You are a ninja student at ninja school, and today is the day of your final ninja test. To complete your studies and presumably earn your ninja degree (which I have to imagine is a BA as opposed to a BS, because really ninjitsu is more an art than a science) you must emerge victorious from an all-out ninja brawl.
Unfortunately you’re like many young people, filled with ambition and feeling invincible. You’ve studied your opponents, know their every strength and weakness, but have spent little time on introspection. You know your opponent better than you know yourself. Can your skill and enthusiasm be enough to best your rivals, or will it be through defeat that you truly learn what you’re made of?
Shadow Strike Melee is a fast-paced card-slinging battle game with a twist. Each player begins the game with a hand of randomly selected cards. Three of these cards are “Fight Cards”, and they serve a dual purpose. Fight cards are the means a player has to attack his opponent, but they also serve as damage markers for when a player is injured in battle. The back of each fight card shows a sort of explosion mark which represents one point of damage. When a player loses a fight he must turn one of his fight cards in his hand such that the back is facing his opponents. This means of course, that before he has taken any damage all of his fight cards are facing away from him and towards his opponents.
The face of a fight card features a number which represents the effectiveness of a particular attack. On his turn a player must select an opponent to fight, then play one of his fight cards. His opponent then chooses one of his own fight cards to defend. The player with the lowest number on his card is defeated, and must turn one of his fight cards so that the back faces out.
At the start of the game all players begin with three health points, and therefore players begin the game holding all three of their fight cards with the fight numbers facing outwards. In this way each player begins by knowing all of his opponents possible attacks, but none of his own. When a player attacks or defends while in full health he must blindly draw the fight card he uses. Fight cards used in a battle are discarded and replacement cards are drawn and placed in the players’ hands in the same orientation as those used.
Once a player sustains damage he flips one of his fight cards around so that the back is now facing out. As a player is injured he gains the ability to see one or two of his fight cards, allowing him to make a more educated decision about who to attack and how to defend. The third time a player is dealt damage, however, he is defeated and out of the game.
While those are the basics of battle, each player also begins the game with three “Item Cards”, which are held facing the player and are not visible to opponents. Item cards give an advantage to the person playing them, and their rules and effects are pretty clearly laid out on the cards themselves. Item cards provide a number of benefits, from allowing a player to swap their fight card for the top card in the draw deck, to choosing which card your opponent uses in a fight, or allowing you to join a fight between two other opponents. Item cards are discarded after use, and a player only draws a set of three new item cards once he has used all of the item cards in his hand.
Shadow Strike Melee can be played with an impressive nine players, and is quick enough that it will easily slide in as a filler between longer games, or really just fit in any time you have a handful of people looking for something short to play . There are rules and some additional cards included for team play, a game variation which allows teammates to discuss with each other the use of their Item cards and only injure opponent ninjas when entering into a an existing fight with the appropriate item card. The instructions recommend playing in team mode when there are seven or more players, and I tend to agree that’s a pretty good idea as the game otherwise gets a bit too long.
The artwork is cute, and features a number of brightly colored ninja characters executing various moves on the fight cards, as well as a trio of weapons featured on the item cards. Ninjas as a theme seems to fit the action of the game pretty well, at least with the concept of hidden card identity, although I can’t imagine the bright yellow or orange ninjas do very well in their stealth classes.
We really enjoyed our plays of this game. The movement of information, and who has that information, was interesting and very satisfying to watch play out. While luck of the draw definitely plays a major role in how well you do, there are also a lot of meaningful decisions to make throughout the game, and even when you can’t see your own cards you never really feel as though you have no ability to do well. Careful use of items cards and smart choice of opponents means a lot. About halfway through, after you and your opponents have taken some damage, you find that while your own possibilities are clearer, your opponents’ have suddenly become more of a mystery, and that shift in play strategy is pretty exciting for a game that’s over so quickly.
There’s a lot to like about this game, and as it’s quick to play and able to accommodate so many players, it’s definitely worth checking out when it hits Kickstarter.