Ninja All-Stars - First Play-through

Ninja All Stars – I've been sitting on my Ninja All-Stars box for quite some time waiting for a chance to play the game. I was a little leary because of the negative reviews I read on a few sites so it kept getting pushed to the maybe later pile.

As luck would have it my regular game night was light on attendance and my friend forgot his stuff at home. So the perfect opportunity to fumble through this game for the first time presented itself.

The basics are each player plays a group of ninjas that battle through one of the challenges presented in the book. Throughout the game you score points based on the challenge. Each challenge has a time limit and maximum number of models (the extras sit the bench) which makes each game unique.

A unique dice mechanic is the center of the combat system. When you want to attack the attacker rolls a number of dice equal to their attack stat and adds any modifiers, the defender does the same with their defense stat. You then compare the elemental symbols and cancel out the opposites (water/fire, earth/air, void/spirit) the player that has the most dice left in their pool after the eliminations chooses one of the dice left and applies the result. This can result in some odd situations like attacking and injuring yourself, which can be frustrating but makes sense in the theme. You quickly learn that unless you can get more dice than the model you're attacking not to do it. Also makes sense given that you're ninja assassins so you should only be making "sure shot kills." To compliment the unique combat system you also get a hand of three moon cards that can change dice rolls, give models stealth etc. the most useful of these is the lucky card that lets you just pick the result of combat. I unfortunately fell victim to this card twice when I had a sure shot kill set up.

Ranged combat is handled the same way except that you don't have the chance to hurt yourself. The only results that matter for the attacker is earth (stunned) or void (injured).

Each round players alternate activating models until every model has activated. A model activates by moving and then performing an action (combat, stealth, search or something else). If they chose to not activate they can run to move double.

Once all the models have activated in initiative your do the following:

• Move a model from the healing house to training ground

• Do ONE of the following: draw a card, remove stunned from a model or move a second model from the healing house to the training ground

• Advance the round counter and moon phase 

You repeat this process every round until the score or turn limit has been reached.

The first game we played was a basic brawl Fire Shrine vs. Water Shrine without any of the advanced rules. I'm sure we did some stuff wrong but without the special rules it can be a swingy luck based combat system.

The second game we used the advanced rules which include making your ninja stealthy. When you're stealth you essentially don't exist until you take an action. This means is you go stealth and just run around the board throwing ninja stars it doesn't do much to your opponent but it is fun. There are also terrain rules as indicated by symbols on the board. These help block line of site and complicate your movement. (I think I may try to make a 3D board if the game catches on with our group, it seems like it would help identify the elements more easily than the dots)

I'm not really sure why there's so much hate on this system. I suppose if you just bull rush your opponent and try to force die rolls you wouldn't like the system because half the time nothing would happen or you'd injure yourself. You really can't do that with this game, before you attack you have to make sure the odds are in your favor and even then something might go wrong. The tactics for the game are to mitigate the dice through cards, model placement and special effects to swing the odds in your favor. Stealth is the most important part because by becoming stealthy and avoiding lanterns you can avoid most attacks and set up a juicy ambush. Of course there's ways to remove stealth but it requires an action.