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Subject: Love at First Sight? rss

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Radioactive Man
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It’s always dangerous to get your hopes up. You wait in line overnight to see the first Star Wars prequel and you get two hours of terrible dialogue and Jar Jar Binks. You finally get a table at that restaurant that everyone is raving about and you paying far too much for a meal you could have cooked at home. You finally pick up a game you’ve been hearing rave reviews about, rush home and immediately tear the shrink, read the rules, sit down to play and then wonder what the fuss was about.

I’ve been following the development of Ninjato for some time now. It has a theme that appeals to the kid in any gamer. I mean, everyone knows that the best Joe was Snake Eyes. It’s produced by one of the best if not the best publishers in the business, so the production quality is going to be first rate. The rules look fantastic. So when I got a chance to play a pre-production copy of this game, I jumped at the chance. In fact, when it was brought up that this game was available to play at my local game group, I think I squealed. Thankfully, no one around me heard me, or if they did they were too embarrassed for me to point it out. In any case, I sat down for a four player game, kicked some ninja tail, and was compelled to write my first review. I’m not big into reviews that rehash the rules that can be easily downloaded, so I’ll stick to the basics. Or maybe I won’t. You never know what a ninja will do.

Components
The game comes the following:

A Game Board: The board is beautifully designed with fantastic artwork that really captures the Asian feel of the game. The board includes a turn order space and a scoring track which thankfully does not ring the board but rather runs is located along the top of the board. The edges of the board of the board are used nicely by clearly indicating where cards should go, but has the cards hang off the board so that there isn’t a huge amount of real estate on the board itself that is taken up with cards. The remainder of the board contains the five choices for actions a player has during their turn with the majority of the board consisting of the five clan houses a player may attack.

Clan Tokens: Nice cardboard chits that mark the value and clan color of each clan house during the scoring rounds.

Treasure Tokens: Cardboard chits that show the double-sided treasures with one side indicating that a treasure has been alarmed and is now guarded by an elite guard. They also indicate the type and value of the treasure which will be one of the main routes of scoring points. Among the different types of treasure tokens are also wild card treasures that can be used as any treasure type during the game. There’s also a bag to hold these chits and draw from when refilling treasures in the houses.

Throwing Stars (shuriken): Each player gets three wooden throwing stars to mark their actions in one of four colors. While very nice, they are a bit large for what they do on the board and take up a large amount of real estate. I heard they were looking into making these out of metal but opted against it. This was a wise choice, since I’m sure if they were metal, at some point someone would surely get a little too into the ninja theme, throw one of those stars, and stick it in their neighbor’s eye. Then they would sue Z-Man.

Dojo Cards: Regular sized playing cards which are used to attack houses and to buy Skill Tiles. The Dojo Cards come numbered 1-5 with the number 3 card serving as a natural 3 or as a modifier to another cards as a +/-1 to that card.

Envoy Cards: Regular sized cards which are used to determine rewards and scoring at each scoring round. Each Envoy Card is marked with the clan color they represent, their cost in treasure to bribe, and their age used as a tie-breaker in scoring. Thankfully, as is typical in Asian cultures, the oldest envoys win, as opposed to America where largest breast size gets the nod.

Guard/Elite Guard cards: Small-sized cards that include the value of the guard which in order to defeat, you have to have a Dojo Card (with modifiers) that is either higher or lower in value than the guard value depending on if you choose to be sword-wielding kung-fu fighting ninja (strength) or a sneaking, backstabbing, slit-your throat before you know what hit you type of ninja (stealth). Several of the Guard Cards are alarmed showing red text and triggering Elite Guards. The Elite Guards Cards are used whenever trying to steal alarmed treasures. These Elite Guards are general harder to defeat and also include a bonus point value which are added to you score at the end of the game if they are defeated.

Rumor Cards: Regular sized cards that give end of the game bonus points. There is a cost in treasure to these cards. Rumor Cards are used for end of the game scoring with bonus points for the number of specific types of cards, skills, etc. These are a kin Civilization cards in Stone Age or Sphinx Cards in Egizia although are not nearly as swingy when it comes to the end of game scoring.

Skill Tiles: Nice cardboard tiles that show a cost in Dojo Cards of buying them, one of three skill styles, and the skill that is gained which can be used once per turn. The skills are generally bonuses that are used once per round that can help attack clan houses, used to determine control of specific clan colors, or used to modify other skills.

Game Play in General Specifics
The game is played by placing each of the three throwing stars that a player has in turn order and taking the action on that space. Although this feels like a worker placement mechanic, it’s not really since one player taking an action does not preclude another from taking the same action. In fact the only time placement of the throwing stars on an action has any real effect on the game is when taking Dojo Cards. The order of the throwing stars on that space determines the subsequent rounds turn order with the person with the star on top (the last to place) going first on down the stack and those who didn’t take that action falling behind in turn order to those that did. There are five different actions that players can take:

The Dojo
In the dojo are three face up Dojo Cards and the deck. Taking this action allows a player to refill their hand back up to four cards or if a player already has three or more cards in their hand, they draw two cards. These cards can be taken in any combination from the face up cards or from the deck. Total hand limit is 7 cards. The face up cards are refilled after each players turn. This is the only place where the order of throwing stars on the stack matters as it determines player order next round.

The Clan Houses
There are five clan houses on the board each with a space for an initial Guard Card. Three Treasure Tokens are drawn randomly from the bag and placed above each house, and each house is initially seeded with one Clan Token denoting the color and value of that house during scoring rounds. On each side of the house there is a symbol denoting strength or stealth. Players can place their throwing star on either side to show whether they will need to play a Dojo Card from their hand either lower (stealth) or higher (strength) in value than the value of the guard. If a player successfully does so, he will take the lowest value treasure from the house and decide whether to call “Banzai” or not. Literally, if he wants to go on, he does his best Pat Morita and yells “BANZAI!” A new guard card will be flipped over from the deck and that player will have to defeat the guard using the same technique (stealth or strength) that he used with the initial guard. If all treasures are removed from the house, the player then must exchange the clan token for the house with another token of a different clan color from the remaining Clan Tokens that are currently off the board and he gets to keep all treasures he gathered during that turn. If he cannot defeat the guard after calling banzai, the player loses all but one token of their choice that they have gathered during that turn, discarding those treasures. If he chooses not to call “Banzai”, he retreats from the house with all the treasure he has gathered so far and his turn ends, and then he hangs his head in shame for being a weak-ass ninja.

Occasionally, the guard turned over is an alarm guard. In that situation, the highest value treasure is flipped over the red alarm side and a new treasure is pulled from the bag. The alarm guard must then be defeated per the usual rules. When attempting to steal an alarmed treasure, an Elite Guard Card is flipped and must be defeated with Dojo Cards from the player’s hand. Elite Guards are generally harder to defeat with a low value for stealth and a high value for strength rather than a single value as on the regular Guard Cards. In addition, some Elite guards have two guards on them that must be defeated with separate Dojo Cards. Finally, if an Elite Guard is defeated, the player gains that card in front of them and will score the corresponding bonus points at the end of the game.

The Sensei
Skill Tiles in the Sensei can be acquired for the price of Dojo Cards. The Skill Tiles generally act as modifiers during attacks on clan houses which can include adjusting the value of a Dojo Card that is played, acting as a separate Dojo Card of a certain value, switching treasures before they are stolen, or switching from strength to stealth or vice versa mid-combat. There is one skill that is unique in that it can be used to count as an addition envoy during scoring rounds. Skill Tiles can be used once per round and are flipped over to denote their use that round and reset at the beginning of each round. Each Skill Tile is one of three styles (snake, crane, and tiger). Once one type of skill is acquired, subsequent skills of that style may be taken with an action without paying the requisite Dojo Card.

The Palace
Envoy Cards can be acquired with an action here by bribing the indicated envoy with the cost shown at the bottom of the card. Each envoy is from one of the three clan colors and bribing them immediately scores the amount of points that the treasures total, including wild card treasures. During scoring rounds, which occur at the end of the third, fifth, and seventh rounds, the person with the most envoys (counting the extra envoys acquired by certain Skill Tiles) gets their choice of: 1) scoring the amount of points indicated by the Clan Tokens next to each of the clan houses on the board that corresponds to the color of those envoys’ clans or 2) taking a free Rumor Card without paying the cost for that card. In case of ties for number of envoys, the player with the oldest envoy for that clan color wins the tie. The second place player for the clan color gets the option that the first place player did not choose.

The Pavillion
Rumor Cards are bought for the cost of the treasures shown on the bottom of the card immediately scoring the value of the treasures spent. These cards are kept until end of game scoring when they score points based off the icons indicated on the card. The more of each type of Rumor Card a player has, the higher the multiplier for things like number of Skill Tiles, number of Envoy Cards, number of Rumor Cards, and number of Elite Guard Cards that a player has acquired throughout the game.

What I Think...or Do I?
You might call this analysis although in truth, I’m not analyzing anything. Analysis requires some research, comparison, and of course charts and graphs are always good. I just think stuff and write it down. And here’s what I think. This game is fantastic. It does a great job of capturing the flavor of the theme while still maintaining very strong Euro mechanics with top-notch production quality. In general, the components are of outstanding quality that has come to be expected from Z-Man games. It’s a bit sad that I have now played enough games to simply expect this type of quality and it’s lost a bit of its wow factor. It’s actually more shocking to me to see a game produced with component quality that is more akin to what we were used to 20 years ago than to see superbly produced games. Nevertheless, the components are great and the artwork fantastic. I wasn’t mesmerized by the components, but they well-made, well-designed, with clear iconography, and fit the mechanics of the game perfectly. My only complaint about the components would be the size of the throwing stars. They are a bit large for what they are used for on the on the board and seem out of proportion for the game, but if that’s my only complaint, I ain’t got much to complain about.

With regards to the game play, I’m not sure I’ve seen this hi/lo mechanic before in a game. If it’s out there, I haven’t played it. But it works great for this game even if it reminds me a bit of Card Sharks. I’ll have to say that if any game show host was secretly a ninja it would be Bob Eubanks. As I mentioned earlier while there’s a sense that this game is a worker placement game as you place your throwing stars on the board to denote the action you are taking, it’s not really, since you’re not blocking anyone else out from taking that same action. In fact, it can be advantageous to you to try to wait until someone depletes the treasures in a house either by leaving or being defeated so that there are fewer guards for you to take on to clear the house and change the color of the clan token for that house. There’s a lot of jockeying for position during the third, fifth, and seventh rounds since the scoring takes place immediately after those rounds. You’re trying to get into those house and change them to colors in which you have the advantage in terms of envoys before someone else does. That being said, the fact that it’s not really a worker placement does decrease the interactiveness of the game. While I was engaged with what everyone else was doing, paying attention to how many treasures they had and how many envoys of what color they had collected, one of the few ways you can directly affect an opponent’s score is by changing the color of a clan house away from their envoy colors.

This game certainly has its element of luck, particularly with the random guards that show up to guard treasures. However, it’s the kind of luck that keeps you engaged. Whenever another player attacked a clan house whose color I controlled with envoys, I would cheer when an alarm guard showed up and snicker in delight when they ran out of cards and had to retreat or were defeated, slinking back to their ninja hole in shame with one lonely treasure in hand. There’s also enough ways to mitigate that luck between the 3-value modifier Dojo Card and the skill tiles that careful planning will manage the luck substantially.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I dated my wife for five years before we married. I usually spend about 100 hours in research before buying a new car. But this game has become one of my top rated games after just one play, and I’m a cynical bastard. If you get a chance to play this game, play it. If you get a chance to buy this game, divorce your wife, leave your kids, and hole up in a room playing nothing but this game until you are physically fused to your chair. Okay, that may be going a bit too far. Don’t abandon your kids for this game. But really, it’s a great game.
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Andy Andersen
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Keep the kids but divorce the wife. This must be a great game.devil
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Greg Cox
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After the flop that was Galactic Emperor, I'll try before buy with this one!
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Tom
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coxy_fc wrote:
After the flop that was Galactic Emperor, I'll try before buy with this one!


Flop? To each his own; I liked Galactic Emperor and I am not sure it was a flop but I guess I never expected TI lite like many people did.
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Greg Cox
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I'd never played TI before GE. I just think GE was not a good enough game and didn't work well.
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Jeremy Salinas
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Great Review Jack !! How in the world did you get to play a game that isn't even out yet??

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Lance
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The coolest best thing I have ever done in my life is being a father
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Drakkenstrike wrote:
Great Review Jack !! How in the world did you get to play a game that isn't even out yet??



The same way you do....MAGIC!!
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Nerds call me
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UndeadViking wrote:
Drakkenstrike wrote:
Great Review Jack !! How in the world did you get to play a game that isn't even out yet??



The same way you do....MAGIC!!


I could use some MAGIC then...
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Radioactive Man
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Drakkenstrike wrote:
Great Review Jack !! How in the world did you get to play a game that isn't even out yet??



I know a little gaming leprechaun that brings a bag of gaming gold to game groups I happen to frequent. Seriously, thanks for bringing the game. In case you couldn't tell, I loved it.
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Arthur Rutyna
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coxy_fc wrote:
After the flop that was Galactic Emperor, I'll try before buy with this one!


Galactic Emperor is Puerto Rico in space with fighting, exploring and spaceships. Never played TI, but GE is a solid game. I thought it was fun after 1 play. Need to play it some more.
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Where were you hiding when the storm broke?
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Euros make ninjas cry
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A. B. West
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WizardHowl wrote:
Euros make ninjas cry

Ninjas never cry. They make others cry. Then they kill you. ninja
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David Janik-Jones
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Great War Commander, Cats were once worshipped as gods and they haven't forgotten this, Combat Commander Europe, The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!, Combat Commander Pacific
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adamw wrote:
WizardHowl wrote:
Euros make ninjas cry

Ninjas never cry. They make others cry. Then they kill you. ninja


Ninjas never cry. Those who are about to die at the hands of ninjas never cry either ... they simply do not see death about to strike, or if they do, look upon him with honour and acceptance. Then only whispers of ninjas remain.

-----
you hear no footfalls
from the enclosing darkness,
just your hearts last beat.
-----
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Radioactive Man wrote:
I’ll have to say that if any game show host was secretly a ninja it would be Bob Eubanks.

Naw, it's Chuck Barris, hands down. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
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Jonathan Challis
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Neo_1 wrote:
coxy_fc wrote:
After the flop that was Galactic Emperor, I'll try before buy with this one!


Galactic Emperor is Puerto Rico in space with fighting, exploring and spaceships. Never played TI, but GE is a solid game. I thought it was fun after 1 play. Need to play it some more.


Except Puerto Rico is a good game...
 
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