Buzzworthiness: Ninja Camp

Time for a review of a game I’m subtitling “Hey, That’s My Kung Fu Panda!”  It’s

image by BGG user Action Phase
image by BGG user Action Phase

Ninja Camp is a game that was released earlier this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015.  The game was designed by Adam E. Daulton and published by Action Phase Games.  The game is for 2-4 players, and players are participating in a training exercise, trying to earn enough points to become the Sensei’s apprentice.

This is a small box card game, and comes with 8 starting skill cards; 13 Ninja Clan cards; 56 Skill cards; 5 Trap cards; and 3 Wall cards.  Additionally, there are 16 wooden ninja meeples.  At the start of the game, each player gets two starting skill cards (Sprint and Evade), as well as one random Ninja Clan card.  Each player takes the four ninjas of one color, and keeps one on his Ninja Clan card as a reminder of his color.  The Skill cards are shuffled with the Walls and Traps, and 7 rows of 8 cards are dealt out (6 rows of 8 in a two-player game).

image by BGG user annak5604
image by BGG user annak5604

The first thing that happens is that, in counter-clockwise player order, each player places one ninja on an empty card (not a wall).  You’ll eventually place three ninjas on the board, but each of your ninjas must go on a different type of card.  Then, beginning with the last player to place a ninja and going clockwise, the game begins.

On your turn, you can play a card from your hand, use your ninja power, or pass.  If you choose to PASS, you are out of the game, so maybe don’t do that unless you have to.  Playing a card is the primary way to act during the game.  For this, choose a card from your hand, play it into your discard pile, and follow the instruction.  There are seven different types of Skill cards (point value shown in parentheses – these are important at the end of the game):

  • Stealth (0): Move two spaces.  Claim the first card you cross, as well as the one you started on.
  • Dodge (1): Move 1 or 2 spaces, including diagonally.
  • Sprint (2): Move in a straight line until you come to an edge, empty space, a Wall, or another ninja.
  • Leap (3): Move in a straight line over one or more empty spaces, and only empty spaces.
  • Shadow (3): Copy the last skill card played by an opponent.
  • Evade (4): Move three spaces.
  • Ambush (5): Move in a straight line until you hit another ninja.  Push it into the next space and place your ninja on the abandoned space.

When you move, you can’t move diagonally, over empty spaces, or through another ninja (unless told you may by the card you played).  You will also pick up the card you were just on, adding it to your hand.

To use your NINJA POWER, flip your Clan card and follow the instructions on the card.  This is a special action you can only do once per game.  There are 13 different Ninja clans:

  • Armadillo: Move in a straight line to any edge space, ignoring any obstacles in the way.
  • Camel: Move to any card not adjacent to another ninja.
  • Chameleon: Move a ninja to a copy of the skill card that the ninja is currently on.
  • Flamingo: Move 1-2 spaces.  Look at the top three unused cards, and you may claim one of those instead of the card you would normally claim.
  • Flying Squirrel: Move one space (not to a Trap), then trade places with an opponent’s ninja.
  • Goat: Move in a straight line into a space with an opponent’s ninja.  Move that ninja to any adjacent non-Trap space (including diagonally).
  • Hamster: Move 1-2 spaces, including diagonally.  You may move through other ninjas.
  • Penguin: Return a skill card from your discard pile to your hand and immediately play it.
  • Platypus: Move 1-2 of your ninjas 1 space each, including diagonally, and then claim one of the cards you left.
  • Polar Bear: Move one space, including diagonally.  You may then move an unoccupied card to any empty space.
  • Puppy: Move in a straight line over 1 or more empty spaces and/or ninjas.
  • Skunk: Move an opponent’s ninja 1 space, including diagonally.  Claim the card that ninja was on before moving.  You cannot move onto a trap.
  • Sloth: Instead of moving, claim an unoccupied card that is adjacent to one of your ninjas, including diagonally.

After you’ve moved and claimed your card, it is the next player’s turn.  The game continues until everyone has passed.  You then add up the total points in your discard pile, hand, and cards your ninjas occupy.  The player with the most points wins.

image by BGG user Nini la nicoise
image by BGG user Nini la nicoise

COMPONENTS: The cards in Ninja Camp are all fairly nice quality.  Each of the Skill cards has a picture of Sensei Saru showing off its particular ninja move.  The Trap cards all have lasers, and the Wall card shows the Armadillo.  Each card is clearly labeled with what it is, and the banners are color coded.  My only real problem with the cards is the font used for the explanatory text.  It’s black type with white borders, and it just doesn’t look good.  I think all white font would have popped better.  For that matter, I don’t like the font in the rulebook either.  I’m not a font snob – I really don’t often notice fonts, and I’m definitely not one of those that sneers at Comic Sans – but I do think better choices could have been made in this case.

The ninjeeples are pretty cool.  Each color has a different shape, which is useful for players with color blindness.  They are a little on the small side, and I think the colors could have been brighter to stand out more on the cards, but they’re functional.  The game also comes with a promo card for Heroes Wanted, which I haven’t played.

THEME: The ninja animals theme is cute, but doesn’t really have anything to do with gameplay.  I don’t really get a sense that we’re training, nor do I get the sense that we’re engaged in some sort of competition.  The ninja aspect works, but I don’t get a sense of the story.

I mentioned Kung Fu Panda at the beginning.  While there are no pandas in the game (probably to avoid litigation), I do think this game could probably easily be licensed to use that property.

MECHANICS: Ninja Camp is a grid based game, and the board steadily disappears throughout.  Movement works much like it did in Hey That’s My Fish!, but with card play determining how you can move rather than just a flat program.  The ninja clan powers all seem to be pretty balanced, and the fact that you can only use them one helps to prevent them from being too powerful.  There’s also a hand management aspect as players have to choose which of their cards to play, knowing that it will never be available to them again.  Fortunately, there are eight copies of each card in the deck, so you will hopefully be able to get another one at some point.

Overall, Ninja Camp plays very smoothly.  There aren’t a lot of rules, and it’s pretty easy to pick up on how everything works together.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Once the random set up of the board is done, there’s no further external luck in the game.  It becomes a battle of wits as you try to figure out how to set yourself up for big points.  You figure out pretty quickly that, even though Ambush cards are worth the most, they’re not terribly useful unless another ninja is in your line of sight.  You should use them as soon as you can, because at the end of the game, they’re pretty much just high scoring duds clogging up your hand.  The Stealth cards, on the other hand, are extremely useful in that you can get two cards for the price of one, and Dodge is really handy at the end of the game when your movement options are severely limited.

This is a game where you must think several turns in advance.  Not only are you trying to cut off your opponents, you are also trying to put yourself in position to land on and eventually use desired cards.  If you land on a Leap card, you won’t get to use it until you move off of it and add it to your hand, so if your Leap card becomes an island, you’re stuck.  So there’s a lot to think about.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a fairly easy game to pick up.  There aren’t a lot of rules, and most everything is pretty intuitive.  I would say that, thanks to all the powers, it is probably a step up in complexity from HTMF, but it’s still not a tough game to learn.

REPLAYABILITY: The random set up and different Ninja Clans make this game variable from play to play, and that increases the replayability.  No two games will feel exactly the same, though once you’ve played a few times, you’ll have a really good sense of all of the cards and how you want to set yourself up.

SCALABILITY: The three- and four-player games are set up exactly the same, on an 8×7 grid.  The two-player game is set up on an 8×6 grid.  You get the same number of ninjas in each set up, which differs from the way HTMF sets up with the same board and variable numbers of penguins.  I’ve only played this game with three, and I imagine that this means scores will be lower in four-player games, and games will be shorter with two players.

INTERACTION: The primary interaction in this game comes from moving around the board and cutting off your opponents.  Turns are taken independently, and there is little direct interaction (other than the Ambush).

FOOTPRINT: This game can take up some table space with its 8×7 grid, but it’s not too bad. A medium sized table should work.

HEY, THAT’S MY NINJA! I keep alluding to Hey That’s My Fish!  If you don’t know that game, you can read my review here.  I would say that Ninja Camp does a lot of what HTMF does, but adds some more complexity as you have special powers to keep track of.  I don’t think it’s a replacement for HTMF – that game is a marvel of simplicity and elegance, and it’s not getting replaced.  But I do think Ninja Camp is a good next step for people who want a little more complexity.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like this game quite a bit, and it’s one that I’d be happy to play any time.  I’d encourage you to check it out.  Thanks for reading!

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