Monday, June 12

Ninja Galaxy Review

As I said yesterday, I got a couple of late-night games in with Dunk on Friday night. The first game was Ninja Galaxy which a received a free review copy of several weeks ago. This was the first time I played it, so here's my review the game based on a single play.

Ninja Galaxy is a roll-and-move game about space-age combat between futuristic ninja clans engaged in a battle to the death. The good: the production values are excellent, the artwork is technically good - if not to everyone's taste, the transparent dice are cool - as are the ninja meeples and the game comes with English and German rules out of the box. The bad: the game features little strategy and has some awkward mechanics (moving onto the board and turn order). I'll admit I'm not this game's target audience (I'm a Eurogamer) as both the artwork and the rules seem to be aimed more at children.

Ninja Galaxy is a fairly short game for 2-4 players, each of which controls one of four ninja clans. Each clan comprising of three ninjas, three light-swords (think lightsabers or space-age katana) of varying strengths (1, 2 and 3), three light-stars (space-age shuriken) and three portal blockers. Light swords are only used for combat between ninjas, whereas light-stars can be used for a more lethal form of combat or to destroy the portal blockers. The portal blockers are used to block players access to areas of the board.

The board consists of four rings comprising a different number of spaces in the colours of the four ninja teams. The outer ring features thirty-two spaces including four 'sun windows', the second one sixteen, the third one eight and the final ring only four. In each case the number of spaces is divided equally between the four player colours.

Players take it in turns to roll a dice and move one of their ninjas that number of spaces. If the ninja lands on a space of their own colour that ninja may move through the portal to another space of their colour on the same ring or an adjacent ring and then roll again. If they land on a ring of another colour their turn ends, although they may place a portal blocker to sabotage the player who's space they have landed in. If you land on one of your spaces with a portal blocker you cannot move through the portal until the portal blocker has been destroyed. Your three ninjas start on your sun outside the outside ring and can only move onto the outside ring through the 'sun-window' if you roll an odd number. The aim is to get your ninjas to the central ring pick up a 'Negative Energy Disc' (NED) and deliver it to another player's sun window - eliminating them from the game. The other way to eliminate them is to kill all three of their ninjas in combat.

Combat ensues when you enter a space containing another player's ninja. You have two options: either attack with a light star or attack with a light sword. When using a light star you roll a D12 and your opponent rolls a D6. If the attacker rolls a higher number (which happens 71% of the time) the opponent's ninja is removed from the game. Whether the attacker rolls a higher number of not their light star is also removed from the game. You only have three light stars, and you need them to counteract opponents portal blockers so you have to use light stars with caution. The second attack option is to use light swords. In this case each player chooses one of their three light sword tokens (numbered 1, 2 and 3) and rolls a D6. They add the value of their chosen light sword to their die result and the loser loses the light sword token they chose to use. If a player has no light swords tokens left and they lose the fight they lose the ninja.

If a player loses all their ninjas they are eliminated from the game. The other elimination method is to use one of your ninjas to go to the inner-most ring and collect a NED. If you successfully attack a player's sun window with the NED then they are also eliminated.

There are three things that put me off this game:

  • Starting the game - you may not move any of your ninjas until they reach the rings. To get a ninja from your star system to the outer-most ring through your sun window you need to roll an even number. Most of the time you'll do that fairly frequently, in some games you'll face a dearth of even numbers which effectively keeps you out of the game. The mechanism seems gratuitous and it can be very annoying to be excluded from the game in the early stages.
  • Turn order - when you attack an opponent's ninja the turn order can go a bit screwy. If the attacker wins they get to move again, if they fail then the defender gets to move and the turn order continues from the defender. Imagine a 3-player game where player one attacks player three and fails, so player three takes a turn, followed by player one. Player two has missed their turn through no fault of their own. It also complicates keeping track of who's next.
  • Random factors - Since it is a roll-and-move game your options depend entirely on what you get on your movement rolls. It's very difficult to plot a strategy under those conditions.

The only real strategy is to move to the centre then move out with a NED and target an enemy sun-window. Occasionally, you have the option of attacking another player - but you run the risk of losing one of your light stars or laser swords. Portal blockers are useful in trying to stop your opponents do the same, but you've only got three of them. Since there is only one space of each colour on the inside ring, and two in the second ring there is no point in playing them on the outer two rings.

However, it's not as bad as it sounds. The ninja theme and colourful artwork will appeal to kids, and the simple rules will be easy to introduce to children. The game is for players aged nine and up, and it will be most popular with those at the lower end of this spectrum. In addition, I also received a set of 'advanced rules' for the game designed to make the game appeal more to Eurogamers, I've not played these yet - I'll post again once I have. Personally, I give it a 5 on the BGG scale but for families with fairly young kids I imagine it would be a 7.

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