Cool Mini or Not game. It had a somewhat cartonish artwork, and awesome detailed plastic minis. What was my surprise when I checked and it was indeed a different company (Soda Pop Miniatures), that later I learned does a fantastic job as well with the production of their games. This should be a plus for people who likes minis because this ones are great: detailed, well done and with a high quality.
But they have a negative fact I should note, and it is that each of the minis have a little mark that simbolizes where that unit is looking, a crucial role in the mechanics of the game. And that little dot is hard to catch from a long distance. Try to catch it in one of the minis in this picture. Luckily you can just guess where it is (after all is the direction the unit is looking), but the archer one is complicated because for a reason I cannot figure out yet the point is not where the archer is signaling. This make that mini confusing to play with, because by logic it should be looking where the arc is pointing, and is not.

The minis also brought an interesting point of conversation, because apparently they are meant to be replaced. I asked the owner what he meant, and apparently they are vanilla ninjas, with almost no habilities, little differences on stats and same modeling (there are 4 lets call them factions, and all of them have the same model, except different colors). If you want the cool ones, each faction with different models, and with different stats and habilities, you have to purchase them separately. The hilarious part is that even in the manual they "pre announce" them so you will know you have to buy them. It felt to me strange. It is like you are buying an incomplete game with information inside on how to complete it, and if you like the game you are probably going to spend a couple of hundrends more in aditional minis, just because the ones in your game arent good enough. I understand the company wants to sell his product after all, but it felt really strange for me.

When he started explaining the game I knew from the beggining that I had never played a game like this one. The best way for me to describe it is minis moving in a map. I know for a fact that there are more games like this one, where the main point is moving units and doing things with them. But it brought to me a lof of frustrating to play it. Lets start with the biggest part of frustration: rules. Basically, there is no main mechanic in this game, if you dont consider "move and do something" a mechanic. Instead of that, there are plenty of little and subtle mini rules. Ill show it with an example. First, as I said, you can move. Simple, right? Well, there it comes the little rules. You move the number represented on each figure, that describes how much it can move. Seems simple but wait, if you move into a different kind of terrain, you need additional movement. Ok, that also seems reasonable. There are three kind of terrains, moving into one type (forest) cost 2, and the other (roof) 3. Ok, doesnt seems really difficu...
but wait, if you move into the forest, it cost 2 to enter the forest, and 2 to move inside the forest. But the roof cost 3 to move into the roof, but only 1 to move in the roof. Water works the same as forest. Ok I guess that also makes sens... But wait, if you move out of a higher terrain into a lower terrain, you just need one movement. As such roof into floor is one movement only. Or forest into floor. Ok I think I got everyth... But wait, you can use cards that sometimes make your movement be different. ...Ok. Anything else? No, I think thats all. Great. Now, multiplies that for each of the little things you can do in game (combat, going into stealth, playing cards, solving movement when you are in the area of influence of another mini) and you have the rules for the game.

Granted, im probably making it sound more complicated that it is, because once you learned all it is fairly simple to play. But it is way too fiddly. I laugh now at people that said The Gallerist is complicated to play because you need to remember a lot of things when doing an action. They clearly never have played a minis game. I can teach any of my games just by explaining the main rule, move or mechanic of the game, and then going into detail of little things. This one has no main one, just a big number of little things. And since there are a lot of this, is really easy to forget them at some point. Even the owner of the game, who told me he had played base game 15+ times, made several rules mistakes, and had to made several checkings to the rulebook.

This comes to my second point of frustration: downtime. Every single second there is something you need to check. Ok, im gonna move. That should be simple right. Well, first check the terrain and see what kind of is, so you can figure out how much and where you can move. The terrains is beautiful painted and if you look closer you can easily see what type it is. But, you need to be close. The map is big, and sometimes figuring out if a mini you have somewhat far away can move
or not as you want is impossible to know, you will have to be constantly checking. And the same goes for everything. Do you see me here? Because I want to go into stealth. Mmmmm... Lets see, you are in forest, you have noone in front of you, but wait I have this mini in this kind of terrain. So yeah I see you. I want to atack here, can I? Mmmmmm. lets see, you are in this terrain, and I am in your zone of influence, but you have to do a check first to see if you can move from here. Every. Single. Time.

It never felt that the game moved at a good pace. And it also doesnt help the fact that you have several marks you put into minis, also really hard to check from distance. First, you have the most obvious mark that signalizes what mini has already played this turn. But it can be on stealth, that is a different one. Or it could have been stunned, a different one. Or it can have a bonus, a different one. You end up stacking little marks on the side of a mini. And minis tend to be closer to each other, because they want to, well, atack each other. So imagine a brawl of minis where there are little stacks of singals that you will have to be asking constantly what mini they belong. And it also make it more difficult to see the board correctly. That could have been solved if you can put this marks on your board where you have all your caracters, problem is there is no way of differenciating acher 1 for archer 2. I guess with the new minis it could be possible, taking away one of the worst things about the game.

And what is the second worst thing about the game? Combat. It is way too random. Like, one of the most random thing Ive ever seen in a game. Not only in truly randomness (you will win a battle or not just if you had luck) but also meaning it makes no sense, thematically or logically. Let me explain a little how it works. So you (atacker) and other player (defender) each roll a predeterminate number of dices. You roll them, and now check each symbol. Dont expect swords or shields. This are the elements simbols, little made up figures to represent fire, water, earth, etc.
And now that you have figure out each one of them, you see if they cancel each other (because an atacking fire cancels a defensive water and viceversa). Now you count wich player have more dice, the atacker or the defender, and he chooses one dice of the remaining, making a random effect atached to that element. So basically, you roll dice, hope the wants you want dont get canceled, hope you have more dices left that the defense player, and hope that one of the results left is good for you. How that works thematically? Did the Ninja with 6 atack dices just got stuned for no reason because... he falled? I saw atackers die because of bad luck, atackers got stuned because of bad luck, defensive players getting into a good position for them because of bad luck...

And the way the game allows you to affect this luck is not good enough. The reason is that you interact with the randomness with your moon cards, the last "mechanic" of the game. This cards have various effects, like making extra actions, interacting with movement, and of course, changing or rerolling some dices in battle. As you only have 3 cards in first round, and you draw one at the end of each round, and only if you choose that effect (there could be other ones that are better for you) the chances for you to have one card to interact with the battle are little. And the worst part, you can only have 3 cards in hand, so even if you are able to not use one in the first round, it would not matter because you will have to discard up to 3. So to summarize, even if you are lucky enough to have one that can change the outcome of one dice in one battle, stopping you to be screwed by luck, the effect you have in all your combats of the round it is so little. And considering each round you will have less cards (if you play more than one) and considering there are at least 6 rounds of the game... Just add the math.

It is sad because how the card works it is one of the better things of the game. Each card has an alliegnation with one moon of the 6 of the game. In one of the boards there is a tracker for the moon, that changes each round. So each round there is the influence of one moon. This moon affects 2 thins: first the clan that has alliegnation with that moon. Sadly, only one unit has a moon power, that is better when played under his moon. I guess the new units you can buy will have more moon powers. And second the cards, that have a general effect, that plays in every moon, and a more powerfull effect that plays only when the alliegnated moon is rising. So you will have to wonder and decide if you want a worst effect, or gamble on waiting for your moon to come.

We played the game for 4 hours and we had to even rush the last round to finish the game. It was a close one and we didnt make much points, because the first two rounds we were more deciding our move than trying to atack each other. Sadly I was last, with 4 points, because I got really bad luck at some points, and a good one for blue player put my leader into a position where he was going to be destroyed. Thats the last part I wasnt really fond in the game, the name of the units it is complicated to remember. Sure, there are the name of real ninja units, but for me is hard to remember how the leader, the archer, or the mage units are called.

So to finish all thats left is ask myself, did I like this game? Mmmm... maybe? I know you may think Im kidding, considering all the bad things I said about this game, and little positive ones, but at the end I guess I just didnt hate the game. Even with all the bad points, it was a fun experience. There is something fun about moving ninjas and atacking other units, jumping into walls, using a Ninja Gandalf to nuke people, deciding if you should play your card or wait for your moon to come. Granted I would never buy this game but if offered again to play I may say yes. And as for the reader who thinks this is an interesting one and is undecided to buy it or not, will I reccomend it? Well... it has a lot of main problems you need to have in mind in advance before you jump into this game. First, you will probably end up buying more minis. Second, expect a lot of fiddly little rules to follow. Third, expect a lot of confusing markers in the board. And last, have in mind that you will have little control on combats. Have you checked all 4? Then this would be a good buy for you. But if as me, one of this points (or more) drives you crazy, there are probably better options out there.
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Miguel A Fernandez Rico
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Edited some grammar mistakes I saw rereading it. English is not my first language, so sorry for any grammar mistakes, and any recommendations about my review for future ones would be welcomed!
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Hugues Richard
Canada
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What matters in life is not the triumph nor the struggle but the triumph by tiebreaker.
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This is an top notch review from someone who has only 2 to his credit and comes from the worst possible angle for this game. In a sea of barely ever red super positive written reviews whatever the game, it's pleasing to see some taking there time to warn us in an objective way. So, if I may discuss the subject...

Minis
I own a KS version so I didn't get hosed by SP/ND's retail version which holds so much less value but at least, you can still play like if you had the clans with retail minis, minus rônins.

Orientation and LOS
Designers decided to use round bases and dot positioning instead of squares yet, they don't use dots for LOS but use back stab rules so positioning and orientation are important - bad design decisions.

Rules/mechanics
This is a minis tactical skirmish wargame, not an overproduced euro with minis so of course, there will be rules for terrain, movement and such. It sits between games like AQ, SDE, KA and BB, WH, Malifaux, WM etc. If you haven't played any of those games or can't fill the blanks, it's understandable you won't get the system and review it for something it is not albeit, this game has done a mediocre job at incorporating/streamlining a couple of those rules.

Fiddly?
It stands between YES and Barely playable. Blue tack is mandatory but it's still crazy to think a mini and its base can be so covered with so many status counters that you can barely see who's under the blob. Get rid of a lot of hustle by placing few shrines with all the same effect.

Luck?
I think it's way bellow average for this type of game, even BB since you don't have turnovers. Cards, abilities, activation sequence, facing, supports and the combat system itself will let you mitigate luck way more than any of the previously mentioned games. It is leaps and bounds above swords, shields and crits of other games, both in a strategic and thematic perspective. All negative reviews I've seen on this are from people lacking basic knowledge in the art of ninjustsu and only played brawl missions.

What made me fell in love with it despite the negative, was the unique and sooo thematic combat system and minis. The sculpts are great but representations of known folklore ninjas like Storm Shadow, Hanzo, Lone Wolf n cub and so many more are bliss.
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