Sometimes I come across a game that I like not forcibly because its new or innovative but because it reminds me of good times past. Rise of the Kage is, once I got to know it, that kind of game for me. Now I’m not saying this game isn’t fresh, it its, and its got some very cool ideas to prove it but for me it just strikes a chord that I can’t ignore.
So let me spin you tale of an age gone by, that of the PS1 infact. Back in the days when I owned this console, one of the games that kept me coming back time and again was Tenshu, a stealthy Ninja assassination game. You wouldn’t be far off if you imagined assassins creed in feudal Japan but more realistic and a LOT more difficult. Seriously this game brought me to the edge of nerdrage on more then one occasion.
Normally you would be assigned a mission by the powers that be, a lot of them involved inserting the pointy end of a Katana into someone important, but sometimes themes like theft or espionage would pop up. You’d get to pick your Shinobi (one being more combat orientated whilst the other relied more on stealth), their load-out (smoke bombs, kunais, my personal favorite: poisoned rice cakes, etc) and then get set down in a zone which you’d sneak your way through to your objective, making a lot of children orphans along the way.
I loved playing Tenshu. You had loads of choice that influenced your playstyle and visa-versa. From the route you took to complete the level, towhether you were stealthy or more brute force-ish, it was always good fun and boy did it keep you on your toes!
When Rise of the Kage hit kickstarter, I fear I may of dismissed it as just another one of the many dungeon crawlers that are coming out these days. However when I saw just how well the game has been doing on kickstarter (at the time writing it’s not far off 200%) I took a bit more interest in it. The game is produced by GCT studios who, for those unaware of it, also produce a charming little game called Bushido, a small skirmish wargame set in, you guessed it, feudal Japan. What we have here is the boardgame expansion of this universe.
Rise of the Kage is a game for 2-4 players where you play as either the Ninjas of the Shadow Wind Clan or as the Guards of the Prefecture of Ryu. Each mission (from what I can gather there are over 12 of them) determines not only the ninja’s objectives but also the map they will be playing on. Currently there are 3 beautifully detailed boards with the 4th being the next stretch goal. The Shinobi players then get to choose from 6 different ninjas with different specialisations (the 3 main branches being stealth, combat and manipulation) and then kit them out to suit your overall strategy (smoke bombs, Kunais and….poisoned rice cakes) before sending them on their merry way.
Now incase you haven’t made the connection yet, go and read the first two paragraphs of this article again. Go for it, I’ll wait….
…See the resemblance?
The big difference of course is that this time there is no brutal AI controlling the enemy but rather another player…which could be worse depending on who you play with! As far as choice and strategy goes however they haven’t drawn the short straw. The guard player gets to choose a Boss as well as the guards he’s going to field which gives him access to different stats and abilities as well as unique cards for the guard deck (more on that later).
Originally being a purveyor of miniatures, GCT have not let us down with Rise of the Kage. The models included are very well pretty and there are plenty of them, especially if you’ve opted in for the big Kickstarter package (which I obviously have). On a side note, all the models will be compatible with Bushido (a small add on pack allows you to get all the necessary cards) which is great as I’ve been wanting to dip my toe into this game a bit as well. So technically its two birds with one stone. If that stone was made of small plastic ninjas anyway.
So how does it play? Well at the beginning of the game each Ninja can choose his entry point as dictated by the scenario. These counters can later become the escape point for all the ninjas at the end of the game if they need to escape after having gone about their business. The action sequences are turn based, each ninja starts by laying out a path he is going to follow. You are not obliged to go all the way to the end of your chosen path if you do not wish too and you can stop along the way to open doors, search zones and choke guards to death on poisoned rice cakes (did I mention I like those?).
The ninjas advance in their mission by generally searching objective markers which, when enough are collected, reveal the location and nature of the final objective, whether it be the guard boss you have to assassinate or the valuable intel you have to steal.
Certain actions such as searching, forcing open doors and the aforementioned slaying of innocent retainers can generate noise if you do not allocate the necessary resources to make sure it is done silently. These noise tokens can be used by the guard player to generate additional actions during his turn. Its should be noted that there are two ways for the ninjas to loose the game apart from dying: if they accumulate too many noise tokens the alarm is sounded and a army of guards falls on them or if they are not hasty enough and daybreak arrives before they can complete their objectives then the ninjas are forced to pull out.
The guard player’s objective is simple to stop the ninjas reaching their objectives. His first line of defence is of course his guardsmen. These have two states, alert and un-alert. Guards have two actions per turn, when un-alert they can only move and attempt to reveal hiding ninjas, if they discover a ninja or see one that has been discovered then they can of course attack him and gain a bonus to their rolls. Basic guards are fairly weak however, as the noise marker advances further and further along the track, the player can call in more powerful and robust retainers, from veteran guards to shinobi or even the boss himself. Th player also has access to a deck of event cards which, as mentioned, varies depending on the boss you choose. These cards contain effects such as hidden guards and deadly traps however there are also cards that you can play as a reaction to the ninja’s actions.
As you can see, there really are some pretty cool ideas behind it all and by now I’m sure you can see the resemblances between this and my childhood video game. Either way I think this is a good project to back. The game looks very interesting and theres a good deal to be had. With just under 48h left you’ll have to move fast but if all this sounds interesting to you or, even better, if its struck the same chord with you as it has with me then I highly recommend you give the KS page a once over.
See you on the other side.