“I like fan service. I’m a fan, and I like to be serviced.”
I’m not going to attempt to claim the quote above, it was said on a podcast by the partner of a dear friend of mine. It delivers an uncompromising truth. Namely that fans of a genre or product or person like nothing more than to wrap themselves up in more of that thing, be it more content of that type or product. I’ve also heard it said recently that both fans of Star Wars and Marvel have ‘never eaten so good’ in the last couple of years with the amount of nourishment they’ve been able to get their teeth into. (even if the meals have proven to be oh so slightly bitter or taste free on the palette occasionally.)
I’m very aware of Naruto even if I’m very unaware of anything that goes beyond me looking at a picture of Naruto and saying ‘I think that’s Naruto’. Some might argue that means I’ve pretty much ruled myself out of judging a board game based on the exploits of the character. I would argue I don’t drink wine, but it doesn’t stop me from quaffing away at Viticulture and knowing how to talk about that game. I could fight you if you want. Or we could spend our time chucking dice and trying to take each other out instead.
That last sentence sums up how you play Naruto Ninja Arena. A dice throwing, power building, all out attacking kind of game. It’s real time, it gets noisy and potentially messy. Think King of Tokyo, but without the players taking turns to play and you have the idea. Each player has a selection of dice with various symbols and are given a player board which dictates which of the Naruto characters they’ll be playing as. On each of the boards you’ll find moves that are unique to each of the characters and do a set amount of damage to other players if they manage to roll the correct dice. Rolling is continuous and during that time you’ll be assigning damage tokens to other players and increasing their damage pool. Actions continue until someone rolls a combination of dice that triggers their special move, when they hit the centre Uzumaki tile and play stops. Damage is then assigned to everyone except the special move controller, and players are potentially knocked out and must try to get back on their feet. You can only get knocked out once and the last player standing is crowned as the winner, until of course the next episode of the series where everyone starts fighting again. It’s not unusual for a game to be wrapped up within 20 minutes, so the battles are epic but pretty quick.
It all kind of works, in the sense that like the best kind of battles, the action is frantic and noisy and an undercurrent of some big attack about to level forests and crack mountains in half. At the same time, the choice of special powers on offer require you to understand the intricacies of not only the character that you play, but the other characters that you are playing against. As an example, one of Shikamaru’s moves requires you to give another player 3 damage tokens but then ask them to countdown from three before they can roll again. There’s simply no way to stop the game and explain that move halfway through a round, which means that you’re best to start the first couple of games with the simpler characters until everyone get used to the rhythm of the game and how it runs. Those who are confident can double team and take two characters to play with but to me, that is going to be something that you’ll consider further down the line. It would be interesting to see if there was a way of putting together a turn based battle, with less rolling and more calculation. You really need to jump with in Ninja Arena from the start and embrace the chaos.
Looks wise, if you’re a fan, then prepare to be spoon fed until you burst with a cracking art style and chunky dice and a hugely unnecessary Uzumaki tile, which is obviously very necessary. Stunning player boards and a well presented rule book finish off the package. Whether you decide to pick up the package is another question. There’s no laziness here. Someone has sat and figured out what kind of game is going to match the energy of the anime. If you ask the question if fans going to feel serviced by this game, then I think the answer is a strong yes. For everyone else, it comes down to whether you want a real time dice rolling combat game on your shelf that might take some plays to fully appreciate everything. If that’s the case, then feel free to Shonen Jump in..
Designed by Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, Théo Riviere
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid monetary compensation for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
The majority of the games that we are play are going to take a reasonable number of sessions and playthroughs to fully understand every possibility that they offer. We hope this write up gives you an idea of whether or not this game is something that you will consider playing or even add to your collection.
Even if we don’t like something, hopefully it helps you to decide if it is something that you should find out more about. We always suggest you check out a gameplay video to give you a better understanding of the game as it is played.