Once again, we have a great board game review from Alex. Check our Our Authors page for his bio!
Ninjato is a game from Z-Man games. This last weekend I was at a friends house and we managed to give this one a try.
The game is a combination of worker placement and push your luck. Each player is a Ninja working to gain influence over the three clans. The three clans here are represented by colors, blue clan, green clan and red clan.
The object of the game is to score more influence than other player’s. This can be done by either having control of the various clans at the three scoring phases during play or by having more end game multiplier cards, or a combination of the two.
Points are scored three times during the game after round 3, round 5, and the final round of play. After those points are scored at the end of the game player’s get points both for the elite guards they defeat and for any multiplier cards they manage to pick up.
The main mechanic of this game is the house infiltration mechanic. Player’s must either sneak or fight their way into the clan houses to steal valuable treasures from the houses. They do this by defeating guards. Each regular guard has a number on them from 1 to 5. Each player has a handful of cards. These cards number from 1 to 5. Player’s must decide on how they are going to infiltrate the clan house. Once a player decides on their course they cannot change.
The mechanic from here is pretty simple. Player’s may sneak by playing a card that is lower than the guard’s number. So if the guard is a 3 then I could sneak by him by playing a 2 or less. If i wanted to fight that guard I would play a card that was 4 or higher. If you tie, you fail.
Once you’ve defeated that first guard you gain the lowest value treasure in the house. Now the press your luck begins. You can call banzai and keep going. Now another guard is revealed and you must continue to sneak or fight depending on what you chose. So if I had tried to sneak past the first guard I must sneak past this guard as well. If a guard card comes up that raises the alarm then a treasure is added to the house and the highest treasure becomes red. To steal this treasure I must defeat an elite guard.
Elite guards gain you victory points at the end of the game if you can sneak or fight your way through them. But their numbers range from 6 to 0. Some of these elite guards are actually two guards and you must have two cards in hand to defeat them.
You can keep doing this until you are out of cards or you fail. If you fail and have more than one treasure you’ve gained you lose them all except the lowest. If you manage to steal all the treasures from the house you have shamed that house and can now install a new clan in the house. This allows you to change the color and points of the clan that controls this house. There are clan tokens that you may choose from to replace the one you just defeated.
The treasures you steal are your currency for buying cards. You can use the treasures to bribe clan envoys. The player with the most clan envoys wins the points for that clan during the scoring round. If there is a tie in the number of cards, then the player with the eldest envoy wins.
Your cards are a finite resource. You start with 4 cards in your hand from 1 to 5. You will need to take an action to get more cards.
There are also special powers available from the sensei that allow you to modify your cards during the infiltration. These powers allow you to get your cards higher than 5 and lower than 0. Tiger style has powers that increase your cards value for fighting like +2 to the card value and changing a card to a 6. Crane style allows you to be more fluid in your attack allowing you to play a card as if it were a 2 or a 4 or even to switch from fighting to sneaking during the course of an infiltration. Snake style allows for better sneaking giving you the cards that can be 0 or a -2 to a card played.
Overall the game was a lot of fun and went quickly. The push your luck mechanic is not devastating here but can put a crimp in your plans. You may be trying to change the color of a house before a scoring round only to draw a lot of alarm guards and run out of cards during your infiltration. You may run into an elite guard and not have any powers left to defeat him.
There is some luck also in what clan cards come up so competition for what houses to control and what cards to take makes each game unique. There is a lot of luck here so those adverse to luck should beware. Also those that don’t like worker placement should probably avoid it.
The game though is a lot of fun in my opinion if you can handle the luck. The player interaction here is from the struggling to control the houses on the board. There is no direct way to attack another player so you’ll have to settle for trying to see what they are doing and throwing a wrench in their plans as the game progresses.