Ninja: The Secret Scorpion Clan Review
AEG recently released their latest boardgame. The long awaited, Ninja: The Legend of the Scorpion Clan. Set in their usual setting, a high fantasy version of Japan called Rokugan, Ninja puts the players in either the role of the guards of a castle or the intruders attempting to cause mayhem. Originally designed for two to four players, I have found that the game works best with three; two for the intruder team and one for the guard.
The guards are represented by 20 miniatures that the player(s) will use to form patrols and put on sentry duty. Some of the guards are also left sleeping in the barracks and can be awakened as reinforcements if the need arises. The miniatures are divided into those wielding katana and those wielding naginata. There is only a difference in use when there are two guard players, as each player will choose one or the other to control. The guards are also supplied with miniatures depicting drunk guards, for when the intruders inevitably drug the food. The intruders are represented by the ninja, who hails from the Scorpion clan, and his accomplice; a traitor within the ranks of the guards themselves. Both are represented by miniatures but will rarely be seen on the actual board. Quality wise the miniatures are what you would expect from a modern boardgame. The details are adequate with some nice touches to give the intruders personality. The only down side is that the naginata guards have a habit of bending their naginata.
The objective of the intruders is to infiltrate, sabotage the castle and escape without getting caught. This is represented with a series of random objectives that the intruder team draws from. There is no mechanical difference in the objectives, but they are given flavour titles to help with the immersion. To complicate matters, the guards will decide in secret where each of the objectives is.
This brings us to the core idea behind Ninja; secret movement and hidden objectives. While there is a full-sized board for the game, most of the intruder’s movement won’t be done on it. Instead, each player is supplied with a map for hidden movement and placement. The guards will attempt to locate the intruders using action cards that dictate what each patrol or sentry can do. Similarly, the intruders also use action cards to help avoid detection; the cards can also be used to cause misdirection and lead the guards on a wild goose chase.
This is where the game breaks down. Given the limited number of action cards a player can hold, it is very easy for the guards to run out of actions to look for the intruders. More importantly, neither player can attack the other without playing the appropriate can. While this isn’t much of a problem for the intruders, all they have to do is run away. It presents a serious challenge for the guards. Without the proper kenjutsu card for making attacks, the intruders might as well be immortal and will be able to waltz in and complete their missions without trouble.
Granted that the action cards are shuffled back into the deck and can be drawn again, but this still leaves the guards at a serious disadvantage in defending their castle. Especially if their luck runs low and they fail to draw the cards they need.
A weak attempt at addressing this issue is the inclusion of a turn limit. The intruders only have 20 turns to complete their objectives and escape the castle. Unfortunately, the turn limit is far too accommodating and the intruders will usually have poisoned the well, murdered the general and planted incriminating evidence long before time runs out.
Overall, Ninja is only a decent attempt at simulating the espionage and infiltration that goes on in Rokugan. The miniatures and board at artfully done and look quite nice when set up. Unfortunately, the clunky gameplay fails to complete the immersion in the world and more importantly, prevents players from truly having fun while interacting with each other.