Sometimes a game becomes something of an enigma in terms of how you view it.
Ninja Versus Ninja from Out of the Box is one of those games.
I'll start by noting this game is rather simple in its mechanics, and plays very quickly, neither of which are inherently bad things, but they can be a detriment in some cases as well.
In this situation the rule set is easy to grasp. Each player has six ninjas situated on their side of the board. On a turn you roll two four-sided dice, and may move one ninja piece as many spaces as the total of the dice.
The goal is to cross the board into your opponent's side of the board, in this case they call it his dojo to add colour to the game. The deeper you get into enemy territory the more points you potentially score. The catch is, once you leave your 'dojo' with a piece, it has to return safely in three turns, or it is removed from play. So, if you move too deeply into enemy territory, you have to roll big numbers to get him home to score.
Of course things aren't that simple either, because on an opponent's turn they can move a ninja too. If a ninja completes a move on a spot already occupied, it captures that piece, the same as in chess.
The movement of a piece is easy too, you can generally make one 90-degree turn during a move.
If on 'a mission' that is in the opponent's side of the board, you are allowed to retrace your steps, so you get the feeling of running in, and scampering out at times.
That's about it in terms of game play.
It is amazing how easy it is to track down invading ninjas on the board, and most games come down to one of attrition. Wipe out the enemy, they can't score, you win.
The second victory path is to accumulate points 'on missions' based on how far you get into enemy territory, but that is a more difficult and tactical road to victory.
At times the game seems almost too simple, yet, there is something that is just a lot of fun about dueling Ninja bands.
In the case of this game created by Tushas Gheewala, it has a lot to do with the very high production standard of the game. While glass beads could easily be used to represent the ninjas, this game offers up nicely sculpted plastic ninja pieces, in red and black, complete with their swords. The pieces are a huge aspect of the game's appeal.
There is even a Ninja Master piece which is used as a score marker, and a Shadow Ninja piece used simply to mark how far you have made it into the enemy dojo.
That level of production is wonderful to see.
The dice too, are unique. They are small cubes, but since you are only using them as four-sided dice, a sword is through the dice, limiting it to how it lands on the table. Again, very in-the-theme of the game, and a very nice touch.
There is little doubt had Out of the Box gone with a simpler production standard, using say glass beads instead of the neat Ninja pieces, much of the charm of Ninja Versus Ninja would have been lost, and then the limitations of the game play might have tipped this game onto the also-ran pile.
However, the highly tactile pieces, which also look awesome on the game board, take this game to a higher level in terms of wanting to bring it out to play. The whole Ninjas at war theme just adds to that fun game experience as well.
Not the deepest game you will ever play, but very much fun. Recommended on the fun factor, and highly recommended in terms of 'looks'.
This review initially appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 20, 2009.