01 March 2016
There’s a wealth of stealth in GCT’s new ninja-based board game.
GCT Studios | Stealth boardgame | £69.99 | 2-4 players | 60 minutes | www.riseofthekage.com
Along with wizards, and perhaps pirates, there’s just something undeniably cool about ninjas. Who doesn’t want to sneak around in the dark, chucking ninja stars about while taking out guards with barely a whisper? Whether it’s films or videogames, ninjas have become something of an icon… wow, just imagine if someone made a game about magical ninja pirates, it would be a license to print money.
Anyway, before we get sidetracked with ninjaaaaaars, Rise of the Kage is a two to four player title that pits a group of three ninjas against a house only going to get two plays out of the game. That’s because a lot of the set up is down to the whims of the guard player who gets to choose where he places objectives (known as Search Tokens), guards, doors, lanterns and other potential ninja-spotting devices at the beginning of a game. For example, should you heavily guard all the search tokens and place lots of doors around those… but that will make the rest of the board fairly easy to move around. Or do you spread out a bit, which will make the individual guards easier to take out? Decisions, decisions. full of potentially angry guards. Up to three players take on the role of the stealthy interlopers (when there’s less than three, a player will control more than one), while the final player becomes the master of the guards. The ninjas must complete their mission (more on that in a moment) without getting killed, making too much noise or running out of time, as there are only seven turns before the sun comes up and blows the cover of darkness.
Although there’s only a two-sided playing board included with Rise of the Kage, that doesn’t mean you’re only going to get two plays out of the game. That’s because a lot of the set up is down to the whims of the guard player who gets to choose where he places objectives (known as Search Tokens), guards, doors, lanterns and other potential ninja-spotting devices at the beginning of a game. For example, should you heavily guard all the search tokens and place lots of doors around those… but that will make the rest of the board fairly easy to move around. Or do you spread out a bit, which will make the individual guards easier to take out? Decisions, decisions.
As for the ninja player(s), they too don’t always have the same objective and instead must choose from a mission card at the start, which will dictate the victory conditions for that game. For example, they may have to assassinate the boss guard, escape with some treasure, or even cause a riot. However, no matter what the mission, the ninjas must still spend most of their time collecting the search tokens and, of course, avoiding or killing those pesky guards.
Another element that changes the ninja’s play style is the various equipment they can collect during the game, e.g. throwing daggers, blow pipes or blinding dust. Of course, if you’ve got a shuriken in your arsenal you’re more likely to make ranged attacks, while the armour increases a ninja’s defence so they’re happier to get up close and personal. Some equipment, like the shuriken, is kept throughout play, while single use items like a firework or blinding dust are immediately discarded after being used. Again, this all adds to the replay value. There are also ‘event’ cards that can give the ninja player an immediate boost.
However, the guard player also has quite a lot of tricks up his sleeve with his own deck of event cards. To make up for the fact that the various guards can be killed very easily and are rather slow (typically moving just one square), the event cards included for the guard can be used for things like re-rolls or to buff attacks. Some, however, seem a little overpowered, allowing guards to basically be teleported into rooms or automatically destroy a ninja’s equipment. Plus, there’s the opportunity to block ninja events with some guard cards, which is frustrating. Yes, we guess it’s meant to reflect the fact that ninjas have to change their plans on the fly but it doesn’t necessarily always make for a fun game.
Anyway, aside from this, as you might expect stealth plays a very important part in the game. No matter what the ninjas do – opening doors, attacking guards, sneaking about – there’s a risk they’ll make a sound, which alerts the guards, so you’ve got to plan carefully. You see, if the ninja player fails an action roll, e.g. they roll a four rather than a five to creep past a guard, it automatically creates a noise token and these noise tokens can be used in the guard’s turn as an extra action or even to buy more reinforcements. What’s more, as the noise creeps up, it also enables stronger guards to be brought into play, making life even more difficult for the poor ninjas. This means the ninja player really has to weigh up their actions, based on the potential negative side effects. Some nice touches are equipment cards like fireworks that can be used to disguise noise during a turn and stop the ninja player generating tokens.
However, although there’s undoubtedly a fun game at the heart of Rise of the Kage, it’s hidden slightly by a confusing rulebook that doesn’t always clearly explain key game mechanics or does explain a key element but in an area of the rulebook where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it, e.g the token section. It’s a shame because obviously the rulebook is the starting point for most people and without a clear and concise introduction to Rise of the Kage, newcomers are liable to be put off.
Rise of the Kage is an enjoyable game that’s muddied slightly by some unclear rules and event cards, along with a few balancing issues that can favour the guards. However, there’s clearly a foundation for GCT to build on here, thanks
to the top quality components and gorgeous miniatures, along with the core concept, which is solid. Therefore with an official errata or FAQ this could definitely become a decent addition to your collection.