za3k > games > ninjas ninjas ninjas!
Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas! is a fast-paced storytelling game about how damn cool ninjas are, for 3 players exactly. It's designed to last 15-30 minutes.
Audience: Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas! is not for complete beginners to storytelling games. There is very little guidance from the rules about what story to tell or how.
Each player controls a young journeyman ninja taking his/her/their final ninja exam. The three ninjas work together as a team to accomplish their goal. At all times one ninja is in Front. Front is the "player" who is actively deciding what to do, while the other ninjas throw problems at them and reward them with points. Who is in Front switches often.
New events and challenges happen rapidly, and which player is doing what shifts quickly. Storytelling focuses on the ninjas being cool, and quick progress. Detailed description always illustrates just how COOL the ninja team and their moves are. It DOESN'T talk about the scenery, plot details, motives and emotions, or whether the enemies are also cool.
The goals of the game are to be super awesome while accomplishing the mission, and throw as many stars as possible as quickly as possible.
Supplies needed: None are mandatory. Coins, paper, or a timer may help.
- I recommend using your fingers to track stars, but you can also pass around nickels to represent the stars.
- If you want to grade your exam exactly (guessing is fine), each player tracks how many stars they have thrown. To keep track, tally in front of you on paper, or take a penny from a stack in the middle whenever you throw a star.
- If you wish, you can play with a time limit using a timer.
written 2021-02-08 by zachary "za3k" vance. Version 1 2
I've designed the rules to introduce complexity gradually, based on which game number you're on. Feel free to progress faster or not at all. The rules are clearly marked based on game number throughout. If you want to quickly see where things changed for your current game:
- In game 1, you play with none of the optional rules, and without keeping track of stars.
- In game 2, you keep track of Stars and add the Exam Score. The goal of Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas is to throw as many stars as possible.
- In game 3, you add Roles.
- In game 6, you playing the real game. Start ramping up the speed until you're doing things without thinking first.
- In game 6, you add a timer. The timer is explained under "Setup" and "Stars and Exam Score".
- In game 8, you make up your own cool ninja hand signals to replace all the yelling you've been doing.
- In game 10, you add Role Swapping, which makes things extra crazy. You need to have memorized the Roles already.
Setup (option 1, quickstart)
One player shouts "Red!". One shouts "Blue!". One shouts "Green!". They immediately start playing.
- The Place is feudal Japan. There are no secret techniques, ki, or anime attacks. Guns and foreigners don't appear in the story. Ninjas are super-humanly stealthy, quick, and skilled. The tone is semi-realistic. The team are not good people. They are paid, loyal assassins.
- The Team consists of
- Red starts as Front. Red is extra stealthy. No one knows what they look like under their hood. They favor knives and darts, don't talk, and are never squeamish.
- Blue is tall and extra fast. He is a bow master who dispatches enemies before they see him. He makes decisions quickly and takes initiative under pressure. He wears a short, practical robe and is a good liar.
- Green is a tactical genius, and physically strong. She talks slowly and favors a long katana. She wears padded armor and keeps her hair long.
- The Mission is to assassinate the head of a manor without causing property damage, or inconveniencing any house servants. Guards and other family members may be killed.
- (Game 6+) Set a timer for 30 minutes.
One ninja is always Front. Front is the current team leader and decides what the team does. Attention is always on Front. Front describes aloud both what the team does, and what's happening in the world.
- Front should change often. Whenever Front thinks another ninja should take charge, they just yell "Red, Front!" and now the Red ninja is Front. It's coolest if Front puts another ninja in charge because they can best handle the situation or next step of the plan.
- Front's team accomplishes tasks quickly, then quickly goes to the next step of the plan.
- Ninjas have perfect teamwork. They're cool, skillful, deadly, quiet, efficient, and cheat constantly. The point of the game is for the ninja team to show off being as awesome as possible.
- Front can and should introduce minor new obstacles, such as walls, moats, and individual peons.
- If Front tells a ninja to grab a bucket of water, your ninja runs to the well without hesitation--a ninja team trusts each other completely. When members of the team other than the Front do something, they answer "Yes, Front!" or describe it very quickly without detail: "Green runs to the well and tosses Red a bucket". Keeping responses short keeps the attention on Front.
- Ninja teams don't need to talk. Front describes what the team does, but doesn't explain why. The other players actively think about Front's plan so they can continue it. Ignoring the previous Front's plan would be lame, and ninjas aren't lame.
- If there's a long lull, another ninja can jump in and describe what's happening in the world, but not what the team does. If you're not sure what to do, just do something to keep the pace up--it doesn't matter if it's perfect.
- (Games 1-2 only) If team has accomplished the main mission, Front shouts "PASS!!". The ninjas have passed their final exam and won the game. The game is over.
- (Games 2+) The old Front throws a star to the new Front.
- (Games 2+) If Front has 5 or more stars, they MUST tag in a new Front immediately.
Stars and Exam Score (game 1 only)
- Sometimes you will throw a star. You always throw a star to Front. You never throw a star as Front.
- Each ninjas has several ninja stars. Don't keep track of how many stars you have or throw. Just get in the habit of throwing them.
- Your exam is pass/fail only. When you accomplish your mission, you pass the exam.
Stars and Exam Score (game 2+)
- Each ninja starts with 3 ninja stars. Track how many ninja stars you have by counting on your fingers. If that doesn't work for your group, pass around coins instead, starting with three each.
- Sometimes you will throw a star. You always shout and throw a star to Front. You never throw a star as Front. You never shout without throwing a star.
- When you throw a star, you lose 1 star, and Front gains 1 star.
- Your goal is to throw stars as quickly as possible. Having stars doesn't matter, only throwing them.
- If you run out of stars, you whisper "Ninja Down" to let the other players know.
- When are stars thrown?
- A star is thrown to switch Front, explained in "Front".
- Problem stars introduce a problem, explained in "Problem Stars".
- Point stars reward ninja-like behavior, explained in "Point Stars".
- At the end of the game, your score is the number of stars you threw. My recommended method is to guess. If you want to keep exact track, make a tally mark whenever you throw a star. This is your individual score. The team score is the sum of the individual scores.
- (Game 6+, optional) The ninjas fail the final exam if the timer runs out and they haven't won.
Roles (game 1-2)
There are no roles. All players introduce any problems and award any points (explained below).
Roles (game 3+)
Front is the team leader. During setup, they assign each player a unique starting Role. The Roles are Goal, Enemy, and Cheat. With Roles, players can no longer introduce arbitrary problems, or reward arbitrary ninja behavior. Instead, they throw stars based only on their Role.
At first learn the Roles slowly and thoroughly, re-reading your Role every time you get one. A cheat sheet is provided below for use during play. Explain to Front why you're throwing them a point star. After a couple games, memorize the Roles. When you've memorized the Roles, stop explaining why you throw point stars, just yell "Point!".
Once team has accomplished the main mission, Goal shouts "PASS!!". The ninjas have passed their final exam and won the game. The game is over.
Feel free to make up your own Roles, these are just my suggestions.
Role Swapping (game 1-9)
Each player keeps the same Role through the entire game. Make sure to try a new role each game, so you learn all the Roles. Try to memorize the Roles and not refer to the cheat sheet.
Role Swapping (game 10+)
When a ninja is down (runs out of stars), Front must immediately tag them in. If Front tags in a downed ninja, Front immediately and permanently swaps Roles with that player for the rest of the game. You might swap Roles multiple times during a game.
Problem Stars (game 1-2 only)
The other two players throw problems stars to Front. They throw a problem star to introduce a boss, to spot or trigger a trap, to have a special event or twist happen, or to have the goals shift on the team. When one of the other players introduces a problem, they shout "Problem" and explain the problem, throwing a star to Front.
Front only introduces smaller problems, and doesn't throw problem stars to do it.
Problem Stars (game 3+)
The other two players throw problems stars to Front. They throw a problem star to introduce a problem related to their Role only. No one shouts "Problem" any more.
Front only introduces smaller problems, and doesn't throw problem stars to do it. They never introduce problems related to their Role as long as they are Front.
Here's what each role does by throwing a problem star:
- Goal: introduce a new goal, or shift an existing goal.
- Yell "Goal", and explain what happened and how the goals changed.
- Example: A child screams in a nearby room--the team needs to save (or gag) them.
- Example: The team's assassination target turns out to be an undercover agent, and the real villain is someone else.
- Enemy: introduce a new enemy or event.
- Yell "Enemy" and explain the enemy or event.
- Enemies are always people, never physical obstacles. Boss introductions can be more detailed, but keep the game fast.
- Example: A boss is called over to take care of you
- Example: A horde of peons spots you on the roof
- Example: A lone watchman is patrolling, ready to sound the alarm
- Cheat: introduce a twist or surprise.
- Yell "Cheat" and quickly explain what happened.
- Surprises are consistent with the Setup, but might not match the story so far.
- Example: The car you stole to get away was rigged with remote explosives
- Example: The boss you killed in Act One shows up again looking fine, with your infiltration plan in hand.
Point Stars (game 1-2 only)
The other two players throw point stars at Front. They throw a point when the team does something cool and ninja-y, like being extra stealthy, cheating, or completing a goal perfectly. When one of the other players rewards the team, they shout "Point" without explanation, and throw a star to Front.
Front never throws point stars.
Point Stars (game 3+)
The other two players throw point stars at Front. They throw a point when the team does something cool and ninja-y related to their Role only. When one of the other players rewards the team, they shout "Point" without explanation, and throw a star to Front.
Front never throws point stars.
Here's when each role throws a point star:
- The team accomplishes a goal or defeats a boss (even if there is a twist)
- The team does something quickly
- The team does something cool
- Front introduces an obstacle
- The team does something skillfully or in a clever way
- The team cheats or sets a trap
Setup (option 2: custom start)
One player shouts "Place". A second player shouts "Team". The slowest player picks the Mission.
- Place is also Front.
- Place: Do ninjas have Naruto powers or they realistic? Are there cell phones? Is your team good or bad? Where does the exam take place?
- Team: Come up with three ninja characters, each different. The Team player picks a character last. I recommend keeping the same names Red, Blue and Green for the players across games, regardless of characters they select.
- Mission: What exactly do the three ninjas have to accomplish for their final exam? How complex the mission is determines how long the game will be.
- (Game 3+) Remember, Front assigns Roles before you start.
- (Game 6+) If you want to set a timer, Mission chooses the game length. 5-30 minutes is a good range.
- Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas requires at least 3 players, but it probably works with up to 5. You need one Role per player. Come up with your own Roles. Each Role needs at least one way to throw problem stars, and at least one way to throw point stars. If you have good Role ideas and try them out, send it to me!