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Subject: Ninjato: A Puzzle Elegantly Cut rss

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Overview

In Ninjato, you play a ninja who is striving for honor over your fellow ninjas. You do this by sneaking or forcing your way into houses, looting them of their valuables, and then using your ill-earned gains to bribe powerful people at court to speak well of you (or, alternatively, to start rumors of your prowess). Along the way you can go to a sensei to learn advanced ninja skills, go to the dojo to refresh your fighting abilities, or bring a house down in ruin to change it to a clan which favors you. And that, in a nutshell, is it. It's elegant. It's beautiful. It's great.

Gameplay

To start off with, you have dojo/combat cards.


These are cards numbered 1-5 which allow you to beat up or sneak past house guards (who also are generally numbered 1-5).


When you enter a house, you can try to be sneaky ninja or attacking ninja. If you choose sneaky ninja, you are trying to play dojo cards lower than the value on the guard. If you're trying to be attacking ninja, you are trying to play dojo cards greater than the value of the guard.

So you sneak past or beat up the guard. Hooray! You get treasure!


But you're not done yet. Now you play my favorite '80s game show


If this is the first time the house is being invaded, it contains 3 treasures and you always collect the treasures in increasing value. So do you take what you've gotten or do you keep going? If you keep going, another guard shows up. And, if you're unlucky, he sets off an alarm which makes the most valuable treasure guarded by an elite (i.e. guaranteed to be difficult) guard. If you keep pressing and run into a guard who defeats you, you're forced to leave with just 1 treasure in hand.

You can also go to a sensei to learn better ninja skills to improve your chances or do sneaky things like taking the treasure of your choice instead of the lowest-value one.

All well and good. So far, fun but not very strategic. And here's where it gets better.

What do you do with your treasure? Well, you bribe people, of course. Specifically, these guys.


There are 3 different clans in play, designated by the 3 different symbols in the upper-right of the card. Each of the people is someone who can represent you in court. It's better to have 2 representatives than 1 and 3 are better than 2, but if everyone has the same, you want the older and more respected representative. And, logically enough, they cost more to bribe. The treasures each require are shown on the bottom of the card.

After designated turns (3/5/7) the houses in play are scored.



The house on the right is worth 2 honor (VPs) to the purple clan. The house on the left is worth 4 honor to the purple clan. And the house on top is worth an illegible amount of honor to the red clan. When it's a scoring round, the player who has the most influence (via their bribed representatives) would choose to take the 6 honor from those 2 houses or a rumor card which is an end-game victory-point multiplier. As long as your clan is anywhere near ascendcy, it seems that taking the honor is the easy answer. Which leads to the last part.... throwing clans into disrepute.

So your opponents have loaded up on bribing representatives from the right clans and now look to score big on the houses. Nothing to do, right? Wrong. You can raid those houses and if you clear it of all of its treasures, bring shame to that clan. This removes the clan VP marker above and instead you replace it with a different clan worth the value of your choosing.

Why do I like this game and why should you play/buy it?
First, I like pretty games. And this game is pretty. The cards, the board, everything is just stylized extremely well. My only criticism here is that you use shuriken as your action markers and the colors were: gray, red, black, and midnight blue. The last two are extremely hard to tell apart, especially in low light. But everything else? Fantastic. Great. But you're not getting a game because it's pretty.

Second, and more importantly, the game gels. Everything in the game makes sense. This was the first time that any of us had played it and I was the only one who had read the rules beforehand but by the third turn, everyone got it. None of the elements of gameplay are wasted. Everything is used and everything fits with everything else. You're learning skills to raid houses. You raid houses to get treasures. You use treasures to bribe officials. And, if you can't bribe them enough, you raid again to destroy the value of those officials. And best of all there's some depth there. You're acting to anticipate and react to the representatives that other people are recruiting. You're either trying to one-up them by getting more influence, or, if that won't work, destroy the value of the clan that they are dominating. It's a nice interaction that raises the game above a simple worker-placement.

I give the game an 8 and am definitely going to try to pull it out again when I sit down at a table next. And I hope you will, too.
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Damien Seb. ●leoskyangel●
Malaysia
Bangsar & PJ
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I play games not to win, it's the gathering that's important - Thanks for the tip Cate108!
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Thanks for the review. The one main thing that made me coming back for this game is the push your luck mechanic. It's fun to call 'banzai' and it's fun to try to gamble your chances. That part made it fresh every time I play the game. I'm currently on my 12th plays count and I'm still not burned out.

Damien
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Don Jarmusch

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Nice review of an overlooked game! I really like everything about Ninjato, but I fear the amount of components scares some away, making it appear more complicated than it is. I find its really quite an elegant design that flows intuitively once the players actually start playing.BANZAI!ninja
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M M
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It is.

I'm generally a bit disliker of bits as they're fussy, tough to keep track of, and generally seem to mask an out-of-control game design. But the amount used in Ninjato doesn't ping that radar for me. I'd call it a very clean game in many respects.
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jonathan schleyer
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Thanks for your review. This game needs more love!
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Glenn D
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One of my favorites...I need to get this to the table again soon.
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Mike Slabon
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Great review for a great game!
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