Sunday, 24 January 2016

Ninja All-Stars Review part 1

Just last week, I received a parcel from Soda Pop Miniatures containing the Ninja All-Stars game and lots of add-on miniatures. These were all part of the Kickstarter project that I backed last year. There is so much to show that I'm splitting this review into two parts. Part one concentrates on all that you get with the basic boxed set, whilst part two will cover all the add-on extras and stretch goal sets.
First up is the box that the game comes in and what is immediately noticeable is just how deep it is. My one and only criticism of the box is that it does not contain any plastic inserts for storing the cards, dice and figures. It's just a big box. Obviously, there are ways around this but it needs pointing out. The rulebook runs to 80 pages and is in glorious full-colour throughout. The rules themselves are easy to learn and they don't take up too many pages. Most of the book covers stats and info on the characters as well as background detail. Once you learn how to use the dice, which uses 6 elemental symbols instead of numbers you're good to go. More on these later. The game is designed to be played by 2 to 4 players, with 2 being the default option. I'll be playing it solo without bias towards any team I choose. There are eight scenarios, or challenges as they are called, to choose from. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from designing your own challenges.
As well as the rulebook, you get a team roster sheet pad to record your team's stats and progress if you play league games. The game works fine playing one-off challenges but really excels if you choose league play. In this respect it is reminiscent of Bloodbowl and indeed, shares a lot in common with it. You get six large-sized cards of stats for Clan teams and six for Shrine teams. Also included are a deck of 52 Moon Cards which can be played throughout the game to help your team or hinder your opponent, 12 cards of Clan Heroes, 26 cards of assorted Ronin and a deck of cards showing stats of various Ninja All-Stars figures for those who want to use the minis in Super Dungeon Explore, which is something a lot of fans (myself included) wanted to see and clamoured for.
You get two sheets packed with counters to use in the game, all very colourful and characterful. Most feature status effects - Activated, Curse, Delay, Haste, Lucky, Moon Power, Poison, Protect, Slow, Stealth and Stun.
The 16 dice (8 black and 8 white) feature symbols of the six elements - Air, Earth, Fire, Spirit, Void and Water, as shown respectively on the first six white dice reading from left to right. The most common use of the dice is for an Affinity Test. Each model has an affinity with one or more elements. To make an Affinity Test, the player rolls three dice, looking for at least one match with his or her affinity. Models with more than one affinity must choose which element to use before the dice are rolled. In combat, the attacker rolls a number of dice equal to their Attack stat whilst the defender rolls dice equal to their Defence stat. These stats can be modified by certain circumstances. The results of the two rolls are compared and dice are eliminated based on the following pairs - Air and Earth cancel each other out, Fire and Water cancel each other out and Spirit and Void cancel each other out. After all eliminations have been made, the player with the most remaining dice chooses a single die from those remaining for the result of the attack. If the results are tied, the attacker chooses the result. The results vary from element to element. Not all results are good! Three favour the attacker (Air, Earth and Void), one favours the defender (Spirit), one is subjective (Water, which could be good or bad) and one is harmful to attacker and defender (Fire).
The game boards are just superb! To the left and right are the two dojo boards, which show a team's Healing House and Training Ground at both ends. Injured team members are placed in the Healing House until they recover and are then moved to the Training Ground. Models held in reserve are also placed in the Training Ground.
The main board, shown above, is double-sided, and shows a manor house or temple on this side. Figures move from dot to dot, some of which have restrictions depending on their surrounding terrain. For example, it costs 2 movement points instead of 1 to move through Rough terrain, Obscured terrain blocks Line of Sight and Elevated terrain cost 3 movement points to climb up on but only 1 to drop down from.
In the centre of the dojo board to the left is a tracker for marking how many Victory Points a team amasses, whilst in the centre of the dojo board to the right are spaces for placing the Moon Cards deck, discarded Moon Cards and a tracker to determine the six phases of the moon, plus a tracker to note how many rounds have been played.
The game board shown above depicts a small village. Soda Pop Miniatures have announced that new game boards will be produced in the future. Yay!
Finally, I come to the figures you get with the game. All figures are 28mm scale Chibi-style miniatures, very similar to the figures used in Super Dungeon Explore and fully compatible with them. These six shown above are the Samurai Sentries, whose purpose is to protect various objectives depending upon the challenge chosen. They are not affiliated to any Clan or Shrine team and operate independently and against them. I love these figures and I do regret not buying more of them as add-ons, as they'd make a fine force to use in other games or as a tougher challenge for this game.
Now we come to the six Shrine teams, each of which are affiliated with one of the six elements. The nine figures for each team are made up of identical sculpts of five different types. The game supplies you with four Shrine teams - Fire, Spirit, Void and Water. Air and Earth Shrine teams are not included but I'm showing them here just for completeness.
Each Shrine team has an equivalent Clan team. The Air Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Tanchyo. To ease identification, both teams are moulded in green plastic.
At first glance, it may appear that all six teams are identical but that is not the case. For example, compare the stats for the Air Shrine Chunin (leader above) with those of the Earth Shrine Chunin (shown to the right). The Air Shrine Chunin has stats of Move 5, Attack 4 and Defence 3, whilst the Earth Shrine Chunin has stats of Move 5, Attack 3 and Defence 4. Also, the Abilities of certain types, shown below their three stats, differ from team to team.
The Earth Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Yamazaru. Both teams are moulded in brown plastic.
The five character types depicted on each Shrine team reference sheet are Chunin (clan leader), Kaiken (foot soldier), Yajiri (ranged weapon specialist, usually bow armed), Kunoichi (female scout) and Madoushi (mystic). If you play with Clan teams you have limits as to how many of each different type you can take. However, to get you started, Ninja All-Stars includes four of these six pre-generated Shrine teams so you can get straight down to the business of playing the game.
Note that  all of the figures in the game have a small mark on their bases to indicate their front facing. This is a great idea, I think.
The Fire Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Tora. Both teams are moulded in red plastic.
The Shrine team characters come with just three stats - Movement (MV), Attack (AT) and Defence (DF). However, Clan teams have an extra stat, which is Koban (the monetary unit used in the game) and this tells you how much it will cost you to buy that particular character for your team. The more powerful the character the more expensive he or she will be. Koban costs are not given for the Shrine teams but if you wanted to add any Shrine figures to your Clan teams you can find the equivalent costs provided with the Clan team sheets.
The Spirit Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Kitsune. Both teams are moulded in orange plastic.
At the start of each round of the game the players determine the order their team activates. The rules recommend playing rock, paper and scissors but I prefer to make a dice roll with the highest result going first. I use a d20 for this. Then each player chooses one figure to move then act. This continues until all the figures have moved and acted. Movement always comes first, although players can choose to not move a figure if it would benefit them. Actions can be any one of a melee attack, a ranged attack, a second move, searching or going into Stealth mode.
The Void Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Ijin. Both teams are moulded in purple plastic.
The figures for the Shrine teams are very nicely sculpted but they aren't particularly outstanding. However, the figures for the Clan teams and the Ronin (mercenaries who can be hired by any team) are absolutely superb. You'll see what I mean when I review them next time. This begs the question - do you really need the Shrine teams? The honest answer is no, you don't. They are just a tool to help you get started and are probably of most use for teaching newcomers how to play the game. I got my Shrine teams simply because I'm a completist.
The Water Shrine team's Clan equivalent is Clan Ika. Both teams are moulded in blue plastic.
Although I only received this game very recently, I have played it once just to try out the rules. I rolled to see which two teams to use and ended up with the Air Shrine and Void Shrine teams. I played the introductory Brawl Challenge and the first team to accumulate 9 Victory Points was the winner. It took about 90 minutes to play and ended in a 9-5 victory to the Void Shrine team. I must say, the game played very well. It was a lot of fun and is a game that should not be taken too seriously at all. 
The game is more akin to a non-lethal sports match than to a fight to the death. In Ninja All-Stars no one dies. Characters are either injured or stunned. A character who receives three stuns in a round is automatically wounded. Your role is as a coach, picking the best team for the challenge in hand and coming up with a winning game plan. Like many good games, Ninja All-Stars is easy to play but difficult to master.
I have read some misguided negative reviews of the combat system, with a few people moaning about the colours of the dice (WTF!), the cancelling elements and how characters with low attack stats have no chance of defeating enemies with a high defence stat. I totally dismiss all these criticisms. If you are stupid enough to send a low attack character head to head with a high defence foe then you deserve to lose! The game is all about tactics. Let us assume you are sending a character with AT1 against an enemy with DF3. First, you should have your attacker go into Stealth mode and move behind the enemy. Attacking the enemy in the rear from Stealth adds +2 to your AT (+1AT for a rear attack and +1AT for attacking from Stealth). Now its 3AT versus 3DF. The odds are tied. For each friendly model next to and facing the enemy you get +1AT for each assist. With just one colleague assisting your attacker the odds are now in the attacker's favour - AT4 vs DF3. Ninjas are meant to be stealthy and to attack from a position of strength. Really, combat is all about good tactics, which is why I said the game is easy to play but difficult to master. 
I absolutely love the game and can highly recommend it. From what I gather, it ought to go on general release in mid to late February.


  1. Oh crikey, just when you thought it was safe to view your blog without fear of wanting something new, you post up this Chibi goodness, Bryan. What a cracker! The minis look great, especially the Samurai and its clear you've already developed a keen liking for the game's mechanics. Dare I ask whether there's any cross-over potential between this and SDE in the future? A conversion or some such looming on the horizon? Either way this looks like fantastic vfm and I'm looking forward to seeing the second part :-)

    1. Many thanks, Simon. I think if you like Chibi miniatures (and I know not everyone does) you'll love the figures for this game. They contain some of the best sculpted Chibi miniatures I've ever seen!
      There most certainly IS cross-over potential with SDE. Note that I did mention you get a deck of cards with SDE stats to use with a lot of the figures. These are part of the basic package, which was a major factor in me wanting this set.

  2. Superb Bryan. I wished I had got the cash when this was at KS I was very tempted by this one. It looks like a top quality game my friend enjoy it!

    1. Thanks, Simon. Sorry you couldn't afford to back it. I'm already a huge fan of the game and it certainly does just ooze quality.

  3. Looks cool Bryan, stylish and rather `sexy`. If Super Dungeon Explore didn`t already exist as one of my STICK AT SIX SUBJECTS AND NO MORE I`d more assuredly be very interested in this one. I`ve grown to love and trust Soda Pop and Ninja Division for their high quality and the great playability of their rules. The allure of a fresh light hearted game with no death and lots of (dare I say it) Star Wars "Pod race" appeal is not lost on me; especially as I half designed a similar game once long ago. Oh nothing like this, more of a rpg dungeon crawl team competition thing... not unlike Hunger Games, yet interestingly, I came up with my idea long before I or anyone else had even HEARD of that series of books and movies. I axed my half fleshed out science fantasy adventure campaign the moment Hunger Games hit the shelves, as it was so similar, it was almost plagiarism, or certainly would have looked like it. Anyway, yes, Ninja All Stars looks like a bit of a peach: totally yummy and nice and succulent too. Excellent miniatures, superb game components and simply oodles of re-playability. The fact you can use the Chibis for your games of SDE is a bonus, most certainly not to be sniffed at either.

    I will not buy it, however. I really have reached my "six" as I`m calling it nowadays. My back pack is full (if you want to work in Zombicide terms). I am more than happy with the six subjects/genres I have chosen to play, and I just know - try to take on any more, and I`d be in serious trouble trying to find time to `fit it all in`. I actually talk about this in detail in one of my own threads on my own website.

    Just out of interest. Having six subjects I give my all to, means, effectively, if I even it out equally, I get 2 months to spend in any given year dedicated to each project. Course, some of my games get more attention than others, but even so, it works nicely for me, and means things never get stale, and I have enough time to devote to my entire hobby.

    Incidentally, just because I know you`re dying to know what my !six! are - haha:

    1 6mm Chinese (colonial) Boxer Rebellion "55 Days in Peking" etc: with room (relatively easily if I want) to expand into Zulu wars, India, and The Sudan.

    2 Sails of Glory - Napoleonic Naval wargaming (Master and Commander and Hornblower type games).

    3 Memoir 44 & The Great War (WW1 & 11 Boardgames).

    4 Super Dungeon Explore

    5 Zombicide & Zombicide Black Plague.

    6 Dungeons and Dragons (rpg and table top).

    The rest (and BOY its a lot)..... sadly all has to go over the next year (eBay). I know you will prick your ears up at that Bryan: "What... what about your 28mm Zulus, WW11, Touch of Evil, Last Night on Earth, etc etc etc???? *sighss* All has to go Bryan. I simply KNOW the games I want to play, and know the games I will never get round to playing much, if ever at all. One or two, like Arkham Horror and my water damaged Talisman can stay in the cupboard... there`s ALWAYS time for the odd boardgame now and again :)))

    ANYWAY, your new game looks stunning Bryan. I truly can see the attraction of it, and I could almost see myself `losing` one of my "six" to make room for it hehe. However, will be good, and stick to my decision. You do make it hard Bryan.. my resolve is always sorely tested when I read your reviews.

    Lovely review mate, and I greatly look forward to seeing part 2.

  4. Thanks very much for your well considered response, Steve. I think the biggest difference between you and me is that you have more willpower than I do! Oh God, I wish I could limit myself to just six games. But, the big problem for me is that I love all my games and I doubt if I could ever limit myself to just six games. There are some that I could never abandon and so I'll list my definite must stay games and then the others.
    1. Zombicide and Zombicide Black Plague.
    2. Super Dungeon Explore.
    3. Rum and Bones.
    4. Ninja All-Stars.
    5. Last Night on Earth.
    6. A Touch of Evil.
    1. Thunderbirds.
    2. Shadows of Brimstone (even though I haven't played it yet).
    3. Arkham Horror.
    4. Castle Ravenloft.
    1. ATZ: Reloaded. (unlikely to ever play again)
    2. Mars Attacks (never played yet but I do like the human figures)
    1. The Others: 7 Sins (still waiting for it to arrive)
    I can understand why you chose your top six favourite games. I suppose I could just stick with my 6 Must Stay games if forced to but thankfully I don't have to. Still, even with my top 10 favourite games I could spend 36 days in the year concentrating on each one. That's not too bad, is it?

  5. WOW, you must have been sitting at the computer as I posted, that was so quick a reply. That's cool, because it means I can reply to you now as well.

    {{That's not too bad, is it?}}

    No Bryan, none of it is bad really is it. It’s a hobby, designed to provide us with pleasure and fun. Okay some of us (like you and I) are passionate gamers verging on addictive mania.... no, no, who am I kidding, we are waaaaay beyond even that haha. We enjoy all aspects of the hobby, even if we collect and never actually play with any given purchase.

    Take me for example. for the last year I have been collecting 28mm Zulu wars stuff. Zulus, Redcoats, Irregular cavalry (Natal Mounted Police), 17th Lancers, servants, ancillary staff, black workers, camp followers (naughty ladies), animals, trees, camp fires (pig of a spit), toilet (outside `thunderbox` privy), loads of houses, walls, sandbags, boxes, crates, bunkers, rivers, roads, expensive Black Power rules book and Zulu supplement, and, then I realised I needed maxim guns and crew, horse artillery, rocket launchers and crew, wagons, outhouses, rock formations, sunken wells, army bell tents, cook house, surgeon`s camp, officers tent..... the list goes on and on, I planned vignettes to create just about every conceivable situation (photographs for my website and blogs) I could possibly think of ever wanting... even house interiors (from Sally 4th) I even started planning my huge permanently fixed sand table and then, suddenly... I stopped!!!!

    It dawned on me, like a bomb shell, that I wasn`t enjoying what I was doing. I wasn`t happy. I had so much painting to do, it all felt like an endless chore with no light at the end of the tunnel. If I were twenty years younger..... sure, no problem. the hardest bit was admitting to myself I had made a mistake, bitten off far more than I could chew. Next I had to admit it to the wife *gulp* but as usual, she just smiled and supported me.

    Bottom line, I am just too old nowadays to lean over a huge table for hours on end playing massive games. I derive far more pleasure out of sitting comfy in my favourite chair, pouring over Zombicide, Memoir 44, Dungeons and Dragons...... A GAME I CAN REACH ACROSS AND PLAY SITTING DOWN.

    But, I had an absolute ball for a whole year, planning, cogitating, living still un-fought games in my head as I drooled over my wonderful purchases, and imagined the campaigns I would play once it was all finished and ready to go. Did I truly waste that money, or did it all serve a purpose? It gave me untold hours of pleasure, which is what a hobby is meant to do... and end of the day, I figure I still spent less in a year than I would have done smoking cigarettes and drinking beer in a pub.

    I think, at the end of the day, basically, it`s all good mate.

  6. Ha, ha, I've been monitoring my blog all morning, hence my quick reply to you, Steve. I hear what you're saying and can fully empathise with you. We are absolute gaming addicts but why not? The hobby gives us so much pleasure and there are worse things to spend money on.

    I've never really been in the situation you described with your 28mm scale Zulu Wars. The closest I came was spending years and years building up my zombie miniatures collection but having no one to game with or a decent set of rules. My collection grew and grew but remained tucked away for half my life. Thankfully it all turned out good when I discovered the All Things Zombie rules (first edition) and World Works Games for the start of my scenery collection.

    I'm with you 100% over preferring miniature boardgames that don't take up a lot of space and which you can play from the comfort of your chair without too much standing up and bending over. It must be an old age thing, LOL!

    Yes indeed, at the end of the day it is all good!

    PS. Do I think you wasted your money on a game you seem unlikely to play? Absolutely not. We are not gifted with prescience and you made the right decision at the time. The fact that you got so much pleasure out of collecting and planning made your choice the right one.

  7. Bless you Bryan, your words encourage me.

    On a last note (sorry to hijack your original thread).... about your zombies mate. I see ATZ is no longer high on your list of played games, and yet, I think you may be unaware that... Oh my GOD Bryan, your ATZ battle reports are without doubt some of the BEST things you have ever written on your vampifan site. The ATZ battle reports and campaigns are masterly, and I wish with all my viewing/reading heart, you could find the energy and enthusiasm to `re-vamp` this aspect of your hobby, and avail us of more, more MORE of it. The terrain you have (simpy WOW) the figures, the camera work, your love for the genre.... omg Bryan, you have the potential LITERALLY to make top notch table top graphic novels, easily on par with Kirkman`s Walking Dead.

    1. Steve, I can understand your concern but have no fear. My list of favoured games only applies to board-games. ATZ:FFO is a miniatures based skirmish wargame. A totally different entity in my book. I listed ATZ:Reloaded as one of my least favourite boardgames but that most certainly is not true of ATZ:FFO. I do plan on either continuing or restarting my ATZ campaign later this year, once I receive my Battle Systems Urban Terrain sets. Incidentally, these terrain sets will be very useful for Judge Dredd games so I'll probably start a Judge Dredd skirmish game campaign as well. It'd be a shame not to use my miniature figures in either settings.

    2. PS. I realise there is nothing stopping me from playing ATZ:FFO now with the scenery I already have built but I feel a fresh start is needed. Ed has kindly sent me a copy of the brand new ATZ:Fade To Black rulebook, (which I'm sworn to secrecy about) which is another reason why I'd like to restart my ATZ campaign from scratch. Believe me, I have BIG plans for ATZ. It may be taking a break for now but it will return with a bang and once again you can enjoy my batreps, which I must admit, I love doing, despite the time it takes to play them and edit them for blog publication.

      If I was to include ATZ in my favourite games list it would appear third behind SDE. So for that reason alone I will not be abandoning it.

      As for Judge Dredd, I ran a very successful JD campaign in the 1980's but used large sheets of graph paper for my battle maps. I've never played a Judge Dredd game with 3D scenery before and this is something I want to do. I have the figures, the vehicles and the rules. All I'm missing is appropriate 3D scenery. Once again, the Battle Systems Urban Terrain sets will fix that problem.

  8. Lots of new figures here - will you paint them in due course? That would take a while :-) .

    Great to hear that you're thinking about restarting ATZ. I'm also stalled on this, but plan to get going again real soon now. Really soon. Any day now, in fact. Hopefully.

    1. I very much want to paint all the figures from this set, although there's no hurry to paint the six Shrine teams shown here. The Clan teams and Ronin are far nicer sculpts. See my next post.

      ATZ is definitely going to return, I promise!

  9. Chibi samurai and ninja? What's not to love! A nice looking game that pushes both my Oriental and quirky buttons. I shall look forward to your next post on this, Bryan.

    1. You won't have long to wait, Jez, and you're in for some real eye candy next time!

  10. Just had a awesome would an appropriately scaled chibi Vampirella be? They don't currently appear to do one, but maybe a possible future conversion for you?

    1. Now that would be totally awesome. Currently, for SDE is a figure called Succubus Vandella (similar name to Vampirella) who'd be perfect conversion material for my favourite vampire. Dammit, now that you've put this idea in my head it won't go away!

  11. Do it... DO it why don`t you!!! (<---- best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice) I think the idea is inspired... NICE one Carrion Crow. And yes Succubus Vandella IS the best mini you could use for the conversion. Hell, she`s just made for it. Buy a spare and do it Bryan, DO it!!!!

    1. You do know, Steve, that it didn't take much to twist my arm! Yes, I have ordered another Succubus Vandella figure from Amazon and I WILL convert her into a Chibi Vampirella. It simply has to be done! :-)

  12. WOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!!!!! oh wow, a Chibi Vampirella, how cool is that going to be??????

    1. It is going to be so freaking cool! I'm already very excited about this little project.