Ninjato Review

Ninjato Box


Ninjato is a highly interlocking worker placement game. In it, you are a ninja trying to hone your skills, influence/subvert the three major clans, and spread rumors of your prowess.

Worker Placement

How to Play


Ninjato In Progress

This is a heavily interlocking game that can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around. There are 8 primary aspects of the game Dojo Cards, Sensei Tiles, Clans, Clan Houses, Guards (Elites), Treasure, Rumor Cards, and Envoy Cards. While the game may look visually overwhelming when set up, everything flows into one another and is fairly intuitive once you know what you are doing.

  • Dojo Cards are used to get Sensei Tiles
  • Dojo Cards and Sensei Tiles are used to attack Clan Houses
  • When you attack a Clan House, you must defeat Guards and potentially Elite Guards
    • By defeating Guards, you get Treasure
    • By defeating an entire Clan House, you change which Clan controls it
  • Treasure is used to buy Rumor Cards and Envoy Cards
  • Each Rumor card references either your Sensei Tiles, your Elite Guards, your Envoy Cards, or other Rumors
  • Envoy Cards reference Clan Houses

Ninjato Flow

On each of the 7 turns of the game, each player has 3 Shurikens (Throwing Stars) to use as their workers/actions. At the end of rounds 3, 5, and 7, there are scoring rounds.

Dojo Cards

Ninjato Dojo Cards

Dojo Cards are discarded from your hand to acquire Sensei Tiles and to attack Clan Houses. Since you discard them when you use them, you need to keep spending Shurikens (actions) to gain more.


Ninjato Treasure

Treasure is gained by attacking Clan Houses. It is used to buy Rumor Cards and Envoy Cards. When you spend Treasure, you gain victory/Honor points.

Attacking Clan Houses

Ninjato Clan Houses

Attacking Clan Houses is the central part of the game. In order to defeat the Clan House’s Guards, you must use your Dojo Cards and/or Sensei Tiles.

When you defeat a Guard, you temporarily gain a Treasure. At this point, you can either retreat with your Treasure(s), or you can attempt to fight another Guard to gain another Treasure. You may keep attacking until you take all of that Clan House’s Treasure, or you are defeated. If you are defeated, you only keep 1 of the Treasures from the attack.

If you take all of the Clan House’s Treasure, you defeat the Clan House and must change which Clan controls it. So, you can remove a Clan you have no influence over, and supplant it with one already under your thumb.

Sensei Tiles

Ninjato Sensei Tiles

Sensei Tiles represent the Snake, Tiger, and Crane styles. They are used to aid in attacks on Clan Houses. Later in the game, there are also Sensei Tiles that can enhance your influence over the Clans.

Envoy Cards

Ninjato Envoys

Envoy Cards represent your influence over the three Clans. The more Envoys you control of a Clan, the more influence you have over that Clan. Envoy Cards are acquired by spending your Treasure. They score at the end of rounds 3, 5, and 7.

Rumor Cards

Ninjato Rumors

Rumor Cards are how you spread tales of your Prowess. If you defeat an abundance of Elite Guards and spread plentiful Rumors about it, you can gain significant honor. To acquire/spread Rumors, you must spend Treasure on them.


Ninjato Setup

  • Shuffle the Dojo Cards and deal 4 to each player, place the remaining Dojo Cards at the bottom left and turn 3 face up
  • Shuffle the Rumor cards and place them on the left of the board, turn 4 face up
  • Shuffle the Envoy cards and place them on the right of the board, turn 4 face up
  • Set aside the 3 Hensojutsu (Disguise) Sensei Tiles. Then shuffle the rest of the Sensei Tiles together, place them at the bottom right, and turn a number face up equal to the number of players
  • Each player takes all of the Shurikens of a color
  • Randomly deal a Sentry (regular Guard) onto each Clan House, ignore any alarm makers
  • Randomly add 3 Treasures to each Clan House
  • Place the Taira (red) 2 on a Clan House, do the same with the Taira (red) 4, Minamoto (blue) 2, Minamoto (blue) 4, and Go-Shirakawa (green) 6
  • Place 2 of each players’ disks near the score tracker
  • Randomly determine the original turn order with the remaining disks and place them on the center turn tracker

The Turn

The starting player places their first Shuriken on any of the locations below and immediately performs the associated action:

  • the Dojo (draw Dojo Cards and determine turn order)
  • the Sensei (acquire a Sensei tile)
  • any of the Clan Houses with Treasure remaining, place it to the left for Strength, to the right for Stealth (attack it to gain its treasure, change its Clan allegiance, and/or fight Elite Guards)
  • the Pavilion (acquire a Secret Card)
  • the Palace (acquire an Envoy Card)

When that player finishes, the next player, depicted by the turn order track, places a Shuriken and performs the associated action. Continue this until everyone has placed a Shuriken and performed the associated action. Then, repeat this from the first player until all players have used all 3 of their Shurikens.

Ninjato End Turn

End of Turn

At the end of each of the first 6 turns, the board needs to be replenished. New Sensei Tiles need to be put out, the face up Rumor Cards and Envoy Cards need to be replenished, and the defeated Clan Houses need a new Sentry and Treasures.

End of Rounds 3, 5, and 7 Scoring

At these points, players score points and/or gain Rumors base on their influence over the 3 clans, determined by their acquired Envoys.

End Game Scoring

  1. Score each players’ Rumor Cards as explained in the Rumor Cards section above
  2. Each unused Treasure is worth 1 point for its owner, regardless of type
  3. Each Elite Guard defeated by a player earns that player 1 or 2 points, as depicted at the top of the Elite Guard Card

The winner is the player with the most points. According to the rules, all players must bow to the winner.


I am reluctant to recommend this game to new gamers because it seems a bit complex; however, this is one of my family’s favorite games. We play a lot of games, but I am the only hardcore “gamer” among us.

The components in Ninjato are fairly high quality, the theme is excellent, there is enough randomness to equalize the playing field, and there are a lot of options without being overwhelming (once you know what you are doing). That final point, not an overwhelming amount of options, is important to emphasize because it can seem like too much for people new to the game. The main reason it isn’t too bad is because the whole game revolves around attacking Clan Houses.

If you have no Treasure, you need to attack Clan Houses to get it. If you have no Dojo Cards to attack, you need to go to the Dojo to get some. If you have Treasure, you can spend some to get Envoys or Rumors. Sensei Tiles are always nice to have early in the game. That is the basic strategy.

Even though that basic strategy is simple, the replay value of this game is excellent. The order the Sensei Tiles, Treasures, Rumors, etc. come out is random, and that makes a big difference. In one game you could get a bunch of Tiger Sensei Tiles and do a lot of Clan House Attacking to defeat Elites. In another, you might get a Snake Tile that lets you snatch Jades from Clan Houses with just a single Dojo card; you then turn those Jades into Rumors. In another game, you might focus on Envoys, etc. etc. etc.

The most frustrating part of the game can definitely be the core of the game though, attacking Clan Houses. If you get unlucky, you might turn over multiple alarm Guards and be unable to clear the House. Or, you could attack with Strength and then “Banzai” straight into a 5 Guard. If this happens repeatedly, it can really shut you out of the game. However, if you get Sensei Tiles and make sure you have strong Dojo Cards in hand before attacking, you can largely mitigate this negative. I personally rarely call Banzai unless I’m basically guaranteed to beat the next Guard regardless.

Overall, I really enjoy this game. The game looks great, I love the theme (I studied Japanese history a bit), the game is highly variable, and there is enough strategy to keep me coming back. It also helps a lot that my family enjoys it too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *