Ninja Squad – Backspindle Games – Review


I would recommend Ninja Squad to families or people playing games with younger players. The dual nature of the game is fun and gives some variety.

Publisher: Backspindle Games

Designer: Yan Yegorov

Artist: Elmer Damaso, Ein Lee, Alan H. Perry

Game Type: Grid Movement, Programmed Movement

Initial Year of Release: 2018

Age Range: 10+

Expected Playtime: 20-45

Number of Players: 2-4

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Theme and What is it?

The current Shogun has begun to abuse his power. The people are suffering under his harsh and unfair rule. It is time to make a change and make things right. A small squad of ninjas take it upon themselves to sneak into the Shogun’s palace and take care of him once and for all.

This band of ninjas must work as a team to sneak into the Shogun’s palace. They must avoid any detection. Once they get through the city, enter the palace and have dealt with the power-hungry Shogun, they must then race from the palace through the imperial gardens and escape before they are captured. 

Ninja Squad is a tactical movement game of stealth and speed. 

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Gameplay Mechanics

Players take on the role of a highly trained ninjas who wants to correct the wrongs of the evil Shogun. The must move, undetected, into the palace and dispatch of the Shogun and then flee the scene. 

There are two phases to Ninja Squad. The first half of the game, players work together to move through the city and enter the Shogun’s palace. The second half of the game is a mad dash, with every ninja for themselves, trying to flee the palace gardens and seek safety in the city. 

During phase one it is a cooperative experience. Players work together to move to the palace. Each player has a deck of cards that show available movements. On a player’s turn they draw two cards, each card has two possible movements. From these four options players choose one and move their ninja mini. If the players pass through lanterns or guards, they pick up those pieces and place them on the card they chose to play. Lanterns will add guards later in the round and passing through a card makes the player forfeit their next move. 

Each player will make six moves and then decks are reshuffled and all players move their decks to the player on their left. Guards are reset and any effects from alarms that were raised because players were detected are resolved. After that, a new round of moves begins and players continue to try to reach the palace before time runs out and they are discovered.

If all players reach the palace before time runs out then the game moves into it next phase, the escape.

During this phase it is every ninja for their self and each must escape the palace gardens. The first ninja to reach the forest is the winner.,

This phase is set up by flipping over the board and using most of the components of the co-op phase. It is now day time so there will be no lanterns, but there are new obstacles found throughout the gardens. Ninjas now actively try to thwart the progress of the other ninjas because there can be only one winner. The escape phase uses many of the same mechanics as the co-op phase but the feel is different because you have stopped working together.

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Initial Impressions

Ninja Squad seemed like something that would work well with my kids. I liked the idea of a complete switch in the way the game is played half way through. We had everything set up and we were off to the races in not too much time. 

We struggled getting everyone through the co-op portion of the game. It took a few attempts. Everyone spent lots of time reviewing their move options to try and figure out what would be best. That slowed the game way down. I finally just told the kids that they had ten seconds to make a move. Maybe not the best idea because they made lots of terrible moves. After a few plays we ended up making it to the palace, but by that time we were ready for a break and decided to come back to the escape portion of the game at another session. That is one really cool thing about Ninja Squad, you can play the entire game or you can just choose one phase or the other and play either one as a stand-alone game. 

When we made it back to play the escape, we had great fun with it. Everyone understood the game and it was fun to race against each other and to hinder the other player’s progress. 

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Game Build Quality

Ninja Squad has some great components. The mini ninja characters are the highlight. The cardboard feels sturdy and the cards are industry standard. You shouldn’t have too many issues with anything you find here. Pretty run off the mill stuff.

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Artistic Direction

This may be where the game loses some interest. The art work is very cartoonish and seems like it was designed to appeal to younger players. Especially if you judge the game by the cover. I personally do not mind this type of art, but I can see where it may not be appealing to some. My kids were instantly drawn to it and could not wait to play it because the thought the artwork was so cool. So, if they made the choice to appeal to younger players then it worked.

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Fun Factor

The best part of Ninja Squad is when the game changes to everyone verse everyone. It is great fun trying to escape while trying to mess up the other players. I always like mean games. This part of the game seemed to go by faster and I think there were more laughs during this phase of the game. Sometimes co-op games can have a single dominating player telling everyone what to do, so if that happens here all the other players can take it out on them once the verses phase begins!

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Age Range & Weight

Ninja Dice is recommended for 10+. I played with my 11 and 7-year-olds. They have plenty of gaming experience. They did fine until I started to rush them because they were taking forever to make a move choice. Even though they made some poor move choices (too be honest I did too) we eventually made it through the co-op portion of the game. Once we started playing the verses phase, they really enjoyed it. 

I have not played Ninja Squad with any adult gamers. I have taken it to a few game nights but no one has ever picked it. Maybe it goes back to the artwork.

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I would recommend Ninja Squad to families or people playing games with younger players. The dual nature of the game is fun and gives some variety. If you don’t want to play the whole game you can just pick one phase and play through that. That is probably what we will do most the time because we preferred the escape phase. 

If you like co-op games or if you like mean games you can have both with Ninja Squad. I would say that if you aren’t into the artwork, you should still give it a try. You might find something you enjoy. There are some really great things going on with Ninja Squad. 


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