Author: William Little
Disclaimer: As of the time of this review, San Ni Ichi is being Kickstarted. I know the designer and was part of early playtesting. This review is based on the pre-launch copy used for demo, which is identical to the planned product except in packaging.
What is it?
San Ni Ichi is a card game themed around a martial arts battle for 2-6 people. It is a quick, mechanically simple game that depends on anticipating other player’s moves and a level of card counting.
Where can it be played?
San Ni Ichi requires less than 1 square foot of space per player. It does not require a quiet environment. All colors are also coded as symbols, so lighting is not vital. It can be comfortably played while standing at a counter or bar.
How long is it?
San Ni Ichi takes 10-20 minutes depending on the number of players. It requires minimal setup.
A strong pickup game for anytime time or space is a valuable commodity.
San Ni Ichi is game of not losing, where you are trying to avoid taking damage (having high cards played on you) while trying to make sure that the strongest of your opponents have damage dealt to them. The game puts 2-6 “ninja” up against each other, trying to avoid being the one to take damage over 7 rounds of battle. At the end of the seven rounds, everyone is out of cards in their hands and the ninja who has managed to collect the lowest total value of cards wins.
The strength of San Ni Ichi is the combination of simplicity in rules and structure with the complexity of decision making required. Individual rounds can become somewhat deterministic once cards are revealed, but there will always be multiple nail-biting, make or break decisions to be made in the course of a game. Random weapons are fun, but are frequently overpowering. Drawing the right ones or avoiding the attentions of a player with the wrong ones can easily swing a game. Fortunately, games are extremely quick so you can always come back for revenge in the sequel.
Before play, a deck is constructed by removing high value cards (for games of less than 6 people) and adding randomized weapon cards. Then each player is dealt 7 cards they will use for the seven rounds of the game.
Each round, every player has two decisions to make. First, they must secretly choose one of their remaining cards to play. When everyone has chosen a card, all are revealed and then played in ascending value order. Each player must then make a decision of what legal moves to take, including the possibility of simply aborting their attack and disarding. After all cards are played or discarded, the player with the highest value card showing in front of them must put all cards they have accumulated this round and all previous rounds into their damage pile. To avoid taking damage, each player must make sure someone else at the table has a higher value card showing in front of them.
Cards consist of numbers (from 1-10, some of which are removed if there are less than 6 players in the game) and elements (suites), which have a rock-paper-scissors relationship to each other. Fire cards can only be played on top of wood cards, wood cards can only be played on top of water cards, and water cards can only be played on top of fire cards. All cards are unique, so there is an element of card counting in anticipating what possible cards can be played. In addition, random weapons will be added to the deck, acting as powerful trumps or spoilers that can turn a round completely upside down.
The components are well made and laid out, with attractive and unique artwork. Cards are lightly color coded, but play depends on symbols rather than colors, which are clear and easy to read at the distances the game is normally played at. The only issue I’ve witnessed has been confusion between fire and wood symbols when reading cards more than 3-4 feet away.
San Ni Ichi is a good game for some fast fun or for a tournament environment. At much less than half an hour in length, it is one of the best games I have played for a quick pickup game or filling in the time as another group finishes up something longer. Individual games can be determined by random luck, but there is more than enough depth to keep everyone entertained over multiple games and rematches.