Shinobi Wat-ahh had me at Naïade. You may not immediate recognize his name, but I’ll bet that you’ve seen his art on some of your favorite games. Xavier Gueniffey Durin AKA Naïade is probably best known in the gaming world for his excellent illustrations for the game Seasons, though you may also know him from Isla Dorada, Tokaido or The Phantom Society. Regardless, I’d probably lay down my hard earned cash for almost any game that he’s created the art for, it doesn’t hurt that my wife also loves his artwork, so it’s easy to get her to play anything he’s created. Now, that is out of the way, let’s talk about how Shinibo Wat-ahh actually plays, don’t worry my reference to the art will continue to pop up throughout the review.
This review will focus on the ‘Grasshopper Mode’, I’ll return at a later date to get more in depth on the ‘Grand Master Mode’ after I’ve had the chance to play through it more.
Shinobi is set in ‘The Empire of the Moon’. Unfortunately for the empire, a rift has recently opened, providing passage for terrible creatures that have been lurking in the shadows for millennia. As if that wasn’t bad enough, our pal the Emperor, son of the Moon is getting pretty old and his loyal lords, aren’t so loyal anymore, in fact they’re making a play to seize the throne. Clan lords will appeal to warriors known as ninjas to help them battle their ‘honorable posteriors onto the imperial throne’.
Set up for the Grasshopper Mode, only involves shuffling the deck of 94 Shinobi cards. The deck is made by combining 81 Clan cards, there ate 9 cards per clan, 4 Ronin cards and 9 Yokai cards. It plays 2 to 4, each player will take a Ninja Master Token and places it in front of himself. Set the Shinobi deck in the center of the table, leaving room next to it for the Jigoku (Discard) pile. Each play will then reveal one Shinobi card from the top of the deck, the player who revealed the card with the highest strength will be the first player.
Each player will now draw 8 Shinobi cards, with the exception of the first player, who will only receive 7 cards.
You’re now ready to battle it out for the throne. The game will take place over a series of rounds, with very simple rules. Play will continue clockwise until there is a winner. Each round will consist of 2 mandatory actions and a 3rd possible action.
1. Draw Cards
You have an option when drawing cards, you must chose before you draw though.
Recruit: You will draw the first card from the Shinobi Deck and place it into your hand.
Be Corrupt: You’ll draw the first card from the Shinobi Deck. You’ll then show the card to the other players and place it face down under your Ninja Master token. You then draw as many cards from the Shinobi deck as the strength of the card you drew plus 2! The cards under your Ninja Master token now make up your Corruption pile. The values of the cards in this pile will be negative points during final scoring. The temptation is strong…
2. Place Cards (optional)
You have 2 ways to place cards.
Place a Clan: Once Per turn, you can form 1 clan by placing 2, 3 or 4 cards of the same clan. A clan can never consist of more than 4 cards. If you are placing your 2nd, 3rd or 4th Clan, it must be a different clan than one you already have in front of yourself.
The Clan’s power is activated when you place the card. Placing 2 of the same clan activates the 2 card symbol, placing 3 or 4 cards of the same clan actives the 3 card symbol. You may not activate the 2 card symbol twice when placing 4 cards at once.
The Ronin is considered a wildcard and can stand in for a card in any clan.
Reinforce a Clan: Once per turn, you may place or or more cards on a clan already in the game, as long as you ensure that no Clan has more than 4 cards. You can reinforce a Clan by placing 1, 2 or 3 cards of the same clan, possibly including a Ronin. If you now reinforce with 2 or 3 cards, you can trigger the ability on the Clan’s card. If you have 2 cards out and only reinforce with 1 card, you do not trigger the 3 card ability.
You can instead reinforce a Clan by placing 1 Yokai card on the clan. It’s power is then triggered immediately, a Yokai card can only be placed on a clan already in play. You can not add one during your initial building of a Clan.
3. Discard a card. (Mandatory)
If you still have cards in your hand, you must discard one card and place it into the Jigoku face-up.
The next player in clockwise order takes their turn now.
These rounds continue until a player places his 4th Clan and applies it’s power. Each player will now determine the total strength of their troops by adding the values of all Clan cards placed in front of them and then subtracting the total value of cards in their Corruption pile.
The player with the highest final total is declared the Victor. In case of a tie, the place with the least Corruption wins the game, if there’s still a tie, play again.
The Clan of the Spider have weak strengths, with 5 cards 2 strength and 4 only 1 strength. What the Clan of the Spider lacks in initial strength, they make up for in their triggered abilities. When you place 2 cards, you can destroy a card sending it into the Jigoku. Why you really play the Clan of the Spider is to trigger the 3 card ability and Destroy 1 Clan of an opposing player.
The Clan of the Bear bring the highest Strength to the table, with all 9 Cards having a strength of 6. They offer no triggered abilities though. If they can make it to end game scoring, they’re going to help you out quite a bit, but watch out for the Clan of the Spider!
The Clan of the Dragon have 3 different Strength Values. 4 cards with a strength of 3, 4 cards with a strength of 4 and a single card of 5 strength. Their triggered ability helps you draw additional cards and pick the ones that you need to help build in hand clans and prepare for the next round. My first few games, I underestimated their ability.
The Clan of the Rat bring 4 different strengths to the table. 2 cards at 1, 3 cards at Strength 2, 2 cards at a strength of 3 and a final card with a strength of 4. Rats play their part well, they’re down right dirty, triggering their ability can cause your opponent to have to discard a good portion of their hand, forcing them to ‘Be Corrupt’ the following round to build their hand back up.
The Clan of the Toad only have 3 separate strength values. 2 cards with a strength of 1, 4 cards with a strength of 3 and 3 cards with a strength of 4. The toads are a great end game strategy, allowing you to place 2 cards to force a player to put a card back into the hand, or the 3 card trigger effect to return an entire Clan to it’s owners hand. If the Clan of the Toads are your 4th Clan, they can help drop an opponents score quickly.
The Clan of the Crow bring 3 card strengths, 3 cards with a strength of 2, 4 cards with a strength of 3 and 2 cards with a strength of 4. The Crows can really help turn a game, if an opponent was just forced to destroy a Clan, placing that clan into the Jigoku, and you can then get out a Clan of Crows, you can go right in and take that discarded clan. Being able to utilize the Jigoku as a personal draw pile is very handy.
The Clan of the Monkey brings only 2 values with them. 6 cards of 1 strength, and 3 of 2 strength. No one trusts a monkey right? These evil, ugly guys are able to copy the abilities of enemy clans, so if you just play a strong Spider clan, watch out because the Monkey Clan can immediately destroy them in return.
The Clan of the Carp has 4 different strength values. 2 cards with a strength of 1, 2 cards with a strength of 2, 2 cards with a strength of 3 and a single card with a strength of 4. This is the Clan you want to get out early game to build your hand of Shinobi cards.
The Clan of the Fox has 3 different strength values. 4 cards with a 3 strength, 4 cards with a 4 strength and a single card of 5 strength. The triggered abilities are definitely going to aggravate your opponent. Trigger your 3 card ability when your hand is almost gone to steal an entire hand of awesomeness from your opponent. They never even saw the sly foxes coming.
There are 9 Yokai cards which can be used to reinforce your troops. Each triggering a separate ability when played, while a few benefit the player who just used them, most of them are just nasty little beasts which will harm your opponents.
Thoughts on Shinobi WAT-AHH:
I initially purchased Shinobi based entirely on the art, hoping that the game play was as good as the art was. Théo Rivière didn’t disappoint! Shinobi is a fast paced card game of take that, if your friends don’t like direct confrontation, do not put this game in front of them! There are many different strategies that will work as the 9 different Clans have entirely different abilities and can be used well to play off of each other. In my games I’ve yet to find any balance issues with the card abilities. While there is a definite element of luck of the draw, the abilities on the cards help to mitigate that some. It comes down to really smart hand building and paying attention to your opponents. With the ability to not Play a card/Clan on your turn, you can take the time to build the hand you need before having the Clan hit the table as long as your aware of your opponent, who may be trying to push the speed of the game, to hit that 4th clan before you can save up for that big attack.
I’ve only played one game of the ‘Grand Master Mode’ but it just builds upon the base game and adds in an element of deduction and surprise with a final boss battle, but I’ll try to get a review of that up shortly.
The components are decent, though you may need to sleeve these cards if you plan on having it hit the table often. They have a decent gloss on them but at a bit thin, especially the cards for the ‘Grand Master Mode‘. The box insert is really bizarre, while it accommodates everything nicely, it really doesn’t make any sense at all.
Why are there 4 circular holes and one larger circular hole? There’s absolutely no need for these, unless they’re planning for future expansions. Overall for the $39.99 MSRP, you can’t go wrong. Shinobi WAT-AAH! is an excellent game. I hate to call it a filler as this is a review based entirely on the ‘Grasshopper’ mode, but that’s what it feels like. It’s really delivers in terms of artwork and theme. We recommend it!