What better theme for a children’s game than that of the cold blooded assassins of yesterday; the Ninja. Sure they were known for their stealth and merciless cruelty. Their efficiency in all things relating to the deadly arts. But sugar coat that with bright watercolors, cute raccoons and mischievous birds and you’ve got a real winner on your hands. I relish the future. Families gathering around the table to play a game that allows little Timmy to be a sniper that protects the world from insurgents. Thankfully, in this game the stealthy and mischievous characters portrayed on the cards are after much more mundane goals than murder. Primarily the harmless and ambiguous macguffin; treasure.

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Ninjitsu is a game designed by Peter C Hayward with art by Kelly Jo released through Jelly Bean Games. Jelly Bean Games, strives to make games that are accessible for children and interesting for adults. Ninjitsu in particular is a stand alone sequel to their first game “Scuttle” which has similar art and gameplay, with a pirate theme. I should note that both Scuttle and Ninjitsu can be combined or played separately.

In Ninjitsu, players compete to be the first to have 21 points on the table in front of them. After being given 4 cards to start with, they then may take 1 action on their turn. These actions consist of A) Play a card in front of you for points. Some of the cards have a mask symbol and must be played face down and are considered “hidden Treasure”. Still worth points, but are susceptible to be stolen. B) Discard a card for it’s special ability. These abilities have a wide range of possibilities that are capable of either helping you or hurting your opponent. C) Swipe a hidden treasure from another player. This is a risky move as the treasure may very well be trapped and upon acquiring the card you could be hurting yourself.  D) draw two cards from the deck. Play continues in turns until one player has at least 21 points in both hidden and revealed treasure in front of them.

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The game is as short and sweet as it sounds. It’s certainly in the “Take that” genre of card games, but with a runtime of under 10 minutes, it never feels too malicious or cutthroat. Simplicity is the nature of the game, especially when it’s geared for younger kids as this is. The game can be taught in a matter of  minutes and plays anywhere from 2-5 players, without extending playtime beyond 10 minutes.

This game was created to be interesting for both children and adults. I had the opportunity to play this with a wide range of ages and it was met with positive responses all around, often leading to more than one game being played. That’s the test of a solid filler game. You play it once and someone asks to play it again. That’s what I experienced with Ninjitsu.

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Now, the game is light, absolutely which isn’t a negative in itself, but what that means is that it is just one of many, many filler games out there. With so many options the question is do you have room for or want this game in a collection over something else. It’s not a question I’m going to answer for you, but it’s one you’ll need to address. The game is over quick. Really quick, sometimes well before you’re able to formulate a tangible path to victory. In particular the two player game almost needs to use the 30 point variant. Playing this with my wife I was baffled at how quickly 21 points can accumulate. That’s remedied at higher player counts with more player interaction, however. Component wise it’s essentially just a glorified deck of cards with cute art and special powers printed on them. There’s suits that (from the base rules anyway) aren’t used for anything other than aesthetics.

Those aesthetics, however are fantastic. One trend I’ve noticed from Jellybean Games is the stellar production of their products, it seems to be something that the designer prides himself on, and for good reason. The artwork in Ninjitsu is no different. Water color images mix with cartoony figures giving it a weirdly appealing mix of childhood whimsy and artsy elegance. On top of that the game is fun. I didn’t have a single person express that they didn’t enjoy playing this game. It was certainly light, and we certainly didn’t want to spend an entire evening playing JUST ninjitsu, but the ease of teaching and the good natured backstabbing was really fun. Some games were quick, some were quicker. It’s the kind of product you can have a slice of and be eager for more. I love that it’s suitable and interesting for all ages and got to see first hand just how well it works with a wide range of ages playing in the same game.  It’s light on strategy, but because of that it allows for a gaming experience where no one has to hold back and everyone has a fair shot at winning.

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Cons

  • Light and shallow.
  • Games can end a little too quickly.
  • Very much a “take that” kind of game.

Pros

  • Beautiful and fun artwork that fits the theme and tone.
  • Very accessible and easy to teach.
  • Quite fun and fast paced.

For what it sets out to be, Ninjitsu excels. A charming little game about stealthy raccoons, sneaky birds and silly children. It’s the kind of game that perhaps doesn’t have a ton going on mechanically, but hides it’s simplicity behind beautiful production and unobtrusive rules.

To get a copy of the game, visit ninjitsugame.com