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Théo Rivière

IELLO 2014

No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



Sometimes it starts with a name, and when I first read the title of Théo Rivière's game Shinobi Wat-Aah! in a list announcing IELLO's new games for 2014, I was curious and irritated at the same time because I couldn't imagine what kind of game should be expected. Okay, if I had known that Shinobi actually is another term for Ninja, I would certainly have had a clue that the game might have to do something with Ninjas and combat, but without this information I was quite open for anything when I visited the IELLO booth at the SPIEL '14 to check out their new games…

Indeed, Shinobi Wat-Aah! takes the players back into Japanese mythology, and the players take the roles of Clan Lords who want to defend the Empire against the threatened invasion of a Boss Monster. However, the game is not cooperative, and so the players pit their ninja-forces against each other in order to become the Emperor's successor when the threat has been overcome. All this may actually sound like a setting for a grand boardgame with lots of troops and regions to control, but instead the typical medium-sized IELLO box contains just a small gameboard which is used for game management. The game itself is a pure cardgame, and the main part of the included cards is a deck of Shinobi Cards which the players will draw to their hand.


Eight different types of Shinobi Cards exist in the game, and it will be the aim of the players to collect sets of cards of the same type. Whenever a player has two or more cards of the same type on his hand, he may place these cards in front of himself to form a new Shinobi Clan. Depending on the number of cards placed, the placement of cards into a clan will trigger a special ability of this specific type of Shinobi, and the special ability will be stronger the more cards are placed at the same moment.


To end a round of cardplay, a player must have four different Shinobi Clans in front of himself, and since only one clan may be placed or expanded during each player's turn it will take several turns to get four clans to end the current round. However, this sounds easier than it is, because the players will use the special abilities of their Shinobi to prevent the other players from placing enough clans to end the round. While the special abilities of some Shinobi clans are focused on drawing new clan cards from the deck, other clans will allow the players offensive actions like stealing hand cards, discarding cards from other player's clans or even forcing them to exchange their full hand of cards. As can be perceived, the different special abilities of the clans make the game very dynamic, and especially with a full cast of four players the game sways back and forth for some time before a player actually succeeds in placing his fourth clan and ending the round.

However, victory of a round is not decided by being first to place a fourth clan. Instead, all Shinobi cards do have a varying Strength value, and once a round has been ended the players need to add up the Strength values of all Shinobi Cards in their active clans. The players' ranking for this round will be determined relative to their Strength values, and even though a player with four clans probably has most Shinobi cards it is by no means certain that he also has the strongest total. In addition, not all information is open, and so players may decide to draw additional Shinobi Cards to their hands by risking corruption. This will give them a broader choice of cards, but it also means that they will receive some negative points which they must substract from their total Strength when the round is over. So, the players need to balance carefully whether the right moment has come to end a round, because otherwise another player may profit even more from this move.


But what happens at the end of a round? Following the strength ranking, the players receive a number of Shuriken tokens which they may spend on special bonus cards for the following round, to gather information about the game's Boss Monster, or to arm for the final showdown when the Boss Monster must be fought. At the beginning of the game one of five different bosses has been secretly drawn, and when three rounds of cardplay are over and the players have used their Shuriken the final boss will be revealed. Depending on the Boss Monster, the players now will score Victory Points if they have dedicated many or few Shuriken to arm up for the final battle, and only the player who fares best in this confrontation will be declared the winner of the game.

Something I am rather fond of is the way Shinobi Wat-Aah! implements the combination of an interactive and dynamic cardgame with the fulfillment of a major mission. It is not only important to fare well in the three rounds of cardplay, but the players also need to keep an eye on the Boss Monster, and so they need to decide how many of their Shuriken they should spend on discovering information about the identity of the final boss. The more information they possess, the better they can decide how many Shuriken they should reserve for the final battle, but on the other hand the players don't know how they may fare in an upcoming round of cardplay, and so they cannot really count on receiving enough Shuriken for an effective final combat if they have spent too many Shuriken for gathering information. All this contributes to a quite entertaining balancing act with some unknown factors, and the game may have a quite surprising end if the speculations if some players have been wrong.


The whole game takes just over an hour, and in most cases players will be so pumped up that they want to take revenge immediately when the final boss has been fought. In addition, the game's attractiveness is increased even further by the fact that the different Yokai (joker) cards which can be found in the deck of Shinobi Cards are based on creatures from Japanese mythology, and so the background theme has not been pasted to the game but instead was well researched. My positive impression is perfected by the great artwork of Naiade, and in summary the IELLO team once again can be proud of having found a rather worthy addition to their line of unusual, beautiful games!


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Copyright © 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany