Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ninja Legend of the Scorpion Clan Review

Another new game that I had a chance to play was Ninja-Legend of the Scorpion Clan. It is an intriguing game of an almost spy vs. spy nature, and is made by the same people who created Legend of the 5 Rings. The object of the game is for the Ninja and her accomplice, the Traitor to complete their 2 secret missions while the Guards attempt to stop them.  It truly is a very strategic multiplayer game, and a good way to spend an hour or so.  Thank you to all the hard workers at the AEG booth at Gen Con, who made sure that their retailers would have a chance to try out their new games before release!
This game is different than anything I have ever personally played, and the reasons for that are numerous. First of all, Ninja is probably one of the few games that plays well as not only a 2 or 4 player, but equally well (if not better!) as a 3 player.  Secondly, the fact that each player is responsible for their own actions but can still confer with other "allied" members is something not often seen in boardgames these days. Finally, the idea of each player requiring an individual (included) map to mark locations of either enemies or objectives is a very distinct feature, which I feel AEG has most definitely hit the spot on. But perhaps I should show you instead...

OPENING THE BOX

When you first open Ninja's box, the first items you see are the board and the 4 maps.  Underneath those is the 16-page rulebook, and finally the 27 miniatures, 4 decks, 6 mission objective cards, and 4 player privacy screens.  All of this is stored in a standard plastic box, although the outer cardboard box is sturdier than other comparable games. When you open the board for the first time, you'll see it is a tile-like foldout board, similar to Memoir '44 or Battle Cry.  Along the side is a descending group of 20 circles, which shows the turns of the game.  Underneath that is the Turn Order box, a handy reference for what each turn consists of.  Last is the 4 Alert Levels, which go from None to High.  You'll also notice that while the board is a beautifully rendered "blueprint" of a noble castle and gardens, there are faint blue and yellow dividing lines crossing its surface.


These are important for the maps which each player needs to fully enjoy the game.  Each player, whether Guard, Ninja or Traitor has a paper map on which to draw (about 25 map sheets per pad).  These are used to figure out where objectives are hidden, where the secret tunnel is, and which areas still need to be searched. Of course, it would not do to have a Guard see what the Traitor has marked off, even (ahem) accidentally...so the player screens are a must as well!
The plastic miniatures are also fairly well-crafted and are different colors for easy referencing, especially as the colors match up with the player screens. 


There are 20 tan and brown guards (10 with spears, 10 with swords), 1 red Traitor, 1 black Ninja and 3 yellow Drunk Guards.  There are also 2 silver Lanterns, 1 for placing on the current Turn Circle and current Alert Level.  

NOTE: Whereas the Guard cards have a tan Lion symbol on them and use corresponding tan/brown miniatures, the deck colors for the Traitor and Ninja are altered.  Thus, the Traitor miniature is red but uses the black Scorpion deck, and the Ninja miniature is black but uses the red Scorpion deck.  I don't know if this was intentional, but thought it should be pointed out!


PLAYING THE GAME
Now that everything has been explained, let's discuss game play.  As noted before, this can be a 2, 3 or 4 player game.  If it is 2 player, 1 person controls the Guards and 1 person controls the Traitor and Ninja. For 3 player, 1 person controls the Guards, and the Traitor and Ninja are split. The Guards are split as well, if you play with 4 people. 

First, set up your board and draw your cards.  Ninja takes 8 of the 12 cards available, Traitor takes 7 of the 10, and Guards take 24 of the 36 for their hands.  However, the remaining 12 Guard cards are kept out as a Draw deck.  No cards are to be shared with enemy players, and each deck has cards that are specific to the character using them.  For example, only Guards can play Listen cards, only the Traitor can use Potent Sake cards, and only the Ninja can play Shuriken cards.

Then, 8 individual Guards are posted as sentries, while the remaining Guards are grouped into patrols of 2.  Due to the wording of the cards, it is very advantageous to mix patrols (aka have 1 sword Guard and 1 spear Guard  per patrol).  The Traitor and Ninja miniatures are NOT placed on the board, and won't be for most of the game, but keep them nearby for when the Guards do find them. 

The Guard player takes her map and marks off the locations of 8 sleeping guards as well as 2 Traps, 2 Hidden Sentries, and the locations of the 6 Mission Goals (A thru F) that the Traitor and Ninja will be trying to find. They must ALWAYS be placed in their own zone. The Ninja and Traitor mark off their starting positions according to the rules, as well as the entrance and exit of the Secret Tunnel.  Place 1 Lantern on the lowest Alert Level, and 1 on the first Turn Circle. Now you are completely set up!

The game gets more complicated as it progresses, and players attempt to stay 1 step ahead of each other, but the Turn Orders always remain the same;

1. Alert Phase- Guard player draws cards corresponding to the current level of alert. The alert level then drops by 1, and the Guard plays any of the drawn cards she wants.

2. Guards Card Phase- Guard player uses cards for special effects.

3. Guards Patrol Phase- All patrols that are able to be moved or changed are moved.

4. Intruders Phase- The Ninja and Traitor make their secret moves, play whichever cards they can, and searches for their Mission Goals.

Although there are many different cards to be played, strategies to use and decisions to make every time the game is played, the Phases must be completed in order.  You cannot move onto the next Phase until the previous one is finished, no matter what.  So, even though your friend is going to spring a Trap on your Ninja or Kenjutsu your Guard, at least you'll know they have to wait their turn...

And there you have it, another wonderful game by our friends at AEG!  Ninja-Legend of the Scorpion Clan is a great game for more experienced players.  On a gamer learning scale (1=extremely new to gaming, 10=gaming professional) I would rate Ninja as a solid 7.  While not the most difficult of boardgames to learn, it does have several nuances that make it an inappropriate "first" for those who are new to board or card games. 

Like most of the games I review, we do have a copy of Ninja in our game library, so if you're in the Poughkeepsie area stop by and play!

Stasi "Dengirl" King

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