The prototype for Of Knights and Ninjas (Blue Fox Games) reached us just a few days ago so we've only had a short time to play the game but we've played it a lot in the time we've had it, both in its 'standard' 3–6 player version and following the special rules for playing with two.
Of Knights and Ninjas immediately caught our attention thanks to the captivating artwork by Martin Malchev and the game's designer Josh McBride. It made us want to break the game out for play right away. Essentially, this is a tower defence card game. Players have five gems in front of them (six in a two-player game) and they gradually build hands of attack and defence cards as, each turn, they draw two more cards and are required to play or discard at least one. The cards depict a plethora of different Medieval personnel, constructs and siege engines, each with its own specific action, power or vulnerability. Some can be played to attack another player (take down their defences and/or steal one or more of their gems), to fortify (put up bulwarks that have to be taken down by opponents before they can raid your gems) or in defence (usually as an 'interrupt' action in response to an attack triggered by another player). To win, you need to have 10 gems (all 12 if you're playing with just two); so this is a unashamedly a game of cut, thrust and petty pilfering.
Of Knights and Ninjas is a game that definitely demands familiarity with what each card does and how it interacts with others. The basic rules of the game could hardly be simpler but there are 17 card types in the core game and each has its own specific rules. So, for example, if an opponent has fortified their kingdom by playing a Castle, you need to know that they can only be attacked by using a Ladder, Catapult, Dragon or Ninja; each of which has its own particular powers and limitations: a Ladder, in this case, could be used to scale a Castle's walls allowing another attack card to steal gems but the Ladder cannot be played when the Castle is also fortified with Archers.
The various conditions and caveats mean there's a lot to take in. The rules suggest taking out the Herald, Merchant, Traitor and Princess cards for your first plays and only adding additional card types when players are better familiar with the game. We found this to be sound advice or we'd have been overwhelmed trying to remember what every card can do. That said, it wasn't long before we'd assimilated all the card-specific rules and we were able to throw ourselves fully into enjoying the game and developing our different tactics for undermining opponents' defences and overcoming their attacks. And of course it greatly speeded up play once we all knew exactly what each card could do and when.
Tho' the game is designed for 3–6 players, and we found four to be our sweet spot, the rules include a two-player variant. This involves an initial asymmetric card drafting, which we almost always find a welcome addition to a game, but also some changes to how some of the cards can be used - so you'll have to expect a double-dip learning curve as you first unlearn how to apply the Herald, Merchant, Monk and Minstrel before learning how to use them in a two-player game. The Monk and Minstrel were cards we didn't have in our preview set as they're additional card types that are planned as stretch goals in Of Knights and Ninjas' upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
Of Knights and Ninjas is a great little filler-length game. It's due to launch on Kickstarter today, which is why we've pulled out the stops to rush out this (p)review. You can find out more and back the game by clicking here.