Ninja <Legend of the Scorpion Clan> has sat on my shelf for a while. I hate to let games do that. It eats at me, gnawing away at the part of me that likes to get them play-tested and blogged about promptly. The crazy thing was that I wanted to play this game. My players, however, found this one to be rather intimidating, so it sat there with me periodically begging that we bite the bullet and get this one reviewed.
Why was it so intimidating? Well, it could have been the 16 page rulebook, or it could have been the complicated looking board and game pads.
When I first opened the box, it was the game pads that my players first honed in on. ”Oh God, that reminds me a lot of the Diplomacy pad.”, one of them said. You see, while we all think the game Diplomacy is the bee’s knees, we have played it for 10+ hours straight before, with no winner remotely in sight. Thus, my players have become a little jaded about games of that nature. So the game sat, receiving sneers and askance glances every time it was mentioned. I knew I had to take action in order to make this happen.
Typically rule reading with my group happens in one of two possible ways:
- We wait and read the rules together. People moan and groan about getting through the rules, but then everyone knows all of the rules.
- I read the rules and figure out the game and then teach it to the others. However, this results in small details being forgotten along the way (after all, I haven’t played before either!) and then people moan and groan when I suddenly remember something I had forgotten. Or we look up a rule and realize we were playing something wrong.
… given the 16 page rulebook, and my players reluctance, the only way I was going to get them to come to the gaming table with this was to read the rules ahead of time. Thus, little things were forgotten. Normally this can be mitigated by the existence of a reference card, unfortunately, one did not come with the game. So I did my best, and with lots of referencing of the rulebook, I got us going.
Ninja, Legend of the Scorpion Clan is a game that pits a ninja and a traitor against guards in a “track them down and kill them” sort of way. The “track them down” part is a key element of this game, and the whole reason for the game pads, because the ninja and traitor pieces are not placed on the board. Instead they move around in secret, being super stealthy and hard to find. After all, ninja, right?. This mechanic is almost identical to the one found in Scotland Yard, which is a game I really enjoy, so I was all jazzed up.
The ninja and traitor start the game each with an objective, such as “poison the well” or “kill the honored guest” that they must complete. The problem is that they must locate the well/honored guest/etc, do their task, and get back out alive. This is a little easier said than done. However, the ninja has a few tricks up their sleeve. First off, the ninja and traitor know the location of a secret tunnel on the premises (because they gets to determine the entrance and exit to it as part of the set up of the game), this will let them move around the board lightening fast, or make a quick escape. Secondly, they also have a handful of cards that they can play on the guards.
The guards start the game off with eight sentry guards, three patrols (of two guards each), two traps set, two hidden sentries, and eight sleeping men in the barracks, standing at the ready. It’s a well fortified area, so slipping in and out undetected is not likely to happen.
So my players set up all of their goodies. We were playing two on two, the boys were playing the guards, and us girls were playing as the ninjas. Because there were two of us, I got to play the head ninja, and my partner played the traitor. The first mistake of the night, was that I initially forgot to tell the guards about the sleeping guys in the barracks. By the beginning of turn two, I remembered and we got that fixed, but of course, there was the before mentioned moaning and groaning.
Within approximately the first three turns, griping began about combat. Each of the guards have one hit point. The ninja has three hit points. The traitor has two hit points. The boys who were playing the guards thought this was quite unfair.
“But you have like 20 guys on the board, and we have two, how is that unfair!?”, I asked. ”Because we have to track you down and find you. You can just run up and kill us. We would need a cluster of three guards to take you out.”. They seemed to fail to realize that a cluster of three guards is not an unthinkable thing, given that they had nearly 20 guys on the board.
Later, in an effort to track my partner and I down, the boys performed a “listen” move. They were close by, and thus would have heard me move, but my partner quickly played a card called “It was a cat”, which was suppose to negate them from hearing anything. ”Yeah, but we heard the cat, so we are going to go looking!” You see, normally when you try to listen for the ninja or traitor, and you hear something, you get to go investigate the sound. With “It was just a cat” the guards heard something, but they blow it off as nothing. I tried to explain this to the guards which led to me being frustrated and they thinking we were cheating.
The game continued like this for a while, until they found me, and did manage to kill me. But it was only round 7, and the rules claim that if you are killed before round 10, the first ninja was merely a “decoy” for the real ninja who then gets to enter the board. Basically, you get a reset, because the game wouldn’t be much fun if it ended that quickly. There was more murmurings of foul play by the guards.
The second ninja was able to get in and get the job done, and so was our traitor, although just by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin’s. I could take one more blow, and then I was a dead woman. My partner was in a very similar situation. Luckily, they lost track of me, and I managed to get off the board in mostly one piece. We had won, but barely. However, the guards didn’t see it that way.
“It was really unbalanced!”
“There was nothing we could do to stop you!”
“The ninja’s are always going to win!”
I didn’t quite see it that way, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was hard to be a guard. The next game, I would definitely play as a guard so that I could see it from their perspective.
So a couple of nights later, I managed to talk Tristan into playing this with me. I was adamant that I needed to play as the guards, and that was fine with him. Who doesn’t like being a ninja? Because we were playing a two player game, I controlled all of the guards, and he controlled both the Traitor and the ninja, otherwise the game was exactly the same.
It didn’t take very long to teach him the rules and get him going, which I found to be a pleasant surprise, and this time I remembered all of the rules on the first go. It didn’t take long for me to initially find his ninja, and I got off an early hit. But then he disappeared back into the shadows. His traitor however stomped around pretty loudly allowing me to find him and slaughtered him and his reincarnation before the end of turn seven.
Wow, I already had one intruder down and now only the ninja was left. What were the boys complaining about? This really wasn’t that hard! As the game wore on, it did get harder though. The ninja managed to move slowly and cautiously, which lowered the alert level and thus shortened the number of cards I got. As the cards in my hand dwindled I found that right at the end, I really didn’t have much that I could use to effectively stop the ninja. Ultimately though, I have to chalk this up to the fact that I didn’t ration my cards very well. Early in the game I was spending cards as quick as I could, in an effort to track the ninja and traitor down.
In the end, Tristan managed to complete his ninja’s goal of killing my honored guest, and got himself off the board. But given that I killed his traitor, the game was considered a tie. But we were both okay with that outcome. I clearly saw things I could have done better, and so did he, which could make future rematches very interesting.
In the end, I think the boys were largely whiny about losing to us girls. Yes, the game gets harder for the guards, but it gets harder for the ninja’s team as well. Ultimately I really liked this game. It had the same flavor as Scotland Yard, but with more depth and general complexity. The added mechanics led to a world more of strategy, and I think adds more replay value.