Kayarath’s Adventures in Ninja

Posted on May 24 2012

Prepare yourselves for the ultimate convention experience! One that requires strength and agility, courage and cunning! A convention activity with limitless potential! Prepare yourselves for… Ninja. Ninja is a group game that is played during anime conventions. I first learned of Ninja from Bobby Henshin’s masterpiece of convention coverage “Convention Recap – Tales of Ohayocon.” Since then, I yearned to experience the game of Ninja for myself. I was fortunate enough to find a game of Ninja at the anime convention Zenkaikon.

The game of Ninja is remarkably simple to learn. Everyone huddles up into a circle with arms pointed towards the circle’s center. At the count of three, everyone jumps back and strikes a pose. Then everyone takes turns (going in clockwise or counter clockwise order) attempting to eliminate each other by tagging their arms. The last person left untagged is the winner.

What truly makes the game work is the fact that your movements are limited. You can only move when it’s your turn or when the current player is attempting to tag you out. The second restriction is how you can move. When it is your turn (or your evasion dodge), you are allowed only one complete motion. As soon as your motion is done, you must remain in whatever position you are in until you can move again. However, there is an exception for tilting your head so that you can see the ongoing situation and not disrupt the game flow.

What the start of every Ninja game is like...

It is these restrictions that give the game of Ninja its character. As you maintain your pose, tension slowly builds as the activity gets closer and closer to you. Suddenly, a hand reaches out to you, and an instant later you either skillfully dodge it; or become eliminated. Should you survive, it is soon your turn and you find yourself to be the active player. Perhaps you’ve already constructed a complex attack plan with an elaborate feint; or do you simply allow your instincts to drive you? Sometimes your pose is something worthy of a martial arts movie, or a functional stance designed to defend yourself from attack. Other times, in a haphazard dodge, you’ll fling yourself into a ridiculous pose. You then silently hope no one notices that you’re basically a sitting duck with your elbow on the ground and your knee above your head. You will experience these feelings and more when you play… Ninja.

While it is quite helpful to possess agility and flexibility, physical prowess is not required. It’s not a race or a marathon but instead a quiet calm punctuated by quick explosions of movement. One of the unique strengths of Ninja is that it can host players of vastly different ages and physical builds, yet have them stand on more or less equal ground. When you think about it, there are very few physical games that can do that. Even I managed to competently play and enjoy Ninja even though I’m no Goku (or even Krillin for that matter). Yet, movement is the main component of play, and I forgotten how much fun it can be to move your own body (after the grind of work, the last thing I want to do is more physical activity).

Ninja is a surprisingly mental game however; requiring both focus and decision making. There are many strategies and tactics one must take into account when playing. The first choice you must consider is who to “attack” on your turn. While the natural choice would be the person closest to you; that is not always the case. You are free to “attack” anyone, meaning you can tag that person behind you who is not expecting it or someone a few feet away caught up in a conversation. If you’re lucky, you can catch someone off guard, scoring an easy “kill”.

Playing Ninja requires maintaining various stances

It is also important to balance offense and defense. While tagging out other people is a vital component of victory; it is also important to protect yourself from getting tagged out. If you reach out too far “attacking” someone else, your end position could leave you wide open, allowing others to easily eliminate you. It is also important to constantly be aware of whose turn it is, as they can target you in a moment’s notice. I’ve even seen people spending their turns attacking no one at all; instead choosing to only reposition themselves into a more defensible stance. However, I don’t recommend doing this more then occasionally since an overly defensive game could create unexciting gameplay.

Running a game of Ninja is a remarkably simple affair. All you need is an open space and people to play it with. The absolute minimum number of people required to play Ninja is two, but you’ll really need at least six people to truly enjoy it. Ninja is a game that can easily accommodate large groups of players, but I think it starts to become unwieldy once you go above twenty. At that point, I think the addition of a referee would be most helpful. A player could referee the game after they got eliminated so that everyone would be able to play.

Games of Ninja are normally short. Generally, the length of each game would be 45 seconds times the number of players. That’s just a guess on my part though. Unless you have thirty or more people, each game of Ninja shouldn’t take more then ten or fifteen minutes. That means it’s easy for people to jump in and out in between games. You can squeeze in a quick session or two waiting for a favorite panel or play for hours on end. That grants flexibility to both the game group and its individual players.

Movements so fast; they're a blur!

Procuring the space to play may be a more difficult matter, depending on the convention. Ideally, you’ll want to play in a large open area either in or close to the convention area. Chances are, you should be able to find a good space somewhere to play. If you can’t find a space, you’ll have to make a space but that requires expertise that I don’t have. Maybe someone could host a panel just for playing Ninja? I seen worse panels before.

Now that you are armed with the ability to play Ninja, it is time to take your new found knowledge out into the convention world! Whenever you see a circle of people in various poses, seek to join them in their fun! If you can’t find a group, start one! Every great game starts with one person teaching another how to play. If you ever see me at a convention, please invite me to play a game of… Ninja.

You Might Also Like...

  • You must be logged in to comment. Log in