Full disclosure: A review copy of Oboro Ninja Star Trick was provided by Big Cat Games.
Another week, another doujin game from Big Cat! I should be able to get through all twelve of them … eventually. That’s a lot of reviews, so, we’ll get through it. They also cover all types of games. There’s party games, card games, dexterity games, set collection games, many vs. one games; lots to do. Anyways, let’s check out another category, trick-taking games, with Oboro Ninja Star Trick!
In Obero Ninja Star Trick, you play as competing ninjas trying to balance stealth and power. Too little power, and you’ll never be able to succeed in the rough-and-tumble world of ninjitsu. Too little stealth, and, well, you’re kinda failing at the most important part of being a ninja, right? Plus, along the way, you’ll need to make sure you pick up your essential ninja weapons if you hope to be the best of all. Who will become the greatest ninja?
Setup is pretty minimal. Shuffle the cards:
Set aside the ninja star tokens:
Set out the points:
And choose a Power Limit Card:
More on that later. Deal each player eight cards, and you’re ready to go! The player with the Red 8 (the flaming arrow) will go first:
So, Oboro Ninja Star Trick is a trick-taking game of ninja prowess played over four rounds. Collect points, increase your Ninja Power, and try to prove that you’re worthy of the greatest ninja title. But how do you do that?
Generally, trick-taking is kind of a loaded term, so let’s steer clear of that for a second. On your turn, if you’re the start player for a hand, you’ll play a card from your hand. The next players in clockwise order must play cards from their hand until everyone has played one card, following these rules:
- If you have a card in your hand matching the color of the first card played, you must play that card. If you have multiple, you can choose any of those cards.
- If you do not have a card in your hand matching the color of the first card played, you may play any card.
Once every player has played a card, the player who played the highest card (of any color) wins the hand (trick), taking all three cards played. If there’s a tie, the player who played the last card (of the cards with the high value) wins the hand. For each color of cards they took, stack the cards such that the lowest number of that color is on top, then place each stack in front of you (on top of any stacks of that color already there). This means if I took a Green 4, a Blue 6, and a Blue 1, I would have a Green 4 and a Blue 1 on top of my stacks.
There are some special cards:
- Green / Blue 4: If you play one of these cards, you go first next round, regardless of who wins the trick.
- 6: If you win a trick with a six, take one of the Ninja Star tokens. If the last Ninja Star token is taken, the player with the most tokens gets 3 points, the player with the second most gets 2 points, and the player with the third most gets 1 point. You must have at least one Ninja Star token to earn points. If there’s a tie for first, both players get 1 point. If there’s a tie for second, both players get 0 points. Return the Ninja Star tokens to the supply. If this is the second time this scoring has occurred, the game will end after this round.
Once the hand is resolved, play continues with the player who won the round playing the first card of the next hand (unless a Green / Blue 4 was played). After every card has been played, proceed to scoring:
This is interesting. So, check all players’ Ninja Power. If a player exceeds the Ninja Power Limit that’s face-up, they bust and score nothing! The player with the highest Ninja Power of the non-busted players scores 3 points, the player with the second most gets 2 points, and the player with the third most gets 1 point. You must have at least nonzero Ninja Power to earn points. If there’s a tie for first, both players get 1 point. If there’s a tie for second, both players get 0 points.
Play continues until the Ninja Star tokens have scored twice (four rounds). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! This is a three-player game, only.
- Be careful with that Ninja Power Limit. So there are a few different schools of thought around this. One is that winning tricks early with high cards means you’ll likely get some Ninja Power and you can just hope everyone else busts, which is nice. Also, the more tricks you win, the better your odds of getting Ninja Star tokens is, which is good. The problem is that if you wait until late in the round, other players can dump cards of other colors on you and boost your Ninja Power through the roof! That will quickly cause you to bust, if you’re not careful. A fair amount of this depends on the Ninja Power Level y’all use, but it also depends on how mean the other players are.
- Track what’s been played. You don’t want to drop a 1, have another player drop a 2, and then the third player drop a 6 and take a lower card and the Ninja Star token! You’ve gotta make sure you’re aware of what’s available to you, lest you make some bad plays.
- If you run out of a color, it’s time to hurt other players. You can drop decently high-value cards to boost other players’ Ninja Values through the roof, provided they don’t expect it and counter you with it. It’s hard to plan against, to be honest, though, so maybe don’t save your highest cards until the end of a round? This is another good reason to track what cards are being played. Since there are 3 players and 8 cards of each color, there will always be at least two cards that can’t be played perfectly (assuming the cards are evenly distributed, which isn’t always the case). This gives you two cards you may not be able to use well, and two other opponents who could use cards that will push them over the Ninja Power threshold. How convenient!
- Focus on getting those 6s. Especially in games with low Ninja Power Limits, you’re going to see a lot of busting between rounds. You know what can’t bust? Points taken from Ninja Star tokens. Try your best to get as many of those and you’ll be doing a lot better (provided you’re playing at a lower Ninja Power limit). If you have the 6s, watch to see when players have used their 7s and 8s and then drop your 6s. Best of both worlds! You win the hand and your Ninja Power doesn’t shoot over the limit. Just make sure you don’t wait so long that players can throw a 7 or 8 of a different color!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Neat concept. It’s a real challenge to wrap your brain around the game, and I really appreciate that? I’m still not a hundred percent sure how to win, especially as the Ninja Power limit changes.
- Fairly replayable. I don’t use this to just mean variety, I mean that the extra Ninja Power limits force you to approach the game from different angles every time, which is nice. It makes me want to try the game again, and it makes it fun to teach new players.
- It’s got its own thing and it does it well. I think this is one of the more interesting trick-taking games I’ve played, to be honest; it’s not necessarily clear when the best time to take tricks is, and especially not clear how that changes in relation to the Ninja Power limit. I’m generally a fan of trick-taking games, as well, so it’s nice to see this one try something different.
- Aggressively portable. It’s a very tiny box; about as big as Tokkome, for instance, and maybe half the size of one of the Oink Games? That seems about right, size-wise.
- The ninja star pieces are really cool. They’re very sleekly cut, they have a nice finish; I really appreciate them.
- I appreciate how this game avoids the “best of X rounds” thing that a lot of games do. It basically has two sets of collections; one is your Ninja Power, the other is the Ninja Star tokens. By having the latter bleed over into the second round, it gives you incentive to play the correct number of rounds as recommended by the game, which keeps the scoring parts of the game interesting and makes it feel a lot less rote than other games.
- Very nondescript box. It just says “TRICK-TAKING GAME” on it in English, which definitely threw me off. Thankfully, the game inside the box is super interesting and dynamic.
- It might be worth increasing the contrast on the cards. The ninjas on the cards in the background are useful for helping distinguish between the colors (for players with color vision deficiencies), but they’re kind of faint, currently; it would be good to either change up the colors or make the ninjas a lot easier to see if you’re looking to increase accessibility.
- Games limited to a specific player count are hard to get to the table. 3 is a specifically tough number, also, but it is nice to have a few of these handy in case you end up with just three people.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I pretty solidly like Oboro Ninja Star Trick! I’m already a fan of trick-taking games, so I generally want something to have a gimmick or a schtick that’s unique before I sit down and play it. This one’s got a couple. For one, it’s limited to three players, but it also forces you to be very careful about the tricks you take and when you take them, which is extra fun. I particularly appreciate that there are different Ninja Power limits you can set, which add extra wrinkles to the game (and increase the difficulty for all players; I’m a huge fan of difficulty toggles in games). Add in that it’s super portable and you’ll probably be seeing this and Tokkome hanging out in a Quiver of mine from now on. I should probably get a Quiver just for these doujin games, now that I think about it. Either way, if you’re a fan of trick-taking games, doujin games, or you just really want to get wrecked by a card game, Oboro Ninja Star Trick is one that I’ve really had fun with! Would recommend.