Designer: Adam Daulton Art: Chris Byer, Jaqui Davis
Publisher: Action Phase Games
2-4 players 15-30 min. ages 10+ MSRP $20
It’s a little known fact that animals make the best ninjas. In fact, there’s a secret camp where they go to train. Whether you’re a hamster, a camel, a sloth or a platypus, Sensei Saru can teach you to master the arts of the shadow warrior.
Today, the Sensei has a special challenge for all his students. Each animal clan will enter the arena and face each other in a grand melee. You must use your skills combined with the opportunities you find in the arena to remain standing while others fall.
Do this and Sensei Saru will name your clan to be his personal apprentices, and the best students at Ninja Camp!
The Ninja Camp is a card game. There are 80 cards in total.
There are 8 clan cards. These represent the different animal students attending Ninja Camp. Each player will play animals from a clan and each animal has a special ability you’ll be able to use once per game. The artwork is ridiculously charming and you may want to take a minute to let everyone look through the cards and decide which one they like best.
The main deck is made up of Skill cards, Walls and Traps. These cards will be laid out in a grid to form the training ground, the arena where your animals will compete for the Sensei.
Skill cards will make up the bulk of the arena. Each card describes a specific ninja move and shows the point value of the card.
Each player will also start with two basic skill cards to begin the game : Evade and Sprint.
Last but not least, each player has four wooden ninja meeples (ninjeeples!) These nifty little guys represent your animal clan and will move about the arena as you play cards.
You’ll take turns placing 3 of your ninjeeples into the training ground one by one, making sure each one is on a different Skill card. No ninjas allowed on the walls !
Ninja Camp is played over a series of turns. On your turn, you will either play a Skill card from your hand OR you will use your animal clan’s special ability. Your card or your clan ability will enable you to move one of your ninjas on the board.
Each clan has a very cool and very powerful special ability, BUT… you can only use your clan’s ability once per game. Once you have used it, flip your clan card over. Here are some examples.
Most turns you’ll be playing a Skill card from your hand.
Each Skill card describes a specific way you must move one of your ninjas on the board. You must be able to follow the movement instructions on the card in order to play it.
Here are the 7 different skills ninjas use to move in the arena:
Evade – move 3 spaces in any direction
Stealth – move 2 spaces and claim the first card your ninja steps onto.
Dodge – move 1 or 2 spaces, including diagonal
Sprint – move in a straight line until you reach an edge, wall, hole or another ninja.
Ambush – move straight until you land on an opponent’s ninja. Push that ninja one space back.
Leap – move over a hole in the arena and land on the next card after the hole.
Shadow – copies the skill of the last card played.
There are a few general guidelines that apply unless a Skill specifically allows you to break the rules: no diagonal moves, no passing through other meeples (yours or another player’s), and no passing through or landing on the same space.
One of the key challenges in the game is deciding what card to play and what ninja to move. But there’s another factor you have to consider on every turn and this factor is….
When you move your ninja, you collect the card where your ninja began its move and add it to your hand.
This means you will have more options available in your hand of Skill cards as the game moves along.
Suddenly, the choice of which card to play and which ninja to move may be determined by what card you want to pick up OR what card you want to land on! You may move a ninja because you really need the Leap card where it currently resides. Or you may move a ninja because you want to finish your move on an Sprint card, so you can pick it up later on in the game or simply prevent others from getting to it.
Picking up cards from the arena also means that the board will have gaps or holes. This will make movement more difficult or downright impossible as the board continues to shrink turn after turn. It’s inevitable that your ninjas will come to a point where they are trapped in a small area of the board. The trick in Ninja Camp is to keep as many ninja active as long as possible so they can collect more cards.
When you cannot move any ninjas (or you choose not to move) you pass and play will continue without you. When all players pass, the game ends and we’re ready to score.
The cards you collect and/or play during the game determine your score. If you were unlucky and collected any traps, they count as negative points. You also get points for the cards your ninjas rest on at the end of the game.
This scoring system also adds a simple but nifty level to each choice you make in the game.
It might seem obvious that you want to head for the highest point value Skill cards as often as you can. And this does make them juicy targets. But there’s just one problem. The higher point value Skill cards are also the more difficult cards to use in the game because their movement rules are more restrictive. So you might end up landing on a big point Skill card but find it very hard to move from it. Most often, the player whose ninjas remain active and agile wins, not the player who focuses solely on big point cards.
A game of Ninja Camp feels like a sparring match. You act, your opponents react. It’s a dance of move and counter move on a rapidly shrinking board.
The beauty and fun of Ninja Camp comes from its simplicity and economy. Now, I don’t mean economy in terms of its price (though it is a great deal at $20). I mean economy of language in its rules.
So often games that offer challenging strategy on this level require a much more complex set of rules.
There are seven basic moves in the game and after using or seeing these moves used a couple times, it will be easy for most players to remember each one.
This means you don’t spend time fighting the rules ; you spend your time looking for the best possible option based on the choices available. No one wants to be mired in a laundry list of exceptions and rules to remember.
By keeping the rules so streamlined, designer Adam Daulton allows a wide range of players to dive into the game really quickly and gives each player a chance to discover the fun and challenge that comes from deciding what to play and who to move and trying not to get your ninjas trapped.
For this reason Ninja Camp makes a great game for both kids and families while providing a wonderful challenge for more experienced gamers as well.
The charming variety of animals and the random arena also gives Ninja Camp great staying power since it will be a different experience every time you play.
Ninja Camp finds depth through simplicity. That’s the kind of wonderful surprise that makes it Major Fun. And it’s a reason you might want to step into this arena and go toe to toe with the next clan of hamsters you meet!