Games with higher player counts always scare me a little. In the party game genre you are often divided into teams and waiting for your time to shine. In the hobby board game world, they are scarce and often see your attention languishing between turns. However, as a family of five, it doesn’t take more than another couple visiting, let alone another family for us to require a game that sits a decent number of people. Enter stealthily into the room, Night of the Ninja. A game that plays up to eleven people!
When this was released in 2021, there was a bit of a buzz about it on social media. The artwork alone drew me in and the higher player count intrigued me. So like the proverbial ninja, I did my reconnaissance, before infiltrating your eyes with this review!
Give each player a ninja standee, and deal one house card and three action cards to each player. Place a bag full of shuriken (throwing stars) tokens in easy reach. Set up complete. It probably took you longer to get the game off the shelf then it did to set up!
The aim of the game is to be the first player to have over ten points accumulated on their shuriken tokens. At the start of the game, and each round, players first establish their secret team, Lotus (blue) or Crane (red) and their rank. Each round the team with the highest ranking surviving team member (number one being the highest rank) wins the round and every member of that team, dead or alive, gets to pull a shuriken from the bag.
Games with an odd number of players also introduce the Ronin character, this player is a loner and just wants to survive the round for a dip in the bag.
With a hand of three action cards a simple draft occurs. Each player keeps one and passes two to the next player. Everyone will then keep one of the remaining cards and discard the other. Be sure to keep discarded cards separate.
Once the drafting phase is over, each of the different card types are called for. The Spy is the first card, this allows you to look at someone’s house card. The Mystic is next and allows you to look at someone’s house card and action card. Then it is the tricksters, these have various abilities and do exactly what they say on the card! Then things heat up with the Blind Assassin which allows you to kill another player. Finally, the Shinobi allows you to look at someone’s house card and decide whether you want to kill them or not.
There are also three other cards in the game that can be played out of order, two are reaction cards and the other is a kicker. I should also note that players can choose not to play a ninja card to try and bluff that it’s something else. This is harder for new players so I tend not to mention it until everyone knows what sort of cards are available and why they would then choose to bluff.
Once all Shinobis have been played, all players reveal their house identity. The winning team is then declared and they get to dip into the bag to collect their spoils, along with the Ronin if included.
If players ever play the same type of card, ties are settled in number order, number one being the priority.
Then a new round starts and the process repeats itself, until one player accumulates ten points or more.
What it’s like
Night of the Ninja is a breeze to teach, which is handy when dealing with higher player counts or in that party environment. With only a handful of cards to explain, there isn’t an information overload. Gameplay can then be taught as you play, with one player calling out what is required in each phase. Teaching through playing is absolutely the best and after one round everyone will be under control.
This has a party game vibe with heaps of interaction. But there is a little more strategy than you might normally expect with this genre. Each card played and every player’s action provides snippets of knowledge around the table. There is some social deduction, but without the necessity for deceit that some people find uncomfortable.
When playing Night of the Ninja, I am aware I am playing a lighter game, but it doesn’t feel like your typical party game. It’s like a party game for hobby board gamers!
Rounds will be full of conversation, accusations, denials and mysterious deaths. Although player elimination is very prominent, rounds are quick and you might still gain points if your house wins. You’re therefore still a little invested in the game and before you know it, you’ll be drafting cards again ready to fight another day.
Unusually for a game that boasts eleven players, there really isn’t much down time, play darts around the table like a Ninja on a rooftop. With the slowest part watching people reach across the table to inspect other’s cards. Yet you will still be invested with espionage, trying to spot the tiniest thing that may provide more knowledge on who to protect, and who to kill. This is a game that works at higher player counts and although it does work at four just about, it is fantastic at more.
All my family can play it and more importantly play it competitively. So despite the box saying twelve plus, if you are okay with your younglings carrying out ninja attacks at the board game table then I reckon most eight year olds will be fine.
There is some luck in the game, you might be murdered for no reason or you might pull out duff tokens from the bag. However, there is certainly less luck than most games in the party and social deduction genre.
As a little anecdote, my favourite moment is when a single Shinobi card is played and I get to say “Ahhh, Only One Shinobi” as a curious Star Wars reference that amuses me.
The illustrations on the cards are stunning. Reproducing the intricate cut-paper artwork of Ben Charman, they imbue an idiom of Japan. The house cards are a usual size but the action cards are upgraded to tarot size which really adds gravitas to them being in your hand.
With more players and that party-style environment cards are more likely to get marked. I have sleeved the house cards and think the game should almost come with sleeves as scuffs and scratches to a house card would ruin the game. Annoyingly once sleeved, the box insert starts to make less sense as cards won’t fit where they are supposed to.
Having the order of play on the back of the ninja standees is a true stroke of genius. Every player has this handy aid in front of them and can follow along helping to learn the game for new players, or reinforce it for returning players.
The instructions are beautifully clear and leave no ambiguity. The special trickster and ninja cards also describe their actions succinctly and accurately. I love the quality of all the information being in front of you in an easy to digest format.
For most people, the cardboard shuriken tokens are perfect. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and if those throwing stars were made of metal I would be jumping up and down with excitement. I’d even buy them if they were an add-on. Just saying this in case Brotherwise games read my review!
What the kids thought
Max (7): I think its’s a really good game. I like the Mirror Monk card because if someone tries to kill me, I kill them instead, which is funny! I like the art and how easy it is to follow with the ninja in front of you.
George (11): tricky to learn the first time with all the different cards, but once I’d learnt those it got easier. My favourite card is the Shinobi, because I like knowing who I am killing!
Harrison (14): I agree with Max, the player aid is really handy and playing the Mirror Monk is fun! I also really like the Mastermind too, which allows your team to win as long as you survive, even if you are a low rank. Adding the Ronin in when playing with an odd number of players is interesting too.
Final thoughts on Night of The Ninja
There is an incredible list of things to like about Night of the Ninja. Perhaps one of the most important is its ability to sit so many people around the table and for the game to still not drag. It really is as Ninja-fast as the box suggests.
Night of the Ninja is also the sort of game that creates those memorable moments of highs and lows. Grasping victories from the face of defeat. Making incorrect deductions as to who to assassinate. Things that get joked about and dissected long after you have finished playing. I’m yet to play it with a group of people that haven’t enjoyed it. That list of people includes gamers and non-gamers alike.
It may be lightweight in terms of learning, teaching and playing, but Night of the Ninja is a heavyweight in its genre. It may not do anything new and exciting, yet it feels unique in its class. A large part of the game’s success is that it doesn’t try to be too clever or do too much. It relies on its solid gameplay and accessibility to make it fantastic. And just to be clear, it is fan-flipping-tastic!
Number of players: 4 to 11
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 12+
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 2 minutes
Designers: Justin Gary
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
If you are looking for a game that will work with higher player counts, Night of the Ninja would be my recommendation every time. This is a party game parcelled up and delivered for the hobby gamers too. I cannot enthuse my love of this game enough. Don’t dilly-dally, just try it!
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Quick to learn and play
- High player interaction
- Sits up to 11 players
- Creates memorable moments
- Gorgeous artwork
- Isn’t as good at four players
- Quite light
- Sleeved cards won’t fit in the insert
- May not be for you if you don’t like social deduction
Need more games?
If you already own Night of the Ninja and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- 7 Wonders Architects
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf
- Bang! The Dice Game
Buy Night of the Ninja
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