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Eggs and Endorphins

Board Games in Whole Foods, review of Ninjato

11/13/11 02:58 am - Board Games in Whole Foods, review of Ninjato

I had a brain fart and thought that waltzing was today. It wasn't; the Big Apple Waltz waltz-mazurka and cross-step waltz are tomorrow. Whups! Having cancelled my contrary plans for tomorrow, I'll be there.

So, I checked to see if there was a board game meetup today. And there was. Upstairs, as a Whole Foods, in one of the nicest spaces I've ever seen for public gaming (not to mention a venue that offers good food) I walked in to see jlighton and friends just starting Alhambra. Good game--I mostly just played my cards, though I decided to capture Manors (the red buildings) early on. I was tied for last in the first round with a 6 point gap between last and first (but with multiple good positions that I hoped would help me. By the second round, I'd somehow ended up (mostly by taking opportunity exacts) in the lead in Towers (purple), and had a good sized wall, so I ended the 2nd round in second place. Third round, I managed to build myself into a corner, completely connecting my walls--but it was a good corner, as I had 19 (I think) points of walls and only spent one turn restructuring. I was tied for first in IIRC 4 categories, which combined with my walls gave me enough points for a comfortable win (the second place finisher, Jessica, had never played before, so kudos to Julian for teaching).

The second game we played was Loyang. This was my second game of same, and everyone had experience, so it went relatively quickly and was quite challenging. Jessica had a lot of clever plays, but not enough customers to keep up, her husband (whose name I don't know) had a good but not great positon, while meanwhile Julian and I both sucked up a lot of fields and were by the midgame running three reguler customers--but Julian had a loan while I managed to avoid somehow taking one. This, combined with Julian burning out a bit in the last 2-3 turns of the game, gave me enough of a push for a 2 point edge (ending at 19 points to Julian's 17 after losing a point for his loan).

The third game -- with the same core of four players -- was Ninjato -- a game new to all of us.

As it was taught, this is a game with some interesting similarities to Stone Age, except with a well executed ninja theme. Go to the dojo to get fighting cards and learn secret techniques from your master, then Attack ninja bases for trophies, or spend your trophies on befrending envoys and learning secrets. Breaking it down, it's a worker placement game where players take three actions per turn -- learn a secret, dojo, learn a new technique, befrend an envoy, or attack one of the several ninja houses; and unlike most worker placement games, players can all visit every area, or even visit the same area--until whatever resource is there is used up for that turn, at least. Learning a new technique is a development option, as a technique can be used once per turn.

Most techniques are fighting techniques, letting you add or subtract two from your combat card (or +/- one but your choice), or otherwise manipulate combat -- but one lets you steal away with a trophy you couldn't otherwise fight for, and the endgame techniques (the only ones available in the last 3 of seven turns of the game) instead let you duplicate one of your weaker envoys. The "go to the dojo" is more of a maintenance option as it lets you refresh your hand of fighting cards to 4 or draw two if you have 3 or more cards, plus it acts as a "first player" action as well (Jessica's husband somewhat misplayed this, often going to the dojo with more than 1 card left, which I think hurt him quite a bit). That leaves the intriguing combat option -- a nice mix of market mechanics, resource generation, and and push your luck -- where you either infiltrated (needed low cards) or fought (needed high cards) the various guards in a dojo, collecting a treasure for each. Defeat them all and you not only get all the treasure, but must take over the house for a different one of the ninja clans than had previously held it. You can back off at any time between fights keeping the treasure you have--but if you're defeated, you lose all treasure except the first one you took.

Envoys act as huts from stone age -- you spend resources and get victory points equal to their value (there are five kinds of resource -- gold, which are wild, and types valued at 2 through 5) as well as the envoy card -- moreover, three times during the game, the three clans hold competitions, in which the two players with the most envoys for that clan (or if there's a tie, the best envoy for that clan) get rewarded. The best player for the clan gets their choice of the victory point values of the clan's houses (see the market manipulation mechanic above!) or a secret of their choice or even a random one from the top of the deck (something you can't get otherwise; normally there are four envoys and four secrets available each round and once they're gone, they're gone). The secrets also act a bit like huts, giving victory equal to the value of the (fewer than envoys, usually) trophies spent to gain them, but they also provide the multiplicative endgame scoring -- with a big bonus for the third secret of a type, as the third of each effectively adds a *2 multiplier (so for instance, 1 technique secret + 4 techniques gets you 4 points in endgame, 2 technique secrets + 4 techniques gets you 8 points in endgame, while 3 technique secrets + 4 techniques gets you 16 points in endgame and 4 and four is 20 points).

I got the idea of how important Envoys were early, and scored for two envoys in the first round and all three clans in the second scoring round (by this point, the other players had the idea too, so I only had one second place envoy win in the third round, although it was huge). In combat, I had an opening hand consisting of a 4 and three 1s, so I went for a stealth strategy, using my four to get a +/- technique, unarmed combat (you have to discard a card to get a technique of a flavor you aren't already invested in, and I figured I wanted to use up all my cards so I could redraw them, so this was a good way to do so). In later rounds, I also picked up a technique that let my replace a card's value with a 0 and another excellent technique that let me use the technique (and not a card) to use it as a 2 or 4, letting me sneak past an unobservant guard without even using a card. I had some mediocre payouts from my envoys, so I decided to pick up some secrets that benefited from having lots of secrets, which served me well. In the last two rounds, I avoided combat related options like the plague -- using one final combat run to pick up three more trophies, but using most of my actions on envoys, and more, on getting secrets directly. combined with my good luck on blind pulls for envoy selections, this caused me to end with 8 secrets -- 3 (x4 payout, 8 secrets) that liked secrets, 3 (x4 payout, 5 envoys) that liked envoys, and 2 (x2 payout, only one elite guard) that liked you to have beaten up elite guards) == for 54 points from cards (I loved the third envoy-liking card that I topdecked in the final scoring round -- that one netted me 14 points by himself) causing me to have a comfortable 22 point lead in endgame.

Seems like a good game; one where one never had enough actions! I did find that stealth was easier than might in the combat system, but this might have been deceptive. Regular guards (and combat cards) ranged from 1 to 5; elite guards ranged from 0 through 6, so that was pretty much even; I think what made it feel like stea.th was easier was that the stealth oriented cards came out before the might oriented cards did, so it was easier to collect a set like mine where you would have a guarunteed win until you used up your juice during the period where it was most worth collecting combat techniques.

The final game of the evening was the only one I didn't win -- a 6 player (I think) game involving a multpart, special power auction for cards cards with a medieval fantasy theme. Pretty interesting, particularly given the suit mechanic (you could score with your total for all your cards -- or if you could collect a set of 6 with all different symbols, you could score just them and double their values, but subtract out any other cards you have. I was doing decently, but Julian was doing better--and we cut the game short due to time before anyone could try to collect all 6 symbols.

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