Ninjitsu! – Journal Entry #2

Ninjitsu! is a fast-paced bluffing game with cute animals fighting each other using ninja weapons. It is suitable for 2-5 players (plays best with 3-4 players), usually takes less than 5 minutes to play, but may keep you hooked for hours!

The game was designed by Peter C. Hayward and published by Jellybean Games and is a stand-alone sequel to Scuttle!, a game with similar mechanics but pirate themed. Aside from the rules borrowed from Scuttle!, Ninjitsu! introduces hidden treasures (or better called secrets): you play the treasure cards face-down. Steal hidden treasures from your opponents at any time, but watch out for booby-traps!

Ninjitsu! went through a Kickstarter campaign that was a real success, amassing over $120,000 (started with a $3000 goal) and reaching all their intended funding goals. The KS Edition comes with a Promo Pack that includes various bonus cards unlocked through funding goals.

There are also 2 expansions available: Sabotage! and Treasure Hunters. I tested them both and I will include my opinion on them too in this review.

How to play Ninjitsu!

In the upcoming sections I will present the rules of the base game and I will also talk about what every expansion adds to it.

Base game

The base game comes with a deck of 41 cards that have different values on them, either a number from 1 to 10 or one of the letters J, Q, K, A or Joker, just like a classic pack of cards.

At the beginning of the game, you deal 4 cards to each player and then place the remaining cards in the middle of the table as the draw pile. On a player’s turn, they may take one of the following actions:

  • Draw 2 cards
  • Play a card from their hand
  • Steal a secret from another player

There are three different ways to play a card from your hand:

  1. For their action: Cards with lightning bolts next to their name can be played straight into the discard pile for their action. When using a card this way, you ignore its points.
  2. As a treasure:Cards with point values (numbered 1 to 10) can be played face-up into your collection as treasures. When playing a card this way, you ignore its action. Cards with no point value (A, J, Q, K and Joker) can not be played as treasures.
  3. As a secret: You can play any card from your hand as a secret. Secrets become treasures when turned face-up. If it has no points when turned face-up, discard it. While face-down, secrets are not considered treasures (although their points add to the total value of your collection) and can only be affected by cards which specifically target secrets.
Ninjitsu! icons
Special icons: Key, Lightning Bolt, Bomb

Cards with a key icon have their point value altered while face-down in your collection. If turned face-up, their effect no longer applies. Cards with a bomb icon are traps. When stolen by an opponent, that player must immediately resolve the card’s effect.

When stealing a card, you add it to your collection as a treasure. If it was a trapped card, it remains in your collection as a treasure after resolving the trap. If a stolen card has no point value, you discard it after resolving any traps.

The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach 21 points (or higher) ON YOUR NEXT TURN. What does that mean? Well, it means that if you’ve passed 21 points on your current turn, you need to stay above that for 1 extra round (until it’s your turn again) in order to win, giving other players the chance to steal your points meanwhile.

Also, at the beginning of your turn if you tell the others that you’ve won and you turn your secrets face-up and it proves out that you didn’t actually reach 21 points but less, your secrets remain face-up and your turn is skipped.

Promo pack

Ninjitsu! promo cards
Double lightning cards can be played at any time

The promo pack adds 9 cards to the base game and an extra type of card, those having double lightning icons next to their name. You can play these cards from your hand into the discard pile at any time, even during another player’s turn. This pack also adds 4 extra cards which you can play with the Treasure Hunters expansions only.


Ninjitsu! Sabotage!
New icon: Treasure

This expansion adds 15 cards to the base game and a new card mechanic: cards having a treasure icon have special effects that only apply when being face-up in your collection. This effect no longer applies when you move a treasure out of your collection or turn it face-down.

Treasure Hunters

Ninjitsu! Treasure Hunters
The Treasure Hunters card backs

This is actually a pack of three expansions that work with all games in the “Treasure Hunters” line: Scuttle!, Ninjitsu!, Brains!, and all upcoming titles in the series.

Masters of Magic (pink back) adds extra cards to your deck, with no new effects or mechanics. Although this may not seem so special, some of the new cards are actually pretty OP  and can help you chain good combos against the other players.

The Elements adds unique abilities for players during the game. At the start of the game, you shuffle these cards together and deal 1 to each player. Each side has a different power and you must choose which side to use while playing.

For the entire game, players keep their Element card in front of them and have access to its power. These cards can not be discarded, flipped or affected in any way.

The Elements

Heavy Weather adds two new card types to the game Weather cards (blue back) and Event cards (yellow back). The Weather cards are separated from the event cards and form their own, shuffled deck. After dealing the initial cards to the players, you shuffle the Event cards into the main deck. At the start of each game, you put the top card of the Weather deck into play.

Weather cards have an ongoing effect that can only be discarded when an Event card is played. Discarded Weather cards go into their own separate discard pile. Whenever an Event card reaches the top of the draw pile, you put it into play. They do not resolve until the end of the turn. At the end of any turn when an Event cards was played, discard the current Weather, then resolve the Event cards in the order they entered play and lastly, play a new Weather card.

Heavy Weather layout, with an Event card turned face up on the draw pile

My thoughts on Ninjitsu!

Besides having simple rules, Ninjitsu! also plays fast. Games usually take 5-10 minutes at most. The only times they took longer than that were when we had really bad hands. On the other hand, I’ve had few two-player games that took less than a minute, due to lucky draws or starting hands.

The game is actually surprisingly deep, even with a rule set this simple. Although players only have three possible options on their turn, it isn’t always that simple to decide what to do. At the heart of Ninjitsu! lie mind games and strategic hand management. Your opponents can clearly see your treasures and calculate your score themselves, but their real enemies are your secrets (face-down cards): are they traps? Are they treasures? You’re the only one who knows and that’s a nice way to trick your enemies into traps like discarding their hands or treasures.

For me, the fun lies in chaining cards against the others. Some cards have special actions when played such as “Draw 2 cards and play 1 card” or “Play 1 card and steal 1 secret” etc. I’ve had matches when I totally smacked the the others with such combos, and it felt amazing!

Story time: I was playing Ninjitsu with my girlfriend once and I had 14 points in my treasures (a 9 and a 5) and 6 more points from one secret (the Bo Staff – it’s worth 4 points itself and +2 for each other secret in play, including itself), for a total of 20 points. It was my turn and I played Smoke Bomb, which allows me to play 2 cards as secrets in my collection. I put down another Bo Staff card and a Bow and Arrows card (worth 5 points face-up, 10 points face-down).

Now, my secrets were worth a total of 30 points: 4 base points for each Bo Staff, 10 points for Bow and Arrows for being face-down and 12 extra points from the Bo Staff special power when face-down. My treasures were worth 14, so my total was a whooping 44. At this point, I was very confident that I was going to win next turn. I just refused to think that my girlfriend could in any way discard 24 points from my collection.

WRONG! She did it, and she did it good. At first, she played Katana on me. This card allows you to discard a treasure in play (any treasure, either yours or from an opponent) and then play a card. So she discarded my treasure that was worth 9 points and then she could still play a card. “Okay, fine, she still can’t take me down” I said in my mind, still confident on my collection, as I still had 30 points in my secrets and 5 more from the other treasure, for a total of 35. S

he then played her card: Captain Bluebeard. Now, you may wonder what this card does. Here’s the action on it: Swap any number of cards from your hand with secrets in play. She swapped all 3 of my secrets with cards from her hand and then ended her turn. I already knew that she clearly left me with less than 21 points so I wouldn’t win, but I was wondering how many points are my new secrets worth, so I took a look at them.

SHE SWAPPED ALL MY SECRETS WITH CARDS THAT HAD NO POINT VALUE! That got me down to 5 points and I couldn’t help myself but to burst into laughter. I got from 44 points down to 5 in less than a minute.

Moments like this one make Ninjitsu! a very fun game to play that can leave you with amazing memories. I would totally recommend it to those of you who love card games and are also into bluffing.

Oh, I almost forgot one thing. The art is amazing! The watercolor style is beautiful and the fact that the cards have little forest animals painted as ninjas on them make them really cute!

Last but not least, if you’re interested in playing it but you’re not sure if you want to buy it, you can find the print and play version on their official site.

Useful info

Designer: Peter C. Hayward

Publisher: Jellybean Games

Players: 2-5

Time: 10 min

Times played: 38

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