By John Cadice, David Freeman, Deke Stella
No. of players: 2-4 Play Time: 90+ mins Age: 13+
I’m in a bit of a bind here. My previous reviews for Breacher18.com were for Games Workshop’s flagship games as they reached their absolute nadir and tearing into them was fairly easy. The thing about Ninja All-Stars – from Ninja Division and Soda Pop Miniatures, is that I rather like it.
Ninja All-Stars (NAS) is a skirmish level miniature wargame masquerading as a boardgame. Don’t be fooled by the signature Soda Pop chibi art style, NAS has a lot more in common with the likes of Malifaux or Mordheim than it does with Super Dungeon Explore.
Each 2-4 players take control of a team of Ninja of varying styles, there are archers, sneaky Kunoichi, weird wizardry blokes, regular pyjama wearing Ninja and super fighty Ninja. These teams then compete against each other in various scenarios ranging from straightforward brawls to more complicated missions with NPCs thrown into the mix.
The game is played on a board with a grid marked out by small circles. Some of these circles have icons to represent various special effects – rough terrain, high ground, impassable walls etc. The board itself is of sturdy construction and double-sided to offer a different arena. The artwork is beautiful and fits well with the models.
The models themselves are high-quality coloured plastic and match the chibi art style on the box. They are all single piece so no assembly is required. I can’t wait to get them on the painting table.
The combat system is quite unique and flows well once you get the hang of it. This system uses custom dice with symbols of the game world’s six elements – Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Spirit and Void. Both attacker and defender rolls a number of these dice equal to their appropriate statistic (included on handy reference cards) plus bonuses for flanking, special abilities etc and any dice showing opposing results (eg, fire and water) cancel each other out. Whoever has the most remaining dice gets to choose a result, each element has a different effect from pushing a model away to wounding the defender or even wounding the attacker. The system works smoothly and is balanced so not even the fightiest of fighty blokes are invincible.
So far so good, but there is one issue I have with Ninja All Stars. Most of the fairly hefty instruction booklet describes the lore of the game world and of the six different factions in particular. Each of the factions has its own array of unique units such as werewolves, kami, oni, weird fish men and they all ooze with character but the game box doesn’t have any of these unique faction models. Instead, there are four identical teams of generic ninja with only a couple of different special rules between them. This is equivalent to a Warhammer 40k starter box just having 2 squads of space marines, functional but it doesn’t really show off the range or inspire much expansion. If you wanted to add the (rather gorgeous) unique faction models you would have to buy at least two sets to keep fair teams. As the board in the base game is required to play, it would be hard to convince other players to buy it themselves. I would have preferred the base game to come with only two teams but with much more variety between them and maybe a few of the factionless mercenary models to spice things up a bit more.
In summary, Ninja All Stars is a solid, well-designed skirmish game with tons of replayability thanks to the assortment of scenarios. The comparatively lacklustre model variety in the base box lets it down but it’s still worth picking up. I’ll probably buy myself a couple of faction boxes although more for the cross-over with Super Dungeon Explore ‘Super Ninja Ambush’.
Ninja All-Stars has an RRP of £69.99 and can be found at these retailers.