Ninja Taisen is a tale of two cities(well villages really) that hate each other. Despite a lush valley between them, citizens from both villages are hell-bent on wiping out their rivals. In this two-player game from Iello, each player will take control of one of the villages and march their ten warriors towards the enemy using rock/paper/scissors attacks. The first team to reach the rival village, or the last team left standing wins the game.
Ninja Taisen is played over a series of rounds. The board is created by placing the nine battlefield tiles between the two village tiles. Players set up their villages with their Chief on their village and three random cards below them. On the next battle card in, they place three random warrior cards, the next two warriors, and finally the last is placed on the third tile from their village. Each of the warriors has a strength of one, two, or three, and a power of paper, rock, or scissors. The Chief has a strength of four and all three different strengths (how do you think they got the job?).
On a turn, players roll three dice, each relating to one of the three strengths. Then one at a time they’ll activate the dice to move a ninja or ninjas toward the opponent’s village. When advancing ninjas, you can choose one that has others stacked on it (up to two). In that case you move the whole stack without changing the order. If the battlefield tile your ninjas arrive on already has some of your own forces on it, you add the new reinforcements to the existing stack.
If at the end of any of your advancements there are warriors on either side of the battle tile, then friend, you got yourself a fight. Only the topmost warriors are involved. Regardless of strength, paper will beat rock, rock will beat scissors…well you know how it goes. If the warriors are of the same power, then the higher strength wins the fight. If those are the same, then each is pushed back a space. If a Chief is involved in a battle they are considered the same power as the warrior they’re facing off against. If they win the battle their strength is temporarily reduced by the number of the warrior they defeated. So, if a Chief (strength four) faces of against a warrior (strength two), they’ll win the encounter, but be a strength two for the next battle of the round. At the start of the following round they’ll return to their normal strength.
The battle continues in this fashion until only one player has warriors remaining on the tile. If the active player has any unused dice they’ll repeat the whole process, executing any battles that occur along the way.
Ninja Taisen has an interesting cat-and-mouse element to it, as players work to stack their forces for a favourable battle. They need to see how the opposition is aligning their army and plan their attack carefully. Once the battle begins, it’s out of the players’ hands.
The art in this game by Florent Maudoux and Shigeto Murata is quite lovely. From the different ninja warriors to the battlefield tiles between the two villages, everything has a look of very classical Japanese art, with just a touch of anime to it.
Ninja Taisen is from the Iello Mini Game line. It fits perfectly a light-weight, portable addition to any collection. Although there are some differences, it shares a lot in common with another excellent two-player title in the line, Schotten Totten. That’s not a bad thing at all, but unless you’re a completist, you might not need both in your collection.