Ninja All-Stars - Review

I recently received a very large package in the post. What is this? I really wasn't sure. Turns out my Ninja All-Stars pledge arrived! After getting a good number of games in I am ready to give my verdict on it.

Ninja All-Stars Ika Oni holding the middle of the field
I have played a variety of 2 player and 3 player games so far and they have all bar one been a real blast. The only let down was a game of Assassinate we played with 3 players. One person got wedged in the middle which made for a short uneventful game.

The game is set around chibi Ninja on The Island of Kagejima where a contest is held to determine who the most respected clan on the island is. This island is magical and each clan is attuned to an element, Spirit, Void, Water, Fire, Earth or Air.

Each clan has the same unit types Chunin (leaders), Kaiken (standard ninja), Yajiri (ranged ninja), Kunoichi (the female scouts), Oni (magically infused warriors of tremendous power), Madoushi (the mystics and healers of the clan). They also have their very own heroes and a large number of wild wandering ronin for hire.

Each game round starts with a game of Janken and consists of activating all Ninja alternating between players. A game will have an objective ranging from injuring your opponents ninja, delivering messages, holding the middle ground, assassinating a single target and many more.

The mini's are beautiful, the board is gorgeous and all components are of good quality except the moon deck of cards, but once sleeved this isn't an issue. Really top notch work but is this just a good looking game?

My opinion is no. I am a very tactical gamer, I love games like Malifaux, Infinity, Imperial Assault and so on. If these sort of games call out to you then you may just love this.

Each position on the board is marked with an icon to determine things like difficult terrain or changes in height for buildings etc. Each model has an attack, defence and move value along with its KB cost which determines the size of the game. Your models also have a board facing (which I really like), being ninja's these little guys get bonuses for attacking from behind, ganging up and being in stealth.

The dice mechanic... Now there has been a lot of fuss over this and anyone who argues that the dice are broken are in my opinion deluded. I will attempt to explain.

When attacking you roll a number of attack dice as indicated on your character stats, plus extra dice for attacking from behind, being supported, being in stealth and any extra moon cards you play to boost attack. You then pit this against the defenders defence stat which again can include supporting defenders and moon cards the defender plays.

The dice are 6 sided (one for each element) and they cancel each other like so:

Air cancels Earth.
Water cancels Fire.
Spirit cancels Void.

Still with me so far? (This isn't rocket science). The issue people have is that there is considerable risk when attacking that you may get injured yourself. Once you both have rolled dice and performed the necessary cancellations the winner is the person with the most dice left in their pool (unless a moon card says otherwise). This will always be the person who initially rolls the most dice.

Then from the remaining pool of dice the winner must choose an outcome. Each element has a specific effect such as moving the defender, stunning them, injuring them, going crazy and exploding in a whirlwind of stuns for all adjacent models and so on. But there is also a nasty little icon for the attacker which is Spirit. it means that the attacker is injured (sent to the healing house).

You also HAVE to choose a result, so in a situation where only one die is remaining and it is Spirit you must pick it.

I have ran the numbers on this and I don't see any issues with how often this can occur. These are after all highly trained ninja in a deadly contest. Other people like to quote "it's not worth attacking unless your attack value is higher" this is only half the story. With a higher attack value you do stand a much better chance of leaving the fight unscathed and getting the all important kill. But even when you have one die less or equal there is still reasons to attack, that is because of the rule that the winner "must" choose a result. Yes you are chancing the result but forcing them to make the result can result in Injury to the defender.

An example combat of an attacker with Attack value 1 against a defender with Defence 2.

Chance of Injuring Defender: 7.41%
Chance of Injuring Defender (with moon card to decide result): 25%
Chance of Injuring Attacker: 25.46%
Chance of Injuring Attacker (with moon card to decide result): 7.41%

So lets go back a bit. Remember I said I love tactical games? Well this is where the dice issues that people complain about get removed entirely. The whole game is about posturing and positioning. Setting up a ninja to be swarmed on the next turn ensuring a take down. Facings and zones of control are really important to deny your opponent openings so they can do the same. For bloodbowl fans this will be second nature to them and I really recommend you check this game out if you like bloodbowl.

I think the main issue is that if you look at the box art it does look like you can throw ninja in a ring and go round beating them up. Yes this is a very simple view of it but if you don't like tactically thinking about positioning this isn't the game for you.

Overall, I am really happy with the game. I see it as a closed system. I have the minis, I have the game and I have like-minded people to play against which makes this a fun but challenging game. I haven't even mentioned the league mode which allows you the ability to play over a series of games and level up your ninja!

I recommend it to any of you tactical gamer folk.

Craig McNicholas

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.


  1. Mnn...

    Your opinion made me think twice about this. I strongly feared this was just a "cool mini / game NOT" situation.

    There are reviews all over the place ditching the dice system (wich indeed feels counter intuitive from the distance) but your tactical approach and the fact you mentioned bloodbowl players would feel right at home made me think of this game from a different perspective.

    Maybe my biggest complain here is the retail game just comes with 4 vanilla clans and along the core I'd have to dish money to get two clan boxes...

    Thanks for the review tho.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. You are right about the clans but you can just use the shrine teams as the clans. Painted you wouldn't notice a difference unless actually having them is important to you.