Review – Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan from AEG
Designer – Frederic Moyersoen
Art – Conceptopolis, Llyn Hunter, Yutthapong Kaewsuk, MuYoung Kim, Jorge Mutar, Florian Stitz
AEG provided a review copy of this game
At last year’s UK Expo, i was introduced to AEG’s War of Honor, which was my first experience in the world of L5R or Legend of the 5 Rings, which has a huge fan base who play the collectible card game. Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan, is set in the L5R universe and focuses on the Scorpion Clan’s Ninja’s. I was really interested when I first heard about the game and finally got me a copy of this game for 2-4 players, age 12+.
The basic idea is that the Ninja player(s) sneek into a castle, avoid, outwit, kill, guards, complete 2 secret missions and “get out of dodge”. I loved the sound of this very sneeky game and having played other AEG quality games, couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
As expected, the components, and artwork are very nice in deed. The board shows the castle grounds with places to place sentries and patrols. It looks great.
The plastic models are very nicely done (love the drunken guards) and give you a good sense of the world of L5R.
Good quality strategy cards with excellent art work as usuual from AEG, with nice flavour text to build the atmosphere.
Nicely done Mission cards which are secretly chosen to kep the Guards player(s) in the dark, so to speak.
Also included are privacy screens and a pad of private maps.
The ninja and traitor must find the locations where they can complete their 2 missions, then exit alive before dawn breaks (the 20th turn). The guards seek to stop them.
The Intruders can be played by 1 player or 2 (one take ths ninja, the other takes the traitor. The Guards can also be played by 1 or 2 players.
At the setup –
One mission is randomly drawn for each intruder.
There are 2 strategy card decks. The Intruder chooses 8 of 12 cards and the Guards choose 24 of 36. All of which provide the players with varios options. The cards include –
For the Guards
– Awaken, Kenjutsu (weapon) Patrol Listen, Patrol Search, Sentry Listen and Sentry Search
For the Ninja
– Kenjutsu, Rope, Secret Passage, Shadow walk, Shuriken
For the Traitor
– It was a cat, Kenjutsu, Potent Sake, Rope, Secret Passage
The Intruder cards can only be played once. The challenge for the Intruder is to be very selective with a few cards. The Guards need the larger number of cards to try and isolate the Intruders and zap them.
Guard figures are placed on the board in icon spaces.
The Guard player takes one of the private maps and keeps it for tracking searches, allocating sleeping guards, mission goal locations, traps, and hidden sentries. The Ninja player takes aprivate map as well to track his moves and locations of hidden guards, traps, , hidden passage, etc.
Alert phase – The Guard player draws cards based on the current Alert level, and then the Alert level drops (the cards in their hand are put aside temporarily). Drawn cards can be played. Alert levels range from None to High. The higher the Alert, the more cards are drawn by the Guard player. Any or all cards can be played, with a limit of one card per sentry or patrol. Non-played cards go into the Guard player’s hand.
Listen cards are used to hear the intruders and raise the Alert level. Guards hear Intruders based on proximity to the Intruders.
Search cards and/or Awaken cards are use to try and locate Intruders. Obviously if they’ve been heard, it narrows down the search. Guards can move up to 2 zones. Patrols move as a group.
Guards phase – Guards can play up to 2 cards from their hand. But only one per sentry or patrol
Guards Patrol phase – Guard patrols are moved along the red patrol track
Intruders phase – The Ninja Traitor make secret moves, tracked on their private map. Strategy cards can be played any time during the phase. If they do not kill the Guards when entering a zone, they must reveal themselves.
The Intruder can search two zones per Intruder per turn. Of course, this gives the Guards a chance to detect them. If a Mission zone is searched, the Guard player advises which zone letter they had assigned to the zone. If it is a letter that corresponds to a Mission card, the Intruder player shows the relevant card to the Guard player.
There are rules for detection of the Intruders, combat, terrain, the Secret Passage, and for playing with 4-players.
It took a few turns to understand how it all worked and by then the turns did speed up. The rules are reasonably clear, with illustrated examples which are very helpful; its just a case of learning how the process hangs together. You definitely get a sense of the theme of sneaking into the castle and defending/searching. So on that level it works pretty well.
Did it work for me?
My friend Tony and I have spoken a number of times about our experience playing Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan. To be honest, we both have mixed feelings about it which are articulated well by Tony below:
“Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan lives up to the very good production values that AEG has come to embody: some lovely miniatures (cool drunken guards!), the usual great L5R artwork on the cards, and good board design. It has to be a said that the theme of feudal Japan is going to suck me in every time!
It took a couple of turns for me to properly get my head around the rules, but once we had got into the groove, the pace of the game was pretty good, and the length of the game felt about right. (I thought it felt a bit too long – Mark)
The game has strong similarities to the classic ‘Scotland Yard
‘, and – even more so – the more recent ‘Nuns on the Run
‘ (the latter particularly in relation to the listen/noise mechanism). Not surprising in the case of ‘Nuns’, given that the designer is the self-same Frederic Moyersoen
fame). With such a good lineage from those earlier games, the basic mechanism of the game – the infiltrators sneaking round mostly invisibly on the board whilst the guards dash about trying to discover the infiltrators – is pretty solid and works well. There are some neat little tweaks that I liked and thought improved the experience overall for the infiltrators, e.g. the secret tunnel that can be used to quickly move from one area of the board to a completely different one (great for using to penetrate to and/or escape from the heart of the fortress quickly), and the handy special cards that aid your sneakiness (‘It was a cat’, ‘Rope’, etc) and/or silent deadliness (‘Kenjutsu’ or ‘Shuriken’).
So the basic foundation of the game I thought was a good one, and some real thought had gone into meshing the theme well with the mechanics. Having played as the Intruders, I did have one major concern, which was the significant luck factor in whether or not you successfully find your target somewhere in the two inner castles. In the game we played, I think I searched 90% of the zones in each of the two inner castle areas before being forced to flee, and on both occasions the target was in the last zone in the area I had not had a chance to search. (and I was able to just plant Guards on the zone once it became obvious where Tony had to go – Mark). A rare instance of bad luck perhaps, put something that rather soured the experience of what otherwise seemed a very well put-together game. I’m sure there must be a way to try and iron out this obvious (if small) risk, which becomes more of an issue if you think that the opposite could also be true – a ‘first time lucky’ guess at the zone to search by the infiltrators could bring the game to a very rapid and unfulfilling end for the guards (yes, if Tony had discovered the right zones early, I would have felt frustrated – Mark).
My general attitude to luck in games is that I like a little: too much and it’s just a game of chance (and it’s too much of an investment of time to be that), but too little and the same person will win every time. What the best games have is mechanisms to allow you to reduce the chance and/or impact of luck going against you. The problem for me with this game was that there didn’t seem to be anything of that nature in the game in relation to the target locations. Perhaps to help the infiltrators zero in, some sort of pointers should be introduced at one or two points during the game, maybe automatically, or maybe at some sort of opportunity cost. Conversely, to help the guards, perhaps if the target mission is revealed before a certain number of turns have passed, the infiltrators should be assumed to have made a mistake in their haste to penetrate the castle and should pay a cost, e.g. lose a random one/two of their valuable cards, or have their secret tunnel automatically be discovered and blocked, to make their escape harder?
Overall, I think this game may have suffered a bit from my high expectations – I REALLY wanted it to be great – but I’ve tried to take that into account in this assessment. I don’t think the game currently is great, but neither is it bad. It’s a great looking game with some good mechanisms, that for me is just let down by the one minor – but potentially fatal – flaw of the risk of bad luck spoiling the experience as a whole. So currently a 6 out of 10 for me. Find those tweaks that can smooth out the sharp edges of extreme luck and I could see this easily going to 8.” Tony (Tulfa on BGG)
For me, I think that Tony has hit the nail on the head. The luck factor is just so strong and therefore, could make for swings in results and frustration. Playing the game, the mechanics and the theme is fun. I liked the tension, the theme, the level of frustration as I tried to hunt Tony down and exasperation as my Guards got zapped. Eventually, it became obvious where he had to go which made it a bit of an anti-climax. Trouble is, its just not as satisfying as I had hoped because of the luck factor and therefore, disappointing. Having said that, I do expect that with numerous plays, the luck will even out somewhat and the extreme search results will not be the norm.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6.5
Well, it could be but its definitely a hobby game.