A lopsided game of two halves
The intriguing thing about Ninja Squad is that it offers two games for the price of one.
A family-weight release set in feudal Japan, it puts players in the shoes of a squad of – wait for it – ninjas. The first half of the game sees you work together to evade guards and sneak into the palace of a wicked shogun to assassinate the despotic ruler. The second ditches the co-operative approach, with you and your friends fighting it out to escape before you can be brought to justice for his murder.
The co-op portion of the game introduces its mechanical core. On your turn you’ll choose one of a pair of randomly-shuffled movement cards to manoeuvre an anime-style plastic assassin across a square-grid board, aiming to stick to shadowy areas and avoid running into guards patrolling the city streets. Along the way you’ll accumulate power-ups letting you make additional moves or hurl razor-sharp shurikens at unfortunate enemies.
It’s a premise plucked from big-screen martial arts epics, but it comes with some real rough edges. While you’ll try to evade guards, there are times when both of your available cards leave you with no option but to plough headlong into them. When that happens, you’ll lose your next turn and, while Ninja Squad plays so quickly that it’s not the end of the world, it’s the kind of thing that’s been practically eliminated from modern game design – for good reason.
There’s also not much you can do in the way of meaningful co-operation, and the competitive mode on the board’s reverse side feels considerably better by comparison. A note in the rulebook suggests skipping the co-op stage, which seems like a sensible option, although it still suffers from moments that strip away players’ sense of agency.
PLAY IT? – NO
Designer: Yan Yegorov
Artist: Ein Lee, Elmer Damaso, Alan Perry
Time: 20-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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