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Subject: Ninja placement beats worker placement? rss

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Emivaldo Sousa
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Let’s get to the point: Ninjato is a very good game. It is a worker placement that borrows a lot of its mechanisms from Stone Age but with a different, well implemented theme and with a bit more depth.

It may be tiresome to compare it once again with Stone Age, but to me it is really the easiest way to talk about the game. However, it must be said that the differences between the games are enough that Ninjato does not feel like a rip off. It is different enough to be its own thing.

In a nutshell, each player is a ninja trying to prove himself to the most influential clans in Japan. You do that by placing shourikens in areas of the board and executing the action of that place. In this process you will:

. Kill or evade guards to get goods (the equivalent of harvesting resources in Stone Age);

. Buy cards to get points (the equivalent of buying cards and buildings to get points in Stone Age).

. Improve you ninja to improve your chances in the game (the equivalent of using tools, farms and more people to improve your chances in Stone Age).

The mechanism that most differentiate Ninjato from Stone Age is the beating or evading guards to get resources, as this action exerts direct influence in the points available in three different score phases of the game.

The other two major differences would be in the way your tools work and an “area majority” thing concerning the types of cards you can get during the game. In the end, the differences are just enough to give the game its own feel and dynamics.

The production values of the game are top notch and if you are into worker placement games it is almost impossible for you to not have fun with Ninjato.

That said, I still think Stone Age is the better game. In Ninjato you have a bit more to think about (which is good), but you have less control of the environment and one lucky break can easily give you the game. What hurts Ninjato a little bit is a slight excess of random things:

The Tools
In Stone Age you have the tools, the farm and the family action (yeay, Agricola reference! Gain two points). You know what they do and their availability depends only of player actions. In Ninjato you have the dojo skills that serve several functions and are dealt randomly. You can invest in the tiger skill initially and see yourself forced to change gears because of bad draws. Also, the cards that complement those skills are also dealt randomly.

Granted, after you build your skills a bit, the whole thing is much less random than rolling dice, but I just think that the Stone Age system is just more reliable, especially in the beginning of the game.

Also, if you got a bad hand of cards to deal with in Ninjato you are kind of stuck with it for the turn at least, while in Stone Age, each new dice roll comes fresh with possibilities.

The goods
In Stone Age the goods are also always the same, in the same spot with the same probabilities. Fair if you think it is dull, but this setup favors planning. You might fail but you know the risks.

In Ninjato you know the risks of the fight to get the goods (and in some games by the middle of it there will be no risk at all as some ninja techniques are very powerful) and you get an idea of the goods you will get.

However, if the alarm sounds, new goods are introduced and this new good might be something inconsequential or a coin, which serves as a wild for any other good in the game. It is like going for wood in Stone Age and coming back home with some gold on the side.

If this new good happens to be one that was not previously available that will allow you to buy the card that no one else can, you are set.

The cards
There two sets of cards available to buy: one that gives you points by the end of the game and those are fine.

The other set gives you points in the middle of the game based on who controls the majority of three different colors. I like the dynamic those cards provide, with players trying to surpass each other. For the most part, this works well, because most of the cards give you an option of which goods to use on them. That said, some cards combinations can take the control of the game out of your hands completely.

It is possible to at least try to make an untouchable player lose points, but this is easier said than done because a series of other factors will come into play, including other players’ interest in the same faction of the untouchable player. In Stone Age all you need to block your opponent is turn order, which leads me to the last “problem” I see in Ninjato:

The player engine
In Ninjato, as in Stone Age, you accumulate tools during the game to get better in mitigating bad luck. Ninjato tools are even a little more efficient at that, but in Ninjato you never upgrade the amount of actions you have per turn, which makes an enormous tactical difference. In Stone Age is simply easier to block other players and work on a plan B and you can try to mitigate bad luck in your own terms, which I find more interesting.

Final words
Ninjato is a good time, but the way it chooses to handle luck is not ideal to me. A bad turn of events in Ninjato or in Stone Age can be very frustrating but in Ninjato, the card you didn’t buy or the tile you didn’t get might haunt you for the whole game. In Stone Age you can recover more easily because what you lost in the last round (because of luck) will have no direct influence in your next plays and, because you have more actions in Stone Age, you will have the tools to work on a plan B.

let me elaborate on this more:

Although it is impossible to me to look at one game and not see the other, I'm very used to play while "x-raying" the mechanisms of a game.

However, because of the theme, the 12-turn clock and the different interactions available between players, the actual playing of the game can feel very different, so it is equally possible for a different player to have a place for both in their collection.

For me, it is not possible, as both games scratch the same itch.

That said, Ninjato is not a mindless clone and I think it is perfectly understandable to prefer one over the other.

Both Ninjato and Stone Age are light worker-placement games with a respectful dose of tactics and strategy in which luck plays a role. In Ninjato I think that luck sometimes plays its role aiming for an oscar.


Edit: part in italics copied from my own post below and added for clarity.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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So you like Stone Age better?
(Not sure because you seem to side with Ninjato until the last paragraph.)

From what you're saying it sounds like this is a "get one or the other" situation because they are similar.
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Josh Lacey
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That'd be perfect because I only thought Stone age was okay and I just bought Ninjato.
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Jeff Kayati
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I own, play, and enjoy both Stone Age and Ninjato. For me, Ninjato is a much better game. I've heard the complaints about luck before, and I understand where they come from.

I've learned through many plays of Ninjato that this isn't a game you can enforce your will upon. If you go in with a set plan before the game, you're placing all your chances of winning into the hands of lady luck. In many ways, this game is much more tactical. You have to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.

There is, however, critical planning involved. Much of this becomes more apparent with more plays of the game. You learn what treasures to go for to get particular Rumor cards, in the event those cards appear. You learn what skills work well together, even from different styles.

I find Ninjato to be more "thinky" than Stone Age, but I've got room for both in my collection.
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Eric Boeschenstein
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Hello Zinho!

The Ninjato has a learning curve that, when learned, allows a game with very little influence of luck.

It is possible to calculate the potential outcome of the cards until the point of the player having a very close notion of the chance to succeed in an action for invasion.

It is common to see a game in which some inexperienced players reach less than half the points of more experienced players.

It is even common to see a fight for honor points very fierce among the most experienced players, with the winner taking a victory by a few points of difference at the end of the match. angry

I suggest you to try a few more matches of the game, to make it clearer how to master the luck and the points that are being raced. ninja
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Emivaldo Sousa
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kaziam wrote:
So you like Stone Age better?
(Not sure because you seem to side with Ninjato until the last paragraph.)

From what you're saying it sounds like this is a "get one or the other" situation because they are similar.


I like Stone Age better. You sure can have both games.
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Roger
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I only played this game once. I was really looking forward to it because I am a Stone Age fanboy.

But I found Ninjato fidly, a bit all over the place and lacking a sense of purpose. At the end of the day, I decided not to buy it. I'll play friend's copy, thought I have not seen it for months in my club.

~J
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Kentaro Sugiyama
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I've played both, and the analogy between Stone Age and Ninjato works. Ninjato is our group's current hot game. It requires a bit more planning, as there are only 21 actions (3 actions x 7 turns), so it feels very constrained, since there are no provisions to get any more. It feels more like Automobile, which only has 12 actions, and a few miscellaneous/optional actions.

That said, as the OP mentioned, the production values are top-notch. As a Japanese-American, the immersion in the theme feels authentic--it feels very Japanese. (Compare this to what I feel is the mangling of theme present in Knizia's Samurai.) There seems to have been a lot of research in getting the Japanese terminology correct, for example, and we were all very impressed with the artwork--the characters on the cards are simply stunning.

Ninjato, is however, not without some minor quibbles. For example, the rules regarding alarms, sentries, and guards was confusing. It took several games to get it "right", and we still got it wrong. Still, this is a very good game, sufficiently different from Stone Age to deserve a place on the shelf.
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Emivaldo Sousa
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Boeschenstein wrote:
Hello Zinho!

The Ninjato has a learning curve that, when learned, allows a game with very little influence of luck.

Learning curve is one thing, luck is another.

The game is very simple and the learning curve in Ninjato is largely associated with "counting" cards, in the sense that if you know the cards by heart, you know what is possible to show at any given time.

But knowing that you have a small or large probability doesn't change the impact of that probability in your game.

Boeschenstein wrote:
It is possible to calculate the potential outcome of the cards until the point of the player having a very close notion of the chance to succeed in an action for invasion.


The invasion is not a problem. Actually, it appears that in most of the times it is not even an issue, since having three skills can get you passed almost anything.

The problem is that you also have elements of luck in everything else: the skills available, the attack cards available, the goods in display, the goods that appear (or do not appear).

It is impossible in Stone Age to go get wood and get back with gold. It is possible in Ninjato to go get three fans and get back with the fans and a coin. This is a huge swing and there's only luck involved.[/q]

Boeschenstein wrote:
It is common to see a game in which some inexperienced players reach less than half the points of more experienced players.

It is even common to see a fight for honor points very fierce among the most experienced players, with the winner taking a victory by a few points of difference at the end of the match. angry


This is also common in Stone Age and in almost any game. If you don't know the cards and how they interact, it is common to not make the most sound decisions.

Also, note that I'm not saying that every game of Ninjato will be decided by luck, as skill is a factor also and luck can even out. What I said is that the way luck is handled in the game, it might have a bigger impact in your score than in Stone Age.

What saves Ninjato from derailing is the fact that the other players have some control over the points available. This puts the game on the very good category and makes the whole luck thing manageable, but not on the same level of Stone Age.

Boeschenstein wrote:

I suggest you to try a few more matches of the game, to make it clearer how to master the luck and the points that are being raced. ninja


Let me put it this way: you need several bad turns in Stone Age for the bad luck really hurt your chances in the game. One good or bad swing in Ninjato in a scoring round can make a huge difference. You don't have to play the game several times to notice that.
 
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zinho73 wrote:
kaziam wrote:
So you like Stone Age better?
(Not sure because you seem to side with Ninjato until the last paragraph.)

From what you're saying it sounds like this is a "get one or the other" situation because they are similar.


I like Stone Age better. You sure can have both games.


let me elaborate on this more:

Although it is impossible to me to look at one game and not see the other, I'm very used to play while "x-raying" the mechanisms of a game.

However, because of the theme, the 12-turn clock and the different interactions available between players, the actual playing of the game can feel very different, so it is equally possible for a different player to have a place for both in their collection.

For me, it is not possible, as both games scratch the same itch.

That said, Ninjato is not a mindless clone and I think it is perfectly understandable to prefer one over the other.

Both Ninjato and Stone Age are light worker-placement games with a respectful dose of tactics and strategy in which luck plays a role. In Ninjato I think that luck sometimes plays its role aiming for an oscar.
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Chris Berger
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zinho73 wrote:
Although it is impossible to me to look at one game and not see the other, I'm very used to play while "x-raying" the mechanisms of a game.


Well, if you're "x-raying" the mechanics, you might see that Ninjato isn't really a worker placement game. Or, trying to be a little more diplomatic and ignoring semantics, the way in which the action selection in Ninjato works is a lot different from Stone Age. Don't get me wrong, I agree that Ninjato is very similar to Stone Age in a lot of ways. But one of the biggest ways that they are different is the action selection mechanic.
 
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zinho73 wrote:
In Ninjato I think that luck sometimes plays its role aiming for an oscar.


Best. Luck. Description. Ever.
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arkayn wrote:
zinho73 wrote:
Although it is impossible to me to look at one game and not see the other, I'm very used to play while "x-raying" the mechanisms of a game.


Well, if you're "x-raying" the mechanics, you might see that Ninjato isn't really a worker placement game. Or, trying to be a little more diplomatic and ignoring semantics, the way in which the action selection in Ninjato works is a lot different from Stone Age. Don't get me wrong, I agree that Ninjato is very similar to Stone Age in a lot of ways. But one of the biggest ways that they are different is the action selection mechanic.


The only possible difference i see is the possibility or not to block. But to be honest I found that they are very similar in that too.

Granted, most spaces in Stone Age are blocked if you place a piece there. In Ninjato, the actual action space is free, but the cards are also "blocked" as they are removed from the game.

And the gathering spaces in Ninjato are very similar to the ones in Stone Age: they can either be partially blocked (with some goods removed or some spaces occupied) or completely blocked, if you fight all guards or all spaces are occupied.



 
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hanibalicious wrote:
zinho73 wrote:
In Ninjato I think that luck sometimes plays its role aiming for an oscar.


Best. Luck. Description. Ever.


haha, thanks.
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Chris Berger
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zinho73 wrote:
The only possible difference i see is the possibility or not to block. But to be honest I found that they are very similar in that too.

Granted, most spaces in Stone Age are blocked if you place a piece there. In Ninjato, the actual action space is free, but the cards are also "blocked" as they are removed from the game.


That's not true. The most trivial difference is that the ninja stars don't directly block others' placement there - that's technically why Ninjato isn't listed under the Worker Placement mechanic. Of course, that varies by space.

The houses will either be blocked or not blocked by each star placed on them, regardless of the number of stars there (dependent on the resolution). A partially empty house is not necessarily less valuable than a full house - often the opposite: easy pickings. That's definitely different from the resource gathering spots in Stone Age, where there's a limited number of spaces, and with 3 or less players only N-1 people can place to each one.

The huts and civ cards in stone age work somewhat similarly to the counterparts in Ninjato - when all the cards are taken, they're taken. But the Dojo works in a completely separate way.

The biggest difference, though, is that there's an assignment and a resolution phase in Stone Age, and that means a lot. Just placing out a piece and taking an action is much different from placing out all of your pieces and then resolving them in a variable order (or a set order, like some other worker placement games). It changes a lot of the structure of the game.

I can tell you that I watched a group play Ninjato like it was Stone Age, with a placement and resolution stage, as well as stars placed on houses being blockers (I walked in in the middle of the game, so I had to wait for the next game... while doing so, I read the rules and noticed the error, but I waited until the end of the game to tell them, because I didn't want to ruin the session). It was still an interesting game, but much different.
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Emivaldo Sousa
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Chris,

I get that the resolution structure is quite different, but I fail to see why this makes Ninjato not a worker placement game.

Regardless of resolution order, you still picks up your guy (in that case a shouriken), places it in a spot and executes the action of the spot.

The dojo works a lot like the food space in Stone Age - a place that you can always go to get one of the most useful resources in the game, unimpeded. You have the added function of fighting for first place, but this is also not new in this type of games. Agricola has a spot in which you can be first player and also do other things.

Agricola is also an example of worker placement in which you execute the action imediatelly, not waiting for a resolution phase.

You are right to point out that the mechanism worker placement is not listed on the BGG entry, and I think this is odd.

To me, card drafting is something that happens in games like seven wonders and seasons (and maybe in the dojo action, if you are feeling generous). To me, when you pick up a piece and places it in a area of the board and executes the action allowed by that space, this is worker placement.

It doesn't matter if the action is to buy a card, roll a dice or fight with cards in hand.

What happens when you buy cards and skills in Ninjato is not card drafting. Otherwise, by this logic, the major improvement action in agricola is card drafting. But what do I know...

In any case, I imagine that a game of Ninjato with a different resolution order would be something very different.

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zinho73 wrote:
Agricola is also an example of worker placement in which you execute the action imediatelly, not waiting for a resolution phase.


Which is why Agricola should not be considered a worker placement game, but that's a totally different discussion and one where I am "wrong." (i.e. I accept that the phrase means something different to most people, but am not going to change my own opinion.)
 
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zinho73 wrote:
Chris,
You are right to point out that the mechanism worker placement is not listed on the BGG entry, and I think this is odd.


Ninjato did have worker placement mechanic listed initially, but it got removed because Ninjato is not a worker placement game. "Action Drafting" is another name for worker placement mechanic, and I think it's better because it describes the mechanic more. There must be blocking. It does not make game a worker placement even if the game board has different spots where players can in turn order place their game pieces to commit actions associated with them.
 
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Archvile wrote:
zinho73 wrote:
Chris,
You are right to point out that the mechanism worker placement is not listed on the BGG entry, and I think this is odd.


Ninjato did have worker placement mechanic listed initially, but it got removed because Ninjato is not a worker placement game. "Action Drafting" is another name for worker placement mechanic, and I think it's better because it describes the mechanic more. There must be blocking. It does not make game a worker placement even if the game board has different spots where players can in turn order place their game pieces to commit actions associated with them.


So let me get this straight:
What defines worker placement is not the fact that you place workers (or what have you) in a spot to execute an action. In addition to that you also must have a resolution phase separated from the assigning phase, right?

Or there is something else that I'm losing here?

Fair enough. The more professional things get, more specific is the jargon, but it does remind me a discussion I had with a bank manager once in which he informed me that my birth certificate could not be provided as proof of my date of birth.

Action drafting is something that I would associate with the Conan game or Seasons, where players must chose from an actual pool of actions, effectively removing the action from said pool.

What I do know is, heretic as it might be, I will remain explaining the game as a worker placement game, because it is much more intuitive and simple to explain it that way.

I understand the academic thinking that everything must be have its category even if differences are small, but sometimes you just have to be practical.
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Emivaldo Sousa
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I just saw the Drive Thru review and I found that illustrates our discussion a bit.

From the introduction:
"Ninjato is not exactly a worker placement game..."
Beginning to explain the game:
"Basically you are gonna place one of your throwing stars, they are like your workers..."

In any case, it is a very good review of the game.
 
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I prefer Ninjato myself. I'm blinging with Ninjas.

For me, the theme and the artwork in Ninjato is far more of a crowd pleaser and Stoneage's "stuff" is, well, stuck in the stone ages.

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Well, my point is not that Ninjato isn't a worker placement game. Which is why I backpedaled on that point a little, and probably should have deleted it entirely. My point is that you said that, while the games are thematically divergent, you tend to focus in on the mechanics, and they are too similar to own both. And they do have some very important things in common, but if you really focus in on the mechanics - the core mechanics, the worker placement/action selection of each game, are totally different. Yes, they look superficially similar, but the effect on gameplay is pretty big, to the point that they don't really feel like similar games, despite all the things they share.

That doesn't mean someone can't like one more than the other, and it doesn't mean that they can't be similar for you. But if you're used to "x-raying" the mechanics (I kind of like that phrase), I think that your close inspection will reveal some differences beneath the skin.
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arkayn wrote:
Well, my point is not that Ninjato isn't a worker placement game. Which is why I backpedaled on that point a little, and probably should have deleted it entirely. My point is that you said that, while the games are thematically divergent, you tend to focus in on the mechanics, and they are too similar to own both. And they do have some very important things in common, but if you really focus in on the mechanics - the core mechanics, the worker placement/action selection of each game, are totally different. Yes, they look superficially similar, but the effect on gameplay is pretty big, to the point that they don't really feel like similar games, despite all the things they share.

That doesn't mean someone can't like one more than the other, and it doesn't mean that they can't be similar for you. But if you're used to "x-raying" the mechanics (I kind of like that phrase), I think that your close inspection will reveal some differences beneath the skin.


Got it. Very fair assessment.
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I own and enjoy both, but prefer Ninjato. I think they feel very different and happily have both in my collection. In spite of them both being fairly 'light', Stone Age is my go-to game for teaching 'worker placement' to an inexperienced gamer. I find Ninjato has a few too many little rules to remember for it to work as a gateway game.
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What if, instead of placing shuriken on the board, you just had action cards to play? Like, everyone has their own deck of a dojo, palace, pavilion, sensei, and 5 house cards, and you just play one when you take your turn. Would that make it feel less like a worker placement?

Personally, I'm in the camp that it isn't exactly a worker placement game. Personal feeling, because to me worker placement needs blocking. Otherwise it's just variable actions. People still can steal what you want to get, but you can still take that action. But it does straddle that line, and I definitely understand using that reference to help describe it, but it's really not necessary for the shuriken other than it looks super cool and is fun. Conversely, in a worker placement like Agricola, Kingsburg, Lords of Waterdeep, etc... it IS necessary to place your token on the board to indicate that space has been used. To me, that's the big difference.
 
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