Simple, pure fun is the objective of many a family game: keep the kids entertained without the grown-ups tiring both of the activity and of enforcing good behaviour. It isn't easy to achieve, but games like Loopin' Louie (Bandai) prove it can be done. IELLO's Ninja Academy isn't the head of this particular school but it's a nifty little package that can provide engagement for kids and grumps alike on a relatively level playing field.
One might expect a little more depth to a game with Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc among those credited (along with Corentin Lebrat and Théo Riviere), but even hifalutin' strategy game designers can mix in a little family fun from time to time. Ninja Academy is a few-brains-required mix of dexterity events aimed at giving you a laugh while playing it and then moving on.
The game is structured according to player count from 3-5, but is always scored over five rounds, with the odd-numbered ones being solo events where everyone plays at the same time and the even-numbered ones broken down into head-to-head contests that pit individual players against each other. Players not in head-to-heads stay involved by betting on who they think the winner of the match-up will be.
The events mostly consist of flicking, throwing, and balancing meeples, cards, and sticks, even using the box. However, blowing, grabbing and pushing also make appearances and are more prone to rambunctious behaviour and disease-spreading (lockdown bubble notwithstanding) with the more immature participants. Of course, you can pick and choose events to avoid unwanted interactions but that does reduce the variety. I'd rather have a bellows like Der Schwarze Pirat/The Black Pirate (Haba) for the blowing, and my wife objected to the Jungle Speed (Asmodee)-like damage inflicted by the more physically interactive tasks.
That aside, Ninja Academy certainly succeeds in passing the 'fun' test: as with many games in its class, laughter, banter and good-natured shouting ensue from the physical competence of the players - and lack of it - all guided by some well-designed events. The wackiness is enhanced by Jean-Baptiste Reynaud (Djib)'s cartoony illustrations and the much-used and abused components are solid and durable.
So, whether it's kids looking to graduate from younger titles like Animal Upon Animal (Haba), teens who fancy a twitchy fix away from their phones, or grown-ups just happy to have all the family in one place, Ninja Academy can teach you some new and fun ways to interact.
(Review by David Fox)