Amid the ever-increasing stack of board games at B3-HQ is a favourite which keeps getting dragged out as a warm-up game: Ninja Dice.
Originally funded as a Kickstarter back in late 2013, Ninja Dice’s pitch was simple: A push-your-luck game which would not only be portable, but would also — uniquely — consider not just where the die land, but which way they face.
Ninja Dice’s premise is simple — players are ninja who are all competing to get rich quick through both robbery and sabotage. Each player must attempt to navigate and clear three increasingly difficult houses while other players roll against them and each other. Each home is generated by another player’s dice roll, four dice in the first round, then five, then six, with each facing rolled detailing the challenges the would-be thief will be facing, be that guards, civilians, or padlocks. The ‘house dice’ aren’t just loaded with single instances of the above, of course — there are sides of the dice dedicated to doubling up the amount of obstacles to clear on the way.
With the house rolled, the player must then try to rob the place hollow, rolling their five skill dice to see which tools they can commit to the job. The skill dice include faces counting as lockpick, shuriken, stealth, and wildcard, however they also include fortune and ‘arrow catch’ options. Fortune is one of the game’s location sensitive die faces, with the facing indicating an area, derived from where it landed, from which it can apply a multiplier to the value of other dice. It’s enough that it can both turn around an unfortunate roll — upgrading your single stealth roll to allow you to sneak around all of the house guards — and deliver a rarely rivalled sense of disappointment as your valuable dice fall outside of its area of effect.
At the same time as the active player rolls their skill dice, all other players roll a threat dice. Threat dice, of which there are four, contain a single side with an hourglass while also including some more ‘catch arrow’ faces as well as some fire arrow faces. Fire arrows are the other point in the game where a die’s landing point directly relates to how the players interact. Each of the arrow facings include broad lines indicating an area which — should a player have a die inside of it — is ripe for robbing. The only protection from a fire arrow is the ‘catch arrow’ facing which I’ve mentioned twice thus far. Surprisingly common, although rarely useful for the player rolling the skill die, the catch arrow facing prevents you from having a coin pinched by the offending ninja.
Any dice which aren’t used by the infiltrating ninja can be reused, assuming four hourglasses haven’t been rolled on the threat front. This means that there’s a degree of tactical, push-your-luck gameplay to the more complicated, later stages of the game. Do you keep re-rolling to get a better dice roll and clear the house, or do you bank out before the hourglasses all appear? There are also rewards for clearing the house fully, and for doing so passively (choosing to not use any shuriken) which adds enough pressure to keep the game interesting.
Play continues until the house has been cleaned out, or all of the hourglasses have accrued. The table is then cleared down and the next person attempts a fresh house. Once the final person has finished up their third house it all wraps up, with the scores equal to the coins collected by each player.
As the description above likely conveys, the game is extremely accessible, more so than most mid-complexity card games; it can also be over a fair bit faster as well, especially once players have seen a house or two in action — most groups won’t need to check in with the rules after the first play. A surefire testament to the tightness of the gameplay loop.
This quick play time (three players can be done in under fifteen minutes), the random nature of challenge due to dice rolls, and the game’s portability, mean it’s definitely going to remain in the warm-up circulation for the foreseeable future.