I’m eventually getting back on the Oink Games train, now that I’ve got like, five or six new ones to write up for y’all. I covered Durian a while back, but there’s still Insider Black, Dokojong (maybe; I might have published this one already), Rights (which is just Startups but I’m a completionist), In A Grove 2E (which seems to be In A Grove with a bigger box and better components), Moon Adventure, and Hey Yo. Now that I’m listing them all out, there really are a lot that I still need to get through. I should get on that. Well, let’s get started with one I’ve been looking forward to for a few years: Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action!
In Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action, you’re on a mission to retrieve stolen scrolls, but your rivals want to outplay you and get more for themselves! The problem is, if you get caught, you have to bust out and that’s just a bad use of time and such. It’s a whole process. So get in, collect the scrolls, and get out as quick as you can! Can you become the ultimate ninja?
To start, set the string in a circle to create the play area:
Then, set the Mission Chips in front of each player; each player should stack three up in a single pile.
Take the Scroll Chips next and set them out inside of the string circle randomly. For an extra-fun challenge, you can set them face-down.
The final thing you’ll need is a smartphone, so go to catfoot.ninja on that and attach your phone to your wrist with the included phone holder and slap bracelets:
Once that’s all sorted, you’re ready to start!
The game is pretty simple. Each round, players will attempt to take tokens and have the highest stack. But they have to be stealthy! Let’s walk through it.
To start, everyone hits the “Start” button on the app at the same time. Now, your goal is just to take Scroll Chips and stack them on top of your Mission Chips as quickly as possible. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however.
- You can only carry one chip at a time.
- You can take any chip that’s touching the table, provided it’s not in a stack. This means that if your opponent drops a chip, it’s fair game.
- You cannot move the string.
- You cannot touch another player. You can, however, touch their chips, so if you want, you can try and steal a Scroll Chip provided you don’t touch the player holding it.
- You cannot block other players. No disrupting!
- Dragging or sliding chips is also fine. You don’t have to fully hold them.
If, at any point while moving, the bar on your app fully fills up, you’re out for 10 seconds! You’ll hear a loud noise when that happens, so keep your volume up. When this happens, you must also immediately drop any chip you’re holding.
Stacking chips on your Mission Chips also has a few rules:
- Any chip can be placed on the Mission Chips, but a numbered chip must be placed on the same number or a higher number. This means your chips will gradually decrease as the stack gets higher. You can’t place a 5 on top of a 4, for instance.
- If your chips tip over, they’re considered to be unstacked. This means other players can grab them and they don’t count for the final count. Make sure your stack is stable!
- If you cannot stack any more chips, you’re done for the round. Keep your hands outside of the play area; you can’t mess with other players, either.
Once all the chips have been claimed, the round ends, and scoring happens.
To score a round, have every player place their stacks next to each other. The player with the tallest stack wins the round. In the event of a tie, total the number of points among each players’ chips (Mission Chips count as 10 points). The player with more points wins the round. If there’s still a tie, no player wins.
The winner of the round removes one of their Mission Chips from the game, flipping it to its orange side! This means their subsequent stacks will need to be taller for them to win. They also must increment their difficulty by 1 on the app. Shuffle and reset the Scroll Chips, and begin a new round. The game ends as soon as one player flips their third chip to the orange side. That player wins!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, not many. I find with a game like this that the first few rounds aren’t terribly interactive, as everyone’s still learning how to play. By the middle of the game, someone’s tried to go for it and knock a chip out of someone else’s hand. Add that in with the winner having to gradually increase their difficulty, and you’ve got a recipe for a mess brewing. I enjoy it, though. At lower player counts, it can be tougher to progress through the game, as the difficulty increases cause your phone to get sensitive; this means that you’ll often see yourself getting locked out of the game and now you have three additional folks pulling chips while you can’t move. Granted, they’ll be getting locked out pretty frequently, as well, but that’s something to worry about. At two players, this game is purely one-on-one tactics and aggression. You’ll need to knock a chip out of your opponent’s hands at some point, probably. Or don’t! It’s up to you. I wouldn’t say I have a strong player count preference for Ninja Catfoot; I enjoy the challenge of additional players and I like the tension of 1:1. Both work quite nicely, in my opinion, and I’d be happy to play either again.
- Try not to pull a smaller number until you have to. You can continue to stack the same number multiple times, so decreasing is almost always a bad move unless there are no other chips of that value remaining. This allows you to really propel your stack upwards. If you take a smaller number, you will have less competition, sure, but then it’s only a matter of time before the competition in the higher spaces comes to your lower number. Maybe you can use the time to monopolize the 5 / 4 / 3 / 2 space while your opponents are still on 6, but I doubt it? It’s possible, I suppose.
- If you go after another player’s token, it’s going to put a target on your back, but it’s occasionally worth it (and it’s fun, even when it’s not worth it). I have never seen a player particularly enthused when another player knocks a chip out of their hand, but it is very funny. So I recommend it. Plus, you might need to if they have the last 6 and you want it. Rude, but strategic!
- Deep breaths can steady yourself if you’re fidgety. This is more general life advice than game advice, I suppose, but it counts and helps either way. If you see your bar gradually going up, try taking deep breaths and seeing if you can use that to slowly bring that bar back down before you get locked out for ten seconds.
- If you’re playing at the higher sensitivity levels, you may just want to go for one token, get locked out, and then go for another chip and so on. This is basically what I do. I’m too fidgety to do much better, so I just kinda fling my arm in, grab something, and then drop it on the stack right as I’m locked out. It’s not a particularly glamorous business, but it works. Sometimes I can even grab two chips before I get locked out!
- Keep an eye on other players getting locked out! You have to drop your chip when it happens. Feel free to be the Fun Police on your opponents. They don’t always drop their chips when they get locked out, so enforce those rules! Everyone knows that the player who consistently and aggressively enforces the rules is the player who is having the most fun.
- Make sure your stack is stable and doesn’t tip over! Yeah, I’m sloppy about chip placement, but I definitely make sure that my stack isn’t going to collapse. My opponents would have a field day with that kind of thing, and I’m not in the business of making them happy.
- If you’re thinking about this game too much, just try to keep in mind that you have a cellphone strapped to your arm and you’re playing a real-time dexterity game with it. It’s not exactly the most strategic experience you can have in a board game, but half the fun is the doing, I suppose.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The app support is hilarious. I mean, it’s an extremely silly concept. You just can’t move the app that much or you’ll get loudly locked out for ten seconds? It’s very funny. It’s also good! You can adjust for player skill somewhat by increasing or decreasing their starting difficulty, which is very nice, as well. I particularly enjoy that the game attempts to stress you out more by making it easy for you to see the lockout bar increasing as you move, which just heightens my stress.
- I like the explicit catch-up mechanic of needing to make your stack higher each time to potentially win. I think it serves as a nice balancing tool, but it’s definitely not enough such that a quick player can’t recover from it. Trying to win with two fewer chips is a good challenge, though! If you can get it, especially with the increased difficulty, then you absolutely deserve the win. And that’s good! I like that the game does a good job allowing for different player skill levels.
- I extremely like that the game specifically tells you not to bump other players but encourages smacking the tokens out of their hands. It’s just a very specific kind of rude? I’m not sure exactly how to frame it, otherwise. Maybe it’s that it’s extremely petty? Either way, I’m a huge fan of it. I don’t necessarily think games should encourage super petty behavior between players, but this is probably on-brand, given the whole conceit of the game is Ninja Catfoot.
- Portable, as always. That’s just an Oink staple. Still here for it, and I’m actually now needing to expand my Oink Games shelf, which is fun.
- Honestly, the name’s just fun to say. Just, out loud. It’s got a lot of fun words in it, which I also appreciate. It’s just a great name for a game. Very compelling. Don’t you want to know what “Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action” is about? I certainly did.
- Strapping your phone to your arm is goofy and I love it. They had me at the slap bracelets, honestly. I was overjoyed. I just … love slap bracelets. They’re aesthetic and fun and they just work super well. Having to strap your phone to your arm on top of that is just icing on an amazing cake.
- It’s not explicitly easy to perfectly randomize the tokens, which may lead to some parts of the play area having a higher average value than others. I think this is kind of funny more than it is bad, but that’s just me. A true challenge would be doing it sorta-Crash Octopus-style and, after revealing the tokens, letting the player in last place choose their seat first.
- It feels like heavier phones are going to be trouble with this game. I have tried this with a decently-heavy phone and it definitely weighs my arm down in a “uh-oh” way (a What’s Eric Playing?-brand mood). I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a tablet or something unless you’re just buff as hell. If you are buff as hell and you do play this with a tablet, please let me know? I’d just like to know about the experience of both being buff as hell and also playing this with a tablet.
- The app at +2 sensitivity makes it so touchy that I effectively just quick-grab a token and chuck it onto my stack, get locked out, and repeat. I think a wider, more granular range of sensitivities would make the game a bit more playable, for me; at the moment there’s a point near the mid-end of the game where I’m just like “do your best buddy” and I try to rush it. +2 sensitivity is so powerfully sensitive that I can’t even stay still without the bar gradually rising, which is fun and all but it makes it hard to feel like being covert really helps.
- There are a lot of reasons why a wide variety of folks will find this game wildly inaccessible. There’s just a hodgepodge of dexterity-related issues (and other issues) for this one. You need smartphones to play (that are at least able to access the internet once), it’s real-time, you need to be able to strap a phone to your arm, you need to have a phone; I love Ninja Catfoot, and it seems like a great family-weight game, but I can’t exactly suggest it for families if not everyone has a smartphone.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
I think I need to make a tag for “Games Only I Like”. Don’t get me wrong, overall, I think Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action is an absolute blast. I just have yet to play it with someone who hasn’t hated me for teaching it to them. There’s a lot to love here. I mean, first off, the game is just fun to say. Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action. What a mouthful! Plus, it’s app-based dexterity, but in a nightmarish way. It’s fundamentally a powerfully goofy game in a way that few dexterity games are bold enough to be. Lift It! comes close, and ICECOOL has very similar energy, I’d say. But what’s more fun than strapping your phone to your wrist and getting punished for having both an accelerometer and a physical body? I’d be hard-pressed to come up with more fun things. The game can be limiting in a few ways. For one, you need to be able to play this in a space that’s tolerant of fairly loud noises. That said, if you’re playing dexterity games in spaces that need to be quiet, you’re probably going to piss someone off, eventually. For another, the app can drain your battery at a decent clip, and this isn’t exactly a game you can play while your phone is charging. Once you’re out of juice, you’re really out. But it’s clever. I just really like what it’s doing. It’s a speed-based dexterity game that’s actually difficult. You have to grab the tokens and stack them in (mostly) descending order while your opponents try to sneak the tokens out of your hands and grab them themselves without angering their phones. It’s bright, fun, succinct, wild, and intense, all at the same time. It’s a game that clearly speaks to the ethos of Oink Games, which appears to be “oh heck; why not?”. And I love that. I even like the catch-up mechanic of “now your stack needs to be taller and you get punished in tiebreakers”. Ninja Catfoot is an end-to-end smart design, and, even better than that, it’s clever. It’s simple to teach, tough to play, and the kind of game you laugh about at the end of each round, even if you’re terrible at it. I’m a huge fan of Ninja Catfoot and the Covert Action, and if you’re looking for a fast-paced dexterity game that’s just unabashedly weird, I’d recommend it pretty highly!