Monday, August 15, 2016

Rise of the Kage - Revisit

Last December I wrote a review of the board game Rise of the Kage and it's associated expansion, Docks of Ryu. I shared this review to Board Game Geek in February of this year, receiving a couple replies. Anyone interested can go back and check out either of those links for my original review. In summary, I felt there was a good game potential but was unable to recommend the game due to imbalance between the two sides and nearly incomprehensible rules.

In March of this year (2016) an update set of rules (2.1) was released for the game. Along with requests from the company and recommendations from others who support the game I was interested to see if things had been fixed. I agreed to work on my gaming group to get this back in circulation with an eye toward revisiting my earlier review. It's took several months but I've gotten two games in with the new rules, one as the Guards and one as the Ninja's.

What is Rise of the Kage, Who makes it?

Nothing in this section has changed since my review, the game is still a stealth themed board game with a host of miniatures. It's listed as supporting 2-4 players, with 1 player taking the role of the boss and guards while the other 1-3 players take the role of the Ninja's.There are 3 Ninja's and 2 Boss's in the base game, with another 3 Ninja and a Boss in the expansion plus 1 extra Ninja from the kickstarter. Ninja players will pick 1 Ninja from each of 3 clans to settle on their team of 3.
  • Game: Rise of the Kage (and Docks of Ryu expansion)
  • Company: GCT Studios
  • Website:
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Play time: 45 minutes 
I'm not in complete agreement that this is a game for 2-4 players. The refinement of the rules for 2.1 have further convinced me that this is a 2 player game that can accommodate up to 2 additional players for a maximum of 4, but plays ideally with 2 players.

Whats changed with how it plays?

Some of the basics for how the Ninja's work within the game have changed. First, the Ninja equipment cards have been clarified to be placed "into play" either face-down or face-up on the Ninja play mats. This limits the amount of cards they can have "in hand", additionally making even face-down Ninja cards targets for some guard actions. A second change, which is a fairly major change to the game, is the removal of the "pathing" originally required. Now, instead of predetermining the path the Ninja's will take, the Ninja's can take up to 6 squares of movements with an additional 2 upon sacrificing dice on the turn. This removal speeds the game up marginally without removing any key portion of the game. Overall the pre-pathing was an innovative touch but not necessary for the feel of the game.

Noise tokens work the same as before in relation to the Ninja's, but have changed in how they function for the guards. First, only a single noise token may be used on each guard for an extra action. This limits the blitzing of several noise tokens on guards that could occur previously. Additionally, Noise tokens are required in order to play guard cards during the Ninja turn. This significantly limits what the guards can do in reaction to the Ninja's. Although Noise tokens can be saved over rounds, there are other changes in place that create an environment where stockpiling is not the best choice.

Guard cards is one of the largest changes I saw in the 2.1 rule set. Guards now only receive a single card at the begining of the game. Following this first turn, Guards can onlyl draw new cards by purchasing them at the start of the Guard turn with either noise tokens or guard action tokens. In this way a limit on the guards power has been put in place, restricting guard resources by providing the 3 choices of:
  1. Buy guard card to play
  2. Take actions with a guard on the table
  3. Recruit new guards to the table
The guard deck is still a massive deck, despite some limited trimming of the cards with the 2.1 rules. Although this will ensure nearly endless replayablity it also means that the guard have a hard time digging for cards they may wish to play.

Quality: The 2.1 Rules

The cards are still a little thin but the boards and models continue to be wonderful. I'm happy with the plastic quality, despite needing to rebend some of the weapons with hot water. What everyone should be focusing on for this revisit is have the rules been improved?

 The rules have undergone a significant improvement in both clarity and streamlining. There are clear sections that walk through the set-up of the game, with pictures that help clarify the process and explanations where you would expect them to be. The step by step process of a turn is much clearer to understand and it's finally clear what a Ninja and Guard can or cannot do during their activation. The rules have been split into basic and advanced rules, with some sections (such as guards becoming alert) being added to the advanced section. This provides two levels of play for easier access to the game.

There are minor areas where we still struggled to find a reference to how a specific action or situation would be resolved, but overall the game has cleared things up tremendously. Additionally, there is an index which is pretty good (although could still use some improvement). A lot of work appears to have gone into improving the original rules, with clear evidence that the public was listened to during the process.

Recommendation and thoughts

I still like this game and believe I could get it onto the gaming table with new players for at least a first try. It's a challenging game but is no longer completely one-sided in favor of the guards. It's moved to being a mid-length game for 2 players who want to face a challenge.

I'm not confident there's enough improvement to overcome the initial bad feelings my gaming group had toward this game. In the current age of gaming it's tough to recover space on the table after a poor first impression. My own group does not have any other stealth style games to compete with Rise of the Kage, which increases the chance of this being played. In those groups who have another alternative and were disappointed in the original, I'm not sure the changes are enough to recover from the early misstep.

I can't say this is making it to circulation in my group, but I can say it's back to being an option. This is an improvement and completely due to GCT taking the time to rewrite the rules for the game based on community input.
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