Space Ninja, review

Slightly obscure review today: Space Ninja from the English-language friendly Japanese company Group SNE.

The box art is way more violent than the game

The game is a worker placement, your workers are agents placed onto various planets in order to influence their individual politics. At scoring time, they earn you points based on who controls planets: player with most agents getting one point for every ‘civilian’ living on the planet, second place getting half that. In case of ties, the earliest agents win.

The heart of the game are the different planets available. 

The game comes with 6 though not all of them are used in each game, and they are very unique. They all follow the same basic format:

  • an area for the population to live on, with a maximum size
  • a row for the player owned ninjas to line up on
  • the effect that happens when you place a ninja
  • and the effect that happens at the end of the row

Most of the planets involve a ‘programming’ mechanic where placing ninjas gives you a say, either by moving populations to voting areas, or paying off officials to pass legislation, or rolling a dice to determine what the fate will be unless someone else shows up and rolls as well. I’m making these sound kinda plot driven, but they’re very euro in practice, heh.

Which leads us to the core mechanic: more population is more points, but only up to the limit. If the population ever crosses over it, the planet ‘explodes’. Half the people die, and more importantly, half the agents die, oldest first. This means that the game is an endless balancing act between the people earning points trying to keep the population high but not too much so, and the players whoa aren’t earning points who are trying to either crash it, or grow it over the limit. And with the complex actions possible on the planets, predicting which is easier is non-trivial.

Programming example: the mandarin planet is set to export a pop counter-clockwise, then shrink their own population while giving everyone a free ‘placeholder’ ninja. Meanwhile, Enlil in the back is at it’s final state where it grows slowly and kills of pops in the neighboring planets.

Btw, did I mention the game is very low luck? Two planets involves a die roll (one to determine the population limit, one to determine how it will behave at turn end), but generally speaking you have a very good idea of what will happen at the end of turn and the only difficulty is predicting the actions of your fellow players. I definitely would not recommend this at 2p since I have a feeling it’d turn into an AP fest.

A very good game, recommended. It takes us about 2 lunches to get through the full 4 rounds, but well worth it if you like the more experimental Japanese euro-game scene.