Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Card Game Review - Ninjitzoo

I hate when a perfectly good theme gets ruined by a bad game. A game where ninja-trained animals escape from the zoo sounds like it should be a hoot. When your ninjanimal can use a bamboo pole and a wad of chewed gum to vault over a fence and foil the guards, there's some serious promise here. And when the animals have goofy names like Camoukazee and Dung Fu and Bruce Flea, you should have a fun game on your hands.

Sadly, when the game has virtually no meaningful decisions and a poorly balanced distribution of different kinds of cards, the game can go from hilarious and silly to arbitrary and frustrating. Still silly, just not fun.

That's what happened with Ninjitzoo. It's got a funny name, a funny premise and a funny cast of funny characters. The art is a little basic, but it's also amusing and entertaining. So how do you take a story that could be this much fun and make it appeal mostly to the same kids who would get a kick out of Snakes & Ladders?

You start with a handful of ninjanimals, each with different skills and talents. Then you get hands of cards that give you escape routes, helpful items, surprise actions and aggravating obstacles. If you can find the right combination of talent and equipment, you can send wise Mooshu the pig over the fence and out to freedom - as long as your opponents don't stop you by alerting the guards, tripping the laser defenses, or throwing spotlights in your path.

So far, so good. But the problem is all in the execution. There are too many escape routes and not enough items. You could go the whole game without drawing the stuff you need and losing your entire hand because you hit a vein of escape routes that empty out your hand. You could have a handful of obstacles you don't want to play because nobody else can escape, either.

To make matters worse, even if the card distribution was better, the cards themselves just don't provide any good options. I want to hold the killer combination for just the right moment, agonize over which card to discard to jump the wall, and set up an amazing escape using hand soap to slick up the escape route and a set of blinders to hide your eyes when your opponent puts a naked girl in the way to distract you (for the record, there are no naked girls in this game. But that would have made the game better).

Instead, the winner is going to be the person who has the right cards at the right time. There are almost no scenarios where it's not immediately obvious which cards would be your best play, and this means that you could set a couple robots to play for you while you watch Matlock reruns and run through a bag of Tostitos and bean dip. You could just come back after ten minutes and go, 'hey, robots, did I win?' and the robots will just sit there because robots don't talk, unless they're that creepy chick you hear in iPhone commercials where Zooey Deschanel dances in her socks instead of cleaning her house (and we're supposed to believe that she doesn't have enough money to afford a housekeeper).

There's a decent game hidden in Ninjitzoo. You can see it when you play with a different number of players - try it with two players, and it's more than just bland, it's almost actively stupid. Play with three or four, and the game gets a lot better. Not good, but better than with two. There's more variety and interaction with more people, but there still aren't smart plays and clever decisions, and more than anything else, that's what Ninjitzoo needs. It's got the story, the art and the characters. It's got the quirky humor. But it doesn't have the part of the game where it's a good game, and that makes all the other stuff just pointless.


2-4 players

Funny theme
Cute and relevant art
Good design
Kooky characters

A lack of meaningful decisions
Frustrating card distribution
Not actually a very good game

If you really want to try Ninjitzoo, you can preorder it through Pozible, right here:

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