Board games for couples: Ninja

Time for something different in our board games for couples reviews. Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan is a hidden movement game for 2-4 players that by most accounts works best with 2. My wife is a rogue at heart, so we were excited to give this one a shot.


Complexity: medium

Setup can be slow, as each player needs to choose cards and locations on the board (some in secret).

Gameplay consists of one player controlling one or two intruders (ninja and traitor) seeking objectives within a castle (eg stealing or assassinating), with the other player controlling 20 or so guards attempting to prevent such. Complexity is fairly low for the guard player, who initially is waiting for the intruder player to make a move (revealing their approximate location) and thereafter is chasing shadows, making educated guesses as to where the intruders are hiding.

In our games, the intruder player had a lot more strategy to consider, factoring in the guard player’s next turn and juggling number of squares moved with risk of being heard. Analysis paralysis can easily result when the pressure is on. In an effort to speed the game up, we tried playing without the traitor, but found that much less balanced.

Adding to complexity, we found that the rules were not always clear and did not cover a lot of edge cases that arose, which was frustrating.

Interaction: very low

Possibly the worst part about Ninja for us is the lack of interaction, which we might have expected from a hidden movement game. The intruder player is practically playing on a different board, glancing at the main one but otherwise spending most of the game looking at a private map where moves are secretly recorded.

Unfortunately, this provides little to no feedback for the guard player during the intruder’s (possibly long) turns. There’s no indication of progress such as “thinking out loud” or moving pieces around. Often, the interaction is: “OK, I’m done” with nothing apparently having changed. At least played cards are revealed, which helps a little.

Confrontation: medium

Ninja is not a collaborative game. One player’s characters are trying to reveal and kill the other’s, so there’s definitely some confrontation. But it’s not the kind of confrontation where we hated each other after playing, and that’s a good thing.

Length: 45 120 minutes

The box misleadingly claims 45 minutes, but even after several play-throughs, our games were taking at least 2 hours. That’s a tad too long to fit comfortably in our “after the kids are in bed” sweet spot.

Value: low

At ~$45, this is the most expensive of our reviewed games so far. Some of the components were disappointing (eg screens being too small, some colours printed wrong).

Overall

Ninja was definitely a disappointment for us. We really want to like it, but our experience has been relatively silent back-and-forths stretching longer than we would like. Hardly ideal for a couples game. There were also gameplay issues, like being powerless to do anything when cards run out: “I know where you are, but I have no cards left to catch you.” Even poor strategy shouldn’t totally kill the fun.

It’s not all bad. We liked that there is limited randomness to the game (no dice, for example) and the tradeoff of moving quickly vs making noise. Though other reviews suggest otherwise, it might be fun to play with another couple.

View more board games for couples reviews.

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