Review: Ninja – Legend of the Scorpion Clan

Fortress was just bathing in the glow of sunset, when an owl sitting silenty on birch in a moat could watch a shadow, as it was running through the trees. With incredibly graceful leap it jumped at the drawbridge. Just in the same while, there came a sound of winch. The entire wooden structure began to rise, leaving impassable chasm of water behind.

The bridge snapped into place, where he seal the only gateway leading inside. Dark shadow dressed all in black swiftly climbed down and landed on narrow grass surrounding a stone wall. Its height would be overwhelming for any normal mortal. It towered at least twenty feet high. It was occasionally decorated with guard towers. Guards in them were just litting their lanterns with a mirror, so they can search the surrounding area for any intruders.

Inside it was calm and quiet. Most of the guards went to sleep, gaining strength for their part of the night service. Only a few patrols followed their tour on the prescribed route. Another guards stood silently in places, where forged door lead from garden into crown chambers.

The silence did not change even, when intruders feet touched the ground. He pushed himself automatically to the wall and began planning his move. He must get inside as quickly as possible, get the things he was sent for and then run the same way back. The only obstacles are now unforeseen circumstances. Hoping that his contact inside made all preparations for his arrival, he slipped between the low trees and disappeared into the night.

A situation, in which two irreconcilable enemies confronts themself are quite often in life and also in board games. Now it is time to introduce another game like this coming from Belgium. It is called and its emergence is work of known designer Fréderic Moyersoen. Game was introduced at the last fair Spiel four months ago, and is set in the popular world of Legend of the Five Rings. You could find it on the display stand of Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), which is responsible for its publication and distribution.

The artwork on the box alone creates a spy atmosphere. Drawing is very dark and full of shadows. In these shades, the players will move, but before we dive into them together, we get back on the light for a while. Here we can well see the entire contents of the box.

AEG is known for its card games Thunderstone and Nightfall, so you will be surprised, when you find along with the brochure massive folding game plan just under the lid. With joy we can look at the map of fortress, which secrets will be your target.

Four individual screens are also large in size. Two of them are identical and so you get three types – one for guardian, one for ninja and the last one for the traitor, a third role in this Ninja game. The screens are wearing three different logos, but on the other hand, are completely empty. From the thin sheets laid under them, you will snap six large sheets out. They represent missions for the attacker.

In the nicely prepared cartridge, you will find conveniently stored a pair of thick notebooks with printed map of the entire fort. The second compartment is full of cards, which are split accordingly to the back side into smaller attackers deck and larger defender deck. This time you won’t find any tokens. In a plastic bag, there is hidden a a nice pile of different figures, which will move over the board, instead.

created also Nuns on the Run and Van Helsing, which were both based on hidden move mechanics. This little one also remotely resembles popular Scotland Yard or Fury of Dracula. Yet every game is somehow different from each other. In case of Ninja, the difference is visible almost right away.

Ninja is the type of game, where players graze something quietly with a pencil behind their screen. But this time it does not limit only to bad guy himself. The secret preparation is waiting also for the defender, as we will see in just a few moments.

At the beginning of the game, each player takes his screen and hides his notebook here. We will describe a game for two players, because this is the number, which the game is made for and also number, in which you will be most entertained. The attacker takes also traitor and ninja figurines and card decks. He splits it according to the back to ninja and traitor deck – these two decks must be kept separate. In addition to that, he draws two from six missions. They are marked with letters A – F. Traitor gets one and the other gets ninja.

Defender also needs preparation. He takes all pieces of guards, with eight of them he creates stationary guards. He can choose from a total of twelve locations on the map. In addition, he will also form two groups of patrol, which have their fixed route marked on the map using the feet symbols. He can put them anywhere on the path. He takes deck of cards, although a lot bigger than his opponent. Neither player, however, is able to pick up all cards. Picking up the rest is allowed only in specific situations. In addition, played cards cannot be used again!

Together, you can now begin to scribble in your notebook hidden behind the screen. The attacking player will note only the starting position of both his characters together with start and end of a secret passage. This tunnel will be known only to him. And what about the defender?

He will first determine distribution of missions across the two connected rooms inside the mansion. Together with these six letters, he will add also hidden traps and hidden guard there. These missions has to be discovered by the sneaking ninja or deceitful traitor. He will then divide the rest of his soldiers into the eight barracks buildings, where they are sleeping. There are only on paper now and the attacker has no idea of their distribution.

The actual map between the players is ready with the guards deployment. Final touches are to put both lanterns on it – one on the turn indicator and the second on the alert level. Now, finally, darkness fell and a duel between an unsuspecting watchers of fortress and sneaking ninja can begin.

But where in the game is the role of a traitor, you may ask. The attacker controls both of them, ninja and a traitor. Each, however, can only fulfill their mission and not the other. Of course, they can (and will) help out each other. The tasks of both sides are clear. While the defender must resist for predetermined number of twenty rounds, the attacker must fulfill both his missions and escape from the fort, before his appointed time expires.

Game plan itself is primarily the domain of the defender. The attacker will most of the time just scribble something behind the screen, muttering something strangely and occasionally play an action card. Therefore, it is a mystery to us, where the great atmosphere, that accompanies the game, comes from.

As we have already indicated a moment ago, the game is divided into twenty rounds. The defender plays as first followed by the attacker. At the beginning of the round, there is a part called Alarm phase, which occurs only if the guards were aroused by something in the previous rounds. Under such conditions the defender gets a chance to draw cards from his deck and play them instantly. This is really a great advantage and the attacker should try to avoid all leads to the alarm, if possible.

Defender then continues his turn and can play any card from his hand. But each of the guards or patrols can get only one action card per round. Otherwise the number of cards played is not limited. Cards can be basically divided into four categories: listen, awaken, search and attack. When doing the search, guard can move up to two fields in any direction. You can also play awaken to add new guards from their barracks to the board, compile or redistribute existing patrols.

Most important is the listening action. It allows the guard to hear the movement of an intruder from a distance. How far can he be heard, depends only on how fast the attacker moved in the previous round. If creeping, then the guard will hear him only from the neighboring square, walking ninja increases the hearing distance to two and running already to three spaces radius. Of course, the player does not need only a good timing, but also luck – he must play the card on the right guard, when he suspect, the enemy might be nearby. At the end of his actions, the defender moves all his patrols in the direction of their track by two zones.

In any case, sooner or later, one of the intruders will start to for their tasks. This brings us to turn of the attacker, whose task is simple – move his characters forward. He can decide, how fast and where will they move. Besides the already mentioned crawling, walking and running, they can also overcome the wall with ropes. But in this case, as in other special situations, attacker must play a card and tell his intentions to the rival. The rope will remain in place until the end of the game and can be used by both intruders.

In addition, of course, the ninja as well as traitor can move and attack the guards and kill them. We’ve completely missed the offensive action cards in the description of the defender turn. The cards have the same function for both players. The moment the sentry can detect an intruder, it can attack with this card. But unlike the guards, which have just one hit, attackers have more lives and can withstand more blows.

More interesting, however, are the moments, when character finally reach the fort. At that time, they will begin the search for their task. A player can always search (= ask the defender) all the rooms, which his character went through that turn – a maximum of two. From a tactical point of view, he will not ask about a place, where his right now, so he could not be found too easily.

From the perspective of the attacker, this is the most challenging part of the game. Because beneath the walls, there are also guards and traps hidden, which will raise an alarm instantly, give their position up and leave the opponent a chance for attack in the next round.

If the guards hit the attacker several times, character can die. If the game is still in its first half, then the attacking player may re-enter the map with this character from anywhere. But if the game is at least in the eleventh round, then he the intruder is killed for sure and the attacker can hope only for a tie – to meet one of the two tasks.

Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan is a really pleasant surprise for us. When first studying the mechanism of the game, we were concerned, that it will be too similar to already issued games with the secret movement and also that it will be harmed by the lack of direct confrontation on the board. But eventually everything is different.

The game has an incredibly dense atmosphere. Each move has its major consequences, and because both players have only a portion of all available information, there is a constant distrust between rivals. And in that ignorance on both sides is probably hidden that irresistible charm, that will force you to play Ninja again.

Even before explaining the rules, we wrote that Ninja is best with two players and it is really so. For three players, it is still a very good game – the attacking side will split control over ninja and traitor. Of course, someone who likes whispering of secrets, will like this. But for us, it worked better, when both characters were moved by one player alone.

In four players, the division will happen also on the other side – each player gets half of guards. And unfortunately it does not work as it should, because the constant talking significantly delays the game. Both changes to player number weakens the great atmosphere, because the notebook maps are still only two and a feeling of mystery somehow vanishes from the game.

Of course, the attacker must have a good system in marking characters position on his paper map. The rules provide very helpful advice for this, which is good to follow. You’ll use color or label prefix for character (T, N) and a number to mark turn, when you moved there. Underlining indicates the speed of movement.

Twenty rounds are quite sufficient and it is exactly on the verge of victory for both sides. Although it may initially seem, it’s plenty of time for the attacker, it’s not so easy with unexpected events and the guards zigzagging. Yet the whole game fits quite well within an hour (if somewhat familiar, and players will not think too long) and that’s great.

Action cards on both sides give the game another level of strategy. At first, it is only the movement of characters on the board. There should be very careful connection with playing cards. For example, if the defender listens and moves his guards too much in the opening moves, he will be able only to watch as the attackers are slipping through his fingers, at the end of the game.

If you were concerned about replayability of Ninja, then you can relax. Letters of missions are always different and so are the ways, the attacker enters the map. That means every game is different and remains exciting after many plays. In our games, we found playing as defender a little bit harder, but it was a narrow victory. So it seems that the game is quite nicely balanced and both sides have similar chances of winning.

Game presentation in really beautiful. First of all, pieces are made in great detail, and even an indicator of turns is not a mere token, but lantern miniature. Similarly, the cards have very nice illustrations on them. Unfortunately, despite great treatment of all components, we have found a few minor shortcomings. The first is incomprehensible colors on the back of the card of traitor and ninja – they are not matching the color of miniatures. It confuses players, especially in the first games.

We regred the empty back of player screens. Instead of basically traditional clues to the game, you will get only monolithic surface color here. It’s a pity, because now you have to consult the manual about some questions. Of course, again, only the first games would be affected. Yet it is an unnecessary neglect in the final design of otherwise great game.

Notebooks with maps are quite thick and you do not have to worry, that they would run out soon. On the website of AEG, you can download digital form, so you can print new ones. The map is identical with that in the game plan. It is possible to easily navigate and it is large enough to accommodate all notes.

The game will be enjoyed the most by players, who like good atmosphere and conflicts. In Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan, you cannot be sure by anything, because not everything is as it seems. You can only trust your instincts, because around every corner any danger may lurk. You will need all your senses ready to the max, while playing this game!

DesignerFréderic Moyersoen
ArtistConceptopolis, Llyn Hunter, Yutthapong Kaewsuk, MuYoung Kim, Jorge Matar, Florian Stitz
PublisherAlderac Entertainment Group
Year Published2011
# of Players2 - 4
User Suggested # of Players Best with 4 players
Recommended with 2, 3 players
(32 voters)
Playing Time45
Mfg Suggested Ages12 and up
User Suggested Ages12 and up
(5 voters)
Language DependenceModerate in-game text - needs crib sheet or paste ups
(10 voters)
CategoryDeduction, Fantasy, Miniatures
MechanicArea Movement, Hidden Movement, Secret Unit Deployment, Team-Based Game
ExpansionNinja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan – Himeji expansion
FamilyComponents: Miniatures, Mechanism: Hidden Movement, Setting: Legend of the Five Rings, Theme: Ninjas
Primary NameNinja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan
Alternate Names忍者:蠍一族の伝説

Infos courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Infos.

Review: Ninja – Legend of the Scorpion Clan
Final word
Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan is the best adaptation of hidden movement games, we have played since our board game review journey has started. The whole game is accompanied by a dense atmosphere and inpenetrable tension. Both players have their goals and each of them is trying to accomplish them with playing action cards. Both players note their hidden plans and movements. Impression of the first matches are spoiled a little by minor setbacks in player screens and cards. But they are only a little detaily in comparison to the whole game processing. Unfortunately also game in more players lacks tension of the two player match, which is full of twists. If you like board games, where you scribble hidden notes, then Ninja is great buy. According to our opinion, it is one of the underrated news from last year releases.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Pros
amazing atmosphere
great miniatures
each players knows only part of whole
random missions
balanced sides
game is decided in last few rounds
playing action cards just once
Cons
with more players the game loses atmosphere
backs of traitor and ninja cards are hard to differentiate
empty player screens
playing defender relies a lot on chance
3
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