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Ninjato - Board Game Box Shot


| Published: 2011
94 24 13

IN 12TH CENTURY JAPAN, the Minamoto and Taira clans vie for power while retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa plays his rivals against one another. One of the three factions will triumph to impose the coming social order. In the shadow of these elite powers, a few ninja scheme to exploit the chaos. Daring raids, skill mastery, and subtle intrigue are essential to establishing one’s honor. When the new era dawns, one ninja will flourish as the Ninjato, the Invisible Sword of the ruling family.

Ninjato board and cards
image © Z-Man Games

IN THE ROLE OF A MASTER NINJA, each player practices in the dojo, learns esoteric skills from the sensei, raids clan-controlled houses to steal fabulous treasure, influences envoys, spreads rumors in the pavilion, and ultimately tries to become the most legendary ninja of the age.

User Reviews (8)

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2 Beta 2.0 Tester
121 of 128 gamers found this helpful
“Stealth and Strength - Ninjato is Good!”

Rules Summary
In Ninjato players are competing Ninjas trying to gain points by infiltrating different clan houses to steal treasures and using those treasures to spread rumors and influence envoys. Players do this by taking 3 turns over 7 rounds with scoring occurring after the 3rd, 5th, and 7th round. Other scoring is dispersed throughout the different turns. On their turn a player can try to steal treasure from a house, influence an envoy by using stolen treasure, learn a new skill to help them in stealing treasure, spread a rumor by spending treasure (these are basically end game bonus points for set collection), or draw additional cards to be used later. Then at the end of the game a final scoring happens and the winner is declared by all other players bowing to him or her!

The Components
The components in Ninjato could not be better. The art evokes the theme very well. The board itself has that wax-like finish that many games have, especially from Z-Man games. I really enjoy this type of finish on a board. It is also very functional for placing pieces on it. The absolute best part about the components though is the very large throwing stars that players use to indicate what action they are taking each turn. These really make the game jump out to passer-bys when playing in a public setting!

The Rest of My Thoughts
These likes and dislikes will of course be from a personal standpoint, but they hopefully will give you some indication of what about the game may make it worth it for you to get.

1. I love the theme! There aren’t enough Ninja themed games out there. Now, you do have to remember that this is a Euro-style game and so the theme isn’t absolutely prevalent in it like it would be in say War of the Ring or Descent, but it fits the mechanics well. That combined with the art, just does it for me.

2. The high/low mechanic used for stealing treasure from clan houses really makes the game. Trying to determine how well your hand is suited to going the stealth or strength route and then using your skills at the appropriate time to try and get the treasures you need. There are plenty several games out there, Aladdin’s Dragons is one, which uses a “guard” to protect something. In those games though, you always have to go over the guards number to beat them. Giving the option to go above or under the guards strength just adds enough tweak to make it more fun.

3. The tightness of the envoy race is also something I like quite a bit. Basically, when it comes to envoys, you are trying to have the most in each of the 3 colors. However, throughout the game, you aren’t getting 10, 15, or 20 of these envoys. Instead you are getting only 1, 2, or maybe 3 of them. So it makes each one you get extremely important. By giving each envoy, an age (tie-breaker), it makes the game much more tense in trying to get that older green colored envoy to win the tie.

4. Comparisons to Stone Age. As soon as this came out, people began comparing it to Stone Age, which I’ve never understood. Sure it has the rumor cards and Stone Age has the huts which score more the more you have. Many games have this end game scoring mechanic though including 7 Wonders, St. Petersburg, and others. Ninjato, to me, has much many more meaningful decisions that Stone Age and also is more fun to play. I like Stone Age just fine, but it isn’t one that has found its way into my collection, where Ninjato did. Simply because Ninjato offers these decisions that I don’t feel Stone Age does.

5. A knock that I can see coming against Ninjato, which for me doesn’t matter as much, is that there is potential to be screwed by the luck of the draw when it comes to getting treasures from the clan houses. For people who want zero luck in your games, then Ninjato probably isn’t for you, but for me there is enough luck in it to make it exciting, but not so much I don’t feel that good players won’t win the vast majority of the time.

Final Thoughts
If you couldn’t tell from reading this far, Ninjato is a game that will remain in my collection. It offers good strategy and fun in a 90 minute time frame. The pieces and board are great, rules are extremely well laid out, and for a gamer’s game here you can’t go wrong. Also, who doesn’t want to play a game that you yell, “bonsai!” throughout the game?

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Comic Book Fan
121 of 128 gamers found this helpful
“Calling Banzai !”

In Ninjato, you are playing a ninja that will be stealing treasure from the different clans and using the treasure to influence envoys and to gather rumors. The artwork is spectacular on the board and cards and the wooden Shuriken are awesome!

Ninjato is played over 7 rounds where. In each round, Players will be sending their ninja (placing a wooden shuriken) to one of the 5 areas on the board. Each area gives a different action that the player can take.

1) The Dojo is where players will be able to replenish Dojo cards in their hand.
2) The Clan Houses are where a player will attempt to defeat guards (some elite!) to steal treasure and possibly change the clan token on that house.
3) The Palace is where the players will use the treasure to acquire Envoy cards.
4) The Pavilion is where players will use treasure to acquire Rumor cards.
5) The Sensei is where players will acquire skills to use to become more powerful.

After everyone has placed each of their 3 shuriken, cards and treasures are refreshed and a new round begins.

After the 3rd, 5th and 7th rounds, there will be a scoring

First, Players will score the point value of every treasure they use to acquire Envoy and Rumor cards.
Second, players may score points or Acquire rumor cards, during the 3 scoring rounds

In the scoring rounds, each clan house is scored in the order listed on the board. The player with the most envoys of each house will be able to either score points equal to each house on the board or select a rumor card for free. The Player with the second most envoys of each house will gets what is left (either points or rumor card, depending on what the first place player choose). In case of a tie, the player who has the Oldest Envoy wins.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

My Opinion:

I really like Ninjato. The theme is good and there are lots of tough decisions to make throughout the game. I have played it 2-player, 3-player and 4-player and it plays well in all cases, but I think the games plays best with 4 players.

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Z-Man Games fan
I play red
Indie Board & Cards fan
97 of 105 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Become a master Ninja...through luck?”

Who doesn’t love ninjas? Well game designers it would seem. Because oddly enough, there isn’t a huge amount of games featuring the stealthy assassins. Ninjato promises a lot of the elements found in some classic kung ** movies: feuding clans, an evil Emperor, chaos, raids, and subtle intrigue. But does it deliver on that promise? Is it just another Euro with a pasted on theme? And most importantly…is the game any good?


Wooden freaking Shuriken (Throwing Stars)…for some folks I can stop reviewing the game. You are sold. And they are cool. As for the rest of the parts? The quality is mostly good, although they do have the common issue with a lot of games that are a couple of years older…thin card stock. I’m sure the cards will hold up over multiple plays, but it is a negative.

As for the artwork? It’s mostly consistent, although the token artwork is slightly off. This is done to have clear icons though, so it is forgiveable.

All together you get a board, 15 Clan tokens, 19 Sensei Skill tiles, 90 Treasure tokens, 30 Rumor cards, 1 Bag, 1 Round marker, the previously mentioned awesome 12 Shuriken, 3 markers, 52 Dojo cards, 21 Envoy cards, and finally 40 Guard and 20 Elite Guard cards.

Overall the game does look nice when setup on a table, and will draw some players in on looks alone.


Ninjato’s setup is simply, but also ongoing and does involve a lot of end of round clean up. Players take player sets of their chosen colour (I play red) and place the round marker, round order, and score tokens in their proper place.

Next comes the shuffle and place portion. Shuffle the Envoy Cards and place 4 face up on the Palace, placing the remaining envoys in a face down stack near the board. The same thing is done with the Rumour cards. Separate the 3 Disguise Skill Tiles from the rest, shuffle them, and place them in a face down stack next to the Sensei area. The rest will go in a separate pile. Draw a number of skill tiles from this pile equal to the number of players and place them face up in the Sensei area.

And now for more shuffling! The last part of the setup is the Clan houses. Take a 2 and a 4 red clan token and place them on different Clan Houses. Do the same for the blue clan. Place the 6 green token on the last house. Draw and place 1 guard card face up on each house 5 as the sentry protecting the house.

You are ready to play.

Game Play – Basics

In simple terms, Ninjato is a worker placement game, where players trade resources to gain control of areas, or to collect other resources. Instead of meeples or tokens, players use the awesome Shuriken to visit one of five locations, and perform the action assoicated with the location.

THE DOJO: Take some dojo cards.
THE SENSEI: Learn a skill to use in invading houses.
THE CLAN HOUSES: Play dojo cards to defeat guards and take treasure.
THE PALACE: Discard and score treasure to take 1 envoy.
THE PAVILION: Discard and score treasure to take 1 rumor card.

One all players have placed their 3 Shuriken, the round is over. The game lasts 7 rounds, with the player with the most points wining the game.

Game Play – Advanced Tactics

The advanced tactics on Ninjato are all in how you score. The first way to get points is to trade treasure tokens in for a Envoy or Rumor card. The points are based on the type of goods you trade in. A lot of fans of worker placement games will find this similar to buying a hut in Stone Age.

The next way to score points is end of round scoring. This is done after rounds 3, 5, and 7 as part of the favour phase. After each of these rounds, players will compare Envoy cards to see who has the most influence over each of the clans. Based on the clan (red/blue/green) order listed on the round tracker, the player with the most envoy influence in a clan has a choice:

Score the total honour on the clan’s houses


Get a free Rumor card from the Pavilion.

The player with the next highest amount of influence over a clan gets whatever favour the first player did not choose.

The final scoring mechanic is end of game scoring. Players will score Rumour cards. Based on the number of cards they have from one of the 4 sets of rumour cards, players will get a multiplier bonus. The 4 sets give points for having the most elite guard cards, the amount of rumour cards a player has, the amount of envoy cards a player has or the number of skill tiles a player has.


The theme of Ninjato is present in the artwork…and somewhat there in the game play. When going a clan house, the players will engage in combat. Each guard has a fighting and stealth rating. Using cards obtained from the dojo, players will defeat a guard by playing a card that is either higher than a guard’s fighting ranking…or lower than it’s stealth. Their is a real disconnect here as why your ninja’s skill change so dramatically makes no sense. Additionally, if a player successfully raids a house, he gets to change which faction controls the house. Add this to the treasure rewarded for defeating a guard being random…and the theme is officially out the door and you are just playing a Euro game.

The theme does come back a little when trading treasure to bribe an Envoy or start a rumour makes sense…but there’s no connection of why you need certain resources to get certain cards.

Replay Value

I often tell people that I love games with variable setup. Because I do. But there’s a difference between a game being variable, and relying on luck. The combat of Ninjato is very much a basic push your luck mechanic. And the thing is, push your luck games like King Of Tokyo and Bang! The Dice Game are really fun. But they are also, light social games. They simply don’t require the same type of thought and strategy of a Euro game. Ninjato tries to combine the lightness of a push your luck game with the Euroness of a worker placement game…and the results are mixed.

Add in the randomness to the treasures and it’s hard to determine if you did well or poorly because of well timed tactics…or becasue of luck. And that feeling changes from game to game. Which to mean is an incredibly frustrating element as you can’t take what you learn from one game to the next. If you have any experience with worker placement, set collection, or area control you will likely get as much out of a single game of Ninjato as you will five.

Their is some replay value in playing different numbers as the amount of interaction changes in a a 2 player game, but not enough to over come the other faults of the game.

Over All Impression.

I like the look. I love the wood Shuriken. But as a game Ninjato fails. Worker placement is a really solid mechanic. Games like Stone Age, Lords Of Waterdeep, Russian Railroad, and Caverna all manage to feel different despite being games where you place workers to get resources and use those resources to score points.

Ninjato tries to make itself different with the push your luck combat system, and the game falls flat. People who dislike the dice rolling of Stone Age will dislike the combat even more. Players who like push your luck games will be thrown off by the Euro elements of Ninjato.

And avid gamers? They will quickly learn that there’s more fun in playing a game that does some of the things Ninjato TRIES to do better.

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I'm Completely Obsessed
97 of 148 gamers found this helpful
“easy to teach and pick up game”

this is my first reviews and first let me tell you a bit about myself…
i am married, have a full time job, and a great social life… about 15 years ago i was introduced to a game store in atlanta called “the war room”… and for the next 5 years i was a hardcore gamer i played everything from magic, warhammer, warhammer 40k, and own many many board games…though i’m not gonna lie while i was a hardcore gamer my social life was changed dramaticly…i have less and less friends that was a none gamer seems that my life was about playing game painting my miniatures and going to many many cons all over the south…
later on i had to grow up a bit went to college get a full time job so i played less and less game…eventually i stop playing all together sold my magic collection…so all my warhammer armies on ebay….most of my board games were either sold or lost through friends and many moved i had…and i would say from my early 20s through about when i turned 28 i didn’t play any games or would i tried to stay up to date about the gaming and hobbies…till i got married…
i found that married life is a bit different from when i was single i go out less i have more free time to do many many other boring things like watch tv playing with my x-box go to the movies and such… so one day i drove by a game store called ” the tower games” and went in there and i would say a decade has came and passed i saw many many new board games that are new and interesting gaming world that i left behind about 10 years ago has grow into something different and i like it a lot(for the exception of games workshop coz it became such a rip-off money sucking company)… all the gamers i just met then and there made me feel right at home…so i agreed to myself to give it a try and well… i have been playing games ever since
after a while like every gamers out there… i wanted to get my wife in this i tried many many of my fav games but the mission is almost impossible…to try to get a none gamer to play games like axis and allies, dugeonquest, talisman, or civilization… is a very hard thing to do…. either the about of components of the game, or the size of the rulebook some how i couldnt seem to get her to be interested… yes she would try to play but i could tell that she isnt really into it…games after games after a year i gave up…
one day i realized maybe those games that my friends and i enjoy as gamers are too deep then i saw a review about ninjato on you-tube by dicetower ….
went to buy it the next day played a few games with my friends at the game store it has enough dept for a gamer like myself but simple enough for none gamers…they have chances to win…i brought it home and now my mother and my wife is addicted to this game….
in conclusion…. this game is awesome to too short not too long… easy to teach easy to play… board and cards are very very good in quality…art works are very beautiful…. i love it… everywhere i go it never fail to impress people… easy to pick up a game… i highly suggest this for anyone…

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96 of 147 gamers found this helpful
“Best game at GenCon 2011”

When we went to GenCon last year, I heard this game was going to be available in limited quantities. That’s the only reason I wanted to get myself a copy. A friend of mine was also getting a copy and he convinced me that the buzz he heard on the game was pretty good. I had no idea I was going to have as much fun as I did after I got it. I actually bought another Ninja game by AEG which I also enjoyed but not as much as this one.

There are many ways to win this game so your strategy can depend on how other players on playing. That in itself makes the game lots of fun and depending on who you play with, can change how you play the game.

I won’t go into details of how to play it but if you are looking for a fun game with many paths to victory try this one out. The Ninja theme adds a nice touch.

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Gamer - Level 2
96 of 153 gamers found this helpful
“Many Paths to Victory”

I have enjoyed this Game several times, and am delighted to own a copy. One of the best things about it, is that by the end, most players can easily be close in score, and upsets are quite possible.
This is due to the endgame scoring vs the in game scoring. In game you score for treasures used, and during the 3 scoring rounds, you can gain additional score from your envoys, and control of houses. During the endgame you score your rumors which multiply their bonus based on the repeats you have. That’s why people claim it’s like stone age. However, there’s a limit of 4 / multiplier.. so the 5th one makes a new set, plus they are less limited than stone age. This produces the effect that several people can get into the rumor “business” effectively.

Overall it’s a great game, and you shouldn’t count any player out till the end.

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Advanced Grader
Gamer - Level 4
82 of 155 gamers found this helpful
“Impressive playability with gorgeous components”

This game is a “must have” for all gamers. Great interaction and mechanics makes it a game for every game´s night with friends.
The main goal is to evaluate how can you confuse other players strategy in order to obtain more victory points. But not any victory points….just the right ones. 😉
Besides it´s a fast game but with quality playability. You´ll wont see the time passing. This game is on my wish list and I intend to buy it as soon as I can.


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68 of 144 gamers found this helpful
“Un très bon jeu!”

Ce jeu est vraiment génial si vous cherchez un certain défi intellectuel. En effet, vous devrez choisir un nombre d’action assez restreint afin de faire le plus de point possible. Le thème est un délice, le matériel est juste et bien désigné!


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