There are two ways to take a good concept for a strategic game and turn it into a game that actually makes people laugh: add a little luck, and a little more fantasy. Ninja vs Ninja is a near perfect example of those principles in action.
The design is saturated with fantasy. The pieces are the embodiment of sword-carrying Ninja-like silliness (they look very much like the picture on the box). There are six black Ninjas, six red Ninjas, two Ninja Masters and two Shadow Ninjas. The areas in which the pieces are first placed are called “dōjō”s. Once a Ninja enters the neutral area separating the dōjōs it is said to be on a “mission.” It must penetrate the enemy dōjō and then return in order to win honor (a point) for its master.
The inscrutable forces of fortune are represented by two, 4-sided dice. The dice look like bricks that have been magically skewered, the long-way, by a Ninja sword.
The Master and Shadow Ninjas are above the fray, used, as most masters are used, only to keep score. The Shadow Ninjas track the potential score. The Master Ninjas the actual.
The idea of Potential Score is in itself somewhat mystical. The further a Ninja penetrates into the enemy dōjō, the higher its potential score. However, no score can be granted until that Ninja safely returns to its own dōjō.
In the spirit of Ninjahood, though a Ninja can in fact eliminate another Ninja, no points are scored for Ninja killing. Only those who penetrate the depths of the enemy dōjō and return unscathed earn honor for their master. Unless, of course, all the opposing Ninjas are eliminated. In which case, after the requisite moment of insincere grieving, significant victory is granted to the living, whilst ceremonies of in-your-face glee ensue.
The game has genuine strategic depth. After a throw, you can move any one Ninja in a straight or L-shaped line the number of spaces indicated by the total of the dice. Deciding which Ninja to move along which path in which shaped line, deciding whether to eliminate an opponent’s Ninja (o, so tempting, and yet, o, so unscoring), or to move one of your Ninjas further into the enemy dōjō or to race back cross neutral territory to gain whatever points you can – these are all significant, contemplation-worthy complexities.
The two-player game takes perhaps 15 minutes to learn and 15-30 minutes to play (depending on how strategic the players want to get). Kids who are old enough to play checkers and play Ninja will appreciate every aspect of the game, and ofttimes resort to speaking in odd accents and exchanging Ninja-like wisdom. Designed by Tushar Gheewala and published by the frequently Major Fun award-winning Out of the Box, if you’re a Ninja-loving, light-hearted strategic game player, Ninja vs Ninja will prove most genuinely Major FUN.