Shuriken – Viking Style Pillaging And Destruction, But With Ninja

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Shuriken[1]I’m not sure if I’m getting some clout after all these years, but I was offered a chance to take a gander at a prototype version of the new Kickstarter project, Shuriken. I wasn’t paid to look at this, I wasn’t offered a free copy, nothing. I was just offered the chance to play a game that depicts a metric ton of funky ninja doing ninja stuff. So, while this is still a Kickstarter, which means that this review is only valuable if the 7/12/2013 draft of rules on their website remain the same. I can’t even comment on the components other than the dice (the same company is a dice company), because I have no idea if they’ll remain the same or, rather, as pictured on their Kickstarter page, which look really great.

Now, this game is themed about ninja, but it’s not really a ninja game. Ninjas stalk silently, and by the time you realize a ninja is about to jack you, you’re already jacked. Silent, deadly assassins dealing in ancient dark secrets of death do not run five deep into a garden and burn the place to the ground. If I had to characterize this game, it’s more like the scene in Big Boss when a gang of dudes are brawling, breaking things, and destroying pretty much everything. So, if you’re looking for a ninja game that is about stealth and silent infiltration, this is NOT the game for you. If you’re looking for a bad ass brawling game that is about strategy, making game decisions that matter, and chucking fistfuls of dice at the enemy forces, THIS IS YOUR HUCKLEBERRY.

MAsterninja[1]I really dig this game, as did my cadre of ninja warriors who played it with me. We played it as a 2-player and 3-player game and it played well with both, although I think I favour more people playing as there’s a lot more “screw you” going on, let alone more decisions to be made on whom to take out, and when.  I’m not going to bore you with a rules review, as you can read this article, so you can surely read the PDF rules online, but I will go over the game in a general way so you know what it’s about. Seriously, though, this is a really, really good game.

Unlike most brawlers, this game has several styles of play, but the main idea is to wipe out as many enemies as you can until the end comes, while accomplishing secret missions which give you points. Surprisingly, there’s little actual killing in the game, since beating an enemy doesn’t kill him, you simply capture him; captured ninja are worth victory points, as are the secret missions. The missions are quite varied in what you need to do, such as destroying a tile (very un-ninjalike) or repairing one (again, very un-ninjalike) but there’s all kinds of other missions as well.

One of the coolest things about the game is most tiles grant some sort of bonus, but when they get torched, they screw you over. Now, tiles are destroyed by rolling “flames” on the dice, which bear a one in six chance of happening, so it’s hardly easy to do, and more often than not, it happens accidentally. The bad news is that when a tile is destroyed, every ninja on the tile is killed (one of the few times) and sent back to their owners’ ninja pools.

Orchard[1]There’s a built-in timer in the game, so once the turns are up, you count the ninjas you captured, count the missions you accomplished that provide points, and the winner is the one with the most points.  It’s a very simple system at its core, but the way the game is designed, there’s a lot of choices to be made in deploying and upgrading your ninja units.

One of my favourite things in this game is the combat system; the combat setup is very much like Ikusa or Conquest of Nerath in the sense that certain units attack at certain times, in a certain order, and the defender chooses one of its attacked units to perish. This mechanic really adds to the game in a lot of ways, with the most pronounced being that it’s the main reason to upgrade base units to swordsmen, shuriken tossers, or master ninja, who attack during all phases but are limited to one per side.

Now, from the 10,000 foot level, this is simply a tile based brawler with a bunch of nice chrome to spice things up. It has variable player powers, secret goals, a mess of units in four different types, and the best part, destructible terrain. It’s a very fun, easy to learn, fast playing game, and I’m absolutely going to back it. It has some neat “stretch goal” rewards, although there’s a couple really dumb stretch goals such as “200 likes on Facebook” which just kind of stinks of “we need advertising badly”. They’re advertisers, so if this sounds like your kind of game, then check it out and drop some money on it. I think it’s worth it, personally, provided it doesn’t stray too far from its current form.

Funding looks like it’s a little bit shy right now, so it may never see the light of day, which truly sucks. There’s a veritable sea of ridiculously crappy games out there that have been funded, so if this game doesn’t get funded, it will be because of FMC‘s who couldn’t recognize a fun game if it kicked them in the jacobs. As noted, it might look a little too simple, but this is just on the surface; it’s got plenty of decisions that matter, plenty of plays that will require good timing to pull off, and best of all, it plays very quickly, with turns taking no longer than 25 seconds or so, not counting combat resolution. My only beef with the entire product, as shown, is that it really doesn’t have the classic ‘ninja’ feel, it’s really just a lot more like a bunch of bad dudes fighting and breaking stuff. But, I like bad dudes, and I like breaking stuff, so I like the game.

Why Bruce Lee Approved This Message:

  • Fast play makes this a game that keeps you engaged
  • Really ace models and nice artwork gives the game huge “bling” factor
  • Well designed, time-proven mechanics make this easy to play but hard to master

Why The Ninja Are Extinct:

  • Ninja are stealthy assassins, not brawlers, so the theme it pretty tacked on
  • Some of the cards aren’t quite specific enough at this stage of development
  • Four styles of ninja is good, but I’d liked to have seen more poses per style
  • There’s very little actual death, just mostly capture

As I said, I wasn’t paid to play this, as you know I’d never do, and I wasn’t bribed, coerced, or promised anything to review this. In fact, after a couple more plays, I’m returning this prototype copy. Furthermore, I don’t know Brian Wood in real life or even on a forum, and could not identify him in a lineup if he was the only one in it. I just saw this game, made a post on Facebook, and he contacted me to take a gander. It takes some balls to do that because you know how I can be if you read my articles. Luckily, it was better than I though it would be, and therefore, based on our plays, we can wholeheartedly recommend it.

I’m not going to give this game a score as I usually do because it’s not a “final product”, per se, and I don’t want to get caught up in a mess if it changes substantially. All I can do is tell you what I played as shown NOW, and how we liked it. Short version: every person here at the Circus gave it a big thumbs up, and I was told to spend my money on getting a release copy when it ships. So, there you have it – I’m buying into it, and I don’t buy many games that aren’t Heroscape these days, and especially not Kickstarter games, so it must be pretty darn special.


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