Dale Yu: Review of Ninja Taisen


Ninja Taisen

  • Designer: Katsumasa Tomioka
  • Publisher: IELLO
  • Players: 2
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: ~20 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by IELLO

Ninja Taisen “is a card game for two players that draws on the famous roshambo in a more strategic atmosphere”.   My goal in this review is to improve upon this succinct one line review found on the back of the box.

In the game, the two players are the leaders to two neighboring villages that truly hate each other, and each is prepared to annihilate the other in battle along the path with connects the two towns.  They each have long Japanese names that don’t exactly roll off my tongue, and rather than have to copy and paste them all throughout this review, I’ll refer to them as I would in the game – the Wolf village and the Monkey village – these are the two icons that represent them in the game anyways.

The board is a 11 card path.  The monkey village at one end, the wolf village at the other, and 9 path cards found in between them.  As the village leader, you have control over 10 ninja (cards)… 3 ninjitsu (red = Scissors), 3 youjutsu (green = paper), 3 kenjutsu (blue = rock) and 1 shogun (wild).  Your goal is to either reach the enemy village and take control of it OR to eliminate all the ninjas from your hated neighbor rivals.

In setup, the two villages and the path are placed on the board.  Each player places their shogun in the area beneath their village.  The other 9 ninja cards are then shuffled, and 3 cards are placed on top of the shogun, 3 cards placed in the first path space, 2 cards in the second path space, and the remaining card in the third path space.  A start player is chosen, and that player takes the three dice – there is one die for each of the three ninja colors.

On a turn, the active player rolls all the dice. Then, he must choose one of the dice and move a ninja card of the matching color towards the enemy village.  The number on the die (1, 2 or 3) tells you how many spaces to move.  You may not choose a ninja card that has more than two ninjas on top of him in the stack.  If you choose to move a ninja with other cards on top of it, you pick up the chosen ninja card and move it AND the one or two cards on top of it to the destination.  Once movement is complete, then you see if there is combat.

If your movement ends on a space where there are some enemy ninjas on the other side of the path, there is a fight – and this fight will continue until one stack of ninjas is defeated.  In a fight, only the topmost card in the stack is considered.  The initial fight is based on the roshambo (or rock-paper-scissors) idea.  The initial fight is based on color, and if the colors are different, just figure out who wins RPS.  If the colors match (a wild Shogun is always considered a color match), then you look at the number strength of the ninja; the higher number wins.  If the Shogun is in the fight, his strength (which starts at 4) is temporarily reduced by the strength of any opponent that he defeats.  His strength will reset to 4 if he survives to the end of the round.  If the colors are the same and the number values are also tied, the fight is a draw, and both tied Ninjas move backwards one space (towards their home village) leaving the rest of the Ninjas in the original battlefield there to continue fighting.  The fight goes on until only one stack of Ninjas is left on the battlefield.  Then, check to see if any Ninjas that retreated caused battles (because they moved into spaces also occupied by the opponent).  If so, resolve those battles in the same way.  Keep going until all the fighting is done.

Then, once all the dust has settled, you now have the option to choose one of the remaining dice and do it all over again.  If you choose not to do so (or if you are out of dice to choose), then your turn ends.  Pass the dice to your opponent so he can take his turn.

The game continues on until either you have defeated ALL of the opponent’s Ninja cards OR you have reached the opponent’s Village tile AND you are able to defeat all the ninjas left in that space.  Note that at the start of the game, a player’s Shogun and three ninjas all start on the village – so it can be a crowded place!

My thoughts on the game

I had never played the original version of the game, published in 2014 by minimal games, but I do know a few people who picked it up that year at Essen, and they had positive reviews of it back then.   Ninja Taisen is a great 2 player filler, and part of me is sad that I missed it for 3 years. I’d say that most games take 10 to 15 minutes.  The action in this one is fast and furious.   There are some times when the game slows down a little if someone tries to work out the intricate sequelae of a huge fight, but I usually end up just going by feel and throwing my stack of Ninjas into the fight and then seeing what happens.   I can generally parse a battle with no more than five or six cards – anything more than that, and I end up just being surprised.

There is a bit of push and pull to the game.  On one hand, you’d like to get your ninjas moving forward toward the enemy village as that is one way to win the game.  However, you can’t move forward too fast because there really is no way to make a step backwards in the game other than having an exact tie in a battle, and for that, you only get to move backwards a single space.  So… if you push too far ahead, you could be exposed at your village, and a couple of nice dice rolls could land an opponent ninja in your village without you having any defense!

The artwork on the cards and the path tiles is very nice and brings about the theme of ancient Japan well.  Interestingly, the art on the game components does NOT match the more cartoon-y art found on the box.  I’m not sure why there’s a disparity between the two, because usually the art on the outside matches the inside.  I actually prefer the style found on the game components, so I tend to see my preferred style anyways.  Just wanted to give you a word of warning in case you see the box in the store and hope that the art inside matches.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the Mini Games line that IELLO has put out over the past few seasons. They are mostly games reprinted from Japan or the Far East, and they all pack a lot of punch in a small package.  While I’ve had a good time playing this one, it will end up being near the bottom of the list of this series for me.  Not because the game isn’t good (or even great) but mostly because it’s a 2-player ONLY game, and I honestly have very little time/desire/cause to play games with just 2.  If I played games for two, this would likely stay in the collection – but I’ll try to give this to one of my friends who will play it more often.   Quality games like this deserve to be played, and I’d like to find this one a home where it will get the play it deserves.


Until your next Appointment

The Gaming Doctor


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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