Stephen King has two great rules for anyone aspiring to be a writer: Read a lot & Write a lot. (This is slightly apocryphal, as he has quite a few rules/tips/suggestions, but these are important ones, and I was trying to be dramatic.) These very same rules obviously apply to any creative endeavour. If you want to be a composer you should definitely be listening to lots of music. And if I want to make board and card games, it follows that I should certainly be playing plenty of them.
With that in mind, I belong to quite a few different board game design groups and forums, which offers a wealth of exposure to the creativity of others. There is so much out there, quite frankly, that the choice can be over whelming, when trying to decide what posts to read, and what to skip over. But if I see a designer put the call out for someone to play test their game, I’ll always click on the link to give it a look. Hopefully I will help the designer learn something about their rules or game play, and at this stage of my journey it’s a certainty that I will learn something that will help me as a designer. A classic win, win. It was with this thought in mind, that I clicked on “Looking for Playtesters” and discovered Tiny Ninjas.
I mean, seriously, doesn’t that image make you want to play it?
Tiny Ninjas is designed by Ryan Leininger, of 2niverse Games, a company whose sole focus is games for exactly 2 players. Ryan has designed a great single deck (+2 dice) game and artists Paula Tuazon and Yela Gatchalian-David have elegantly bought it to life. I was enthralled with the character cards in the Print ‘n’ Play link that Ryan sent to me, and got them printed, cut out, and sleeved as fast as I could.
There are 20 different Ninja Characters in the game, and they each have an attack ability, and a defense ability, printed in two separate rows under the character name. Ryan has designed an efficient battle system, with 5 different methods of attack/defense, utilising only 2 x 6 sided dice. (The final version of the game will have colour coded dice, but a nice cheet sheet included in the PnP explains how to make it work with normal dice.) The ultimate result is that there is plenty of variation in abilities over the different Ninja characters in the game, that both works well for the player and makes thematic sense.
Each player starts with a random hand of 5 cards, 10 Health points, and the ultimate goal of decreasing their opponents Health to 0. The first phase of the game has Player 1 attacking. She plays a card that attacks Player 2, according to its attack row. Player 2 then has the option to play a single card in defense, protecting against damage according to its defense row. If the amount of defense is less than the amount of attack, Player 2 takes the difference in damage, and their Health points go down by that amount. Player 1 may then play another attack card, etc. The players do not draw new cards during a phase, so their hands are getting smaller with each card played.
When Player 1 decides to end her attack phase, the tables are turned, and Player 2 now plays cards to attack. However, and this is the fun bit, only the new attacker in each phase, Player 2 in this case, draws cards back up to a hand size of 5. The defender only has the cards that remain from her original 5 card hand, that she did not play during her attack phase. If she played all 5 cards to attack Player 2, then she has no cards left with which to defend. The attacking strategy is a balance between going hard to inflict damage, and keeping some reserves for your turn on the defensive.
I have played this a dozen or more times with my 10 year old daughter, and there are going to be plenty more plays in my immediate future. It’s fun, light, looks great and takes 10 minutes to play. The cards seem pretty well balanced already, so Ryan is just collecting some blind feed back to make sure the rules read okay and to see if anything needs a little tweaking. The finished version will be on Kickstarter next February, and you can visit the official website to follow on Social Media or sign up to be alerted when it goes live. I heartily recommend that you do.