Ninjas Unleashed is a bit a strange one, and I think that there could be my whole review. It feels a little bit familiar but also not so much, that I'm left feeling a bit conflicted. In a game in which a tie breaker for overall game win is a dice roll or play again, its hard not to be.
And before we get anywhere, as I've seen the comments elsewhere there does look to be a whole lot of AI generated artwork, but that won't be the focus of my review. Instead I want to get under the skin of this game and look at what it offers.
Ninjas unleashed says 2 - 6 players on the box, and honestly I feel like anywhere near that full player count would become chore like. I say this as someone who hasn't played at any more than 3, but I can't imagine what sitting and waiting for 6 players is like. Ninjas Unleashed is I guess you could say a card collecting game, in which you are seeking to train student Ninjas in your school before having them become all apprentice Ninja. And that in itself sounds cool right? You'll be needing to school your student ninjas in order to send them out on missions as apprentice ninjas, to earn Victory points.
But there's a whole host of tricks, sneaky business and upgrades (known as enhance) here. You could easily find yourself the target of negative ongoing abilities or personalise your growing band of ninjas into more elite ninjas?
Ninjas unleashed is referred to as a strategic game throughout. But my challenge is, that a large amount comes down to dice rolls and therefore random chance. From whether you gain a new apprentice, to get to go onto a mission, to attempting a mission itself. The reliance on dice, with minimal modification is a tough one, yes the apprentices or students may have modifiers but with so little card draw ability you can be left on a sinking ninja ship without a paddle.
Each round of Ninjas Unleashed is broken down into 4 phases, start phase, action, missions and end phase. Each round you'll choose which apprentice if any you'll send on a mission and then look to train a new student. However, whether your student progresses is determined by a dice roll, needing 4 to become an apprentice, the students do sometimes have modifiers(including negative ones) however, there's typically only 50% chance that they will become an apprentice. And worse if you roll a 1 or less you'll lose the student. Meaning you could find yourself without apprentices and students!
The action phase is the main bulk of the interactions with each player having 3 actions to draw a card, play a card, trigger an ability or spend all three actions to draw a new hand. And in the advance mode you can spend your entire turn to discard all the cards in someone else's turn. Each player must take all 3 actions before the next, which can create situations where as the last player you could find yourself targetted by loys of actions if the other players are feeling particularly mean! I found myself the target of several sabotage cards that prevented me from playing other cards and/or with limited actions. As someone who isn't a bit fan of take that elements, this game has a rather large sprinkling of them.
Missions are essentially the quests of the game, and if you find yourself on a contested one you'll be rolling off to determine who can attempt the mission, with you potentially losing your apprenticeas a result. Before rolling dice to determine if the mission was a success.
That's pretty much it, you'll be aiming to reach a certain points goal depending on the number of players, with a number of tie breakers (which we found needed!), luckily we didn't make it to the play the game again tie breaker.
Ninjas Unleashed is like a tomato soup, edible but not something I'd probably pick by choice. There's a number of things here that for me, let the game down. But let's start positive.
I really enjoy the theme and feel of the game, its one I can really get behind and the idea of training a school of elite ninjas is pretty 1neat. Despite the use of AI art (allegedly) I really do like the artwork style and vibes of the game. And I don't recal another game that brings similar atmospheric feel.
However, this game isn't without its faults.
Namely, consistency, for example the game video introduces you to your player board and different areas within it, while the rulebook doesn’t clearly explain this. There's also different information in the rulebook to the rules video. For example the box says 2-6, 60 minutes. The video says 4 players and 90 minutes.
Despite the reliance on "strategy" most of the decisions are decided by a dice roll, and not in the sense of what resources or actions you can take. But whether you suceed or fail. One player found themselves unable to recruit new apprentices and without students, so was extremely limited on missions. There's also a lot of cards here, but with so few actions collecting a squad of ninjas is what feels like a misnomer, it feels more like a take that style game that's had a few bits and pieces stuck on. There's also a weirdly largely discard card space!
As you know I rate games on a:
- Buy or play
- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ
This for me sits somewhere between Play if you like and avoid. If you're into your worker placement games, with those types of interactions this game is an avoid. If you like munckin, machi koro and games of that ilk, I suspect you'll enjoy this. Although I would recommend capping the player count at 3 or 4. I originally thought this would have a whole host of similarities to Millenium blades, but I was left in the shadows. And of course if you like tomato soup, you could like this game too?
Ninjas Unleashed, tries to tick alot of boxes and for me, is a game that on theme alone drew me in, but underneath that shine is a light card game, which is fairly accessible and offers an easy route into card games, with a limited amount of terminology and a player count that means this may hit the table more often.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Ninjas unleashed to play and have donated the game to a board game charity raffle. However, thoughts remain my own. During the time that I've had the game, I recieved 56 messages from the company in regards to my review/content (since 5th September) and replied 24 times. I'm always up front about working full time when I agree to trying a game for review.