Tiny Ninjas is a card game based around adorable depictions of ninjas that uses dice in order to determine the success of each card played. When initially presented with the game, I was surprised that one of its main selling points was the fact that it could be played in the box and seemed to be enjoyable for all ages. Upon playing the game, this assumption was correct and repeated playthroughs allowed me to come to a better understanding of this unique board game. Read on to discover how this interesting game combines multiple genres to create an experience that’s sure to be enjoyable.
The game starts with two players at ten points of health, holding five cards, and having chosen one of four different types of senseis. Whoever is youngest goes first, entering their attack phase. During the attack phase, the player will play cards then roll dice to assess how much damage they’re able to inflict; the amount of damage, which dice to roll, and with element of the dice to consider is determined by the instructions on the card and a reference card is available for each player to look at if they are confused by the symbols. The other player then has the opportunity to defend themselves by playing one of their cards and rolling the dice to see how much damage they can block. If the attacking player has a higher attack value, the defender’s health is lowered by the amount of the attacker’s damage minus the amount of defender’s defense. The attacking player continues to play cards until they either run out or decide to stop. The roles of the players are then reversed with the defender replenishing their hand to five cards and entering the attack phase. This continues until one of the players runs out and the winner is decided by whoever still has health left by the end of the game. Most games usually take over 5 minutes and under 20 minutes so the game is fairly quick overall.
There are also some more specific rules and aspects which I’ll cover in this paragraph. The attack and defense values of cards come in either red, blue or yellow; when playing a card for defense, the defense value must be either the same color as the attacking card’s attack value or yellow. Some of the cards have special abilities on them such as healing or being able to take another person’s card and the instructions on how to use these cards will be written on them. Senseis can provide a variety of buffs for the player (for example, +1 health) and can be used up to three times in a game. There are other modes within the game that have slightly different rules on how to play but the core mechanics of the game (the attack and defense phases) remain the same. These modes alongside an achievement list are found within the rulebook and provide other ways for players to engage with the game.
Initially going through the ruleset will be a bit confusing for people who haven’t played many trading cards games (i.e. me) due to the numerous aspects prevalent in the game, but it can easily be picked up after the first session. I quit having to look at my reference card by the second game and could instinctively tell what each card did by the fourth go around. The distinctive cards and unique characteristics that some of the cards have also allowed me to recognize the abilities of some of the cards simply from a glance, helping to increase the speed of the game and acting to a testament of the playability of this game. It’s something that can be played with children or against adults since there’s enough depth to allow for strategic choices and big plays in order to make it thought-provoking for adults yet also enough luck element and cute artwork to ensure that children aren’t frustrated or bored.
On the gameplay side, the separation of the cards into three color suits with varying probabilities for the success of their offensive and defensive abilities causes you to play strategically since you need to decide whether it’s better to play a card in order to inflict damage or hold it back in order to have defensive capabilities on the next turn. This can unfortunately lead to hoarding of certain powerful cards in case of emergency, leading to scenarios where players are incrementally chipping away at each others health until they gamble with their large cards in attempt to lead to a large loss of health. The variety of cards in the deck and unknown element of which cards that you’ll pull causes no strategy to be too overwhelming and creates a constantly shifting plan. The dice rolls help to balance out the game and create moments of great joy or disappointment as they land on unexpected sides. Senseis provide another interesting wrinkle to gameplay due to their ability to provide an extra state boost which can help players out of a tight game or push the offensive forward; personally, the attack senseis are better for the game since they force players to be more aggressive and enable riskier plays to pay off more often.
The artwork is cutesy yet detailed, creating an all-ages feel that’s enhanced by the creativity license taken with what is considered ninjas. Cats, robots, babies and aliens are each shown off in ninja form, allowing players to have a visual engaging hand to look at while they attempt to decide on their next move. The same amount of detail is showcased in the senseis, health markers, and board but the artistic values never overtake the utility aspect of these pieces, ensuring that the important information is communicated first and foremost with large numbers on the cards and bright primary colors communicating the differences between cards. The wording in the rulebook and reference cards also communicates relevant information through both images, color and detailed explanations so that players will associate the different rules of the game with certain images present in the game (for example, they explain how red cards work next to a red shield and a red attack symbol displayed on a sword). Artistry and function are melded together into an engaging design.
The actual pieces of the game are easy to move around and place. The health marker wheels move with ease and show clearly visible scores while the cards feel light yet still are satisfying when thrown down. None of the pieces were wobbly and seem to have good durability after multiple playthroughs. The dice may feel a little light for some people but are a minor concern if anything. The box opens up without any trouble and the playboard has enough heft to feel strong without being heavy.
A major plus for this game is the portability that it offers. The entire game can be set up fairly quickly and after testing to see if it was possible, I can happily report that you could even set up and play the game while holding it in your lap. None of the pieces need to be removed from the box in order to play it adequately, allow there is a minor design flaw when picking up the cards for one of the players. However, as long as they are careful and the other player isn’t actively trying to cheat, it’s a barely noticeable problem so I won’t go into detail about it since the fact that the developers were able to make a game which can be played while waiting on a bench or sitting in an airport in addition to remaining an entertaining activity is an impressive feat.
Tiny Ninjas is a game which can be played with a variety of ages and provides an entertaining experience for each one through its imaginative artwork and strategic elements that constantly shift due to the element of luck inherent within the game. The variety of cards allows for a good amount of playability but how long its mileage is for some may vary. The game modes and achievements can help to extend the longevity of it, however these modes can come off as novelties compared to the main game since the core hook is more fun in its original form. The simplicity of setting up the game and low player count means that this game be played in most places, allowing this to be a game that can be picked up and put down at any moment. There will be occasional moments of highs and lows but these will often come down to the luck of the draw with a hint of strategy. This may be off-putting for people that are used to having more power within their games but it also allows for comebacks and the quick nature of the game enables numerous rematches. Playing it once will certainly have you coming back for round after round of moaning when you get another Solo card.