AoB Game Review: San Ni Ichi

It’s quiet. Almost too quiet. Slowly, carefully, forms begin to materialize out from the scenery. You are not alone. The other Ninjas are here…. and you quickly realize that only one of you is going to be leaving, and even then, probably not unharmed. You breathe, observe, and prepare to fight. Will you have what it takes to win? Find out, in this San Ni Ichi review.

This San Ni Ichi review contains affiliate links. However: all thoughts and opinions about San Ni Ichi and how I think the of the defensive and countering strategy in this game pushes it over the top are all mine! Read my full disclosure policy here.

Want to skip down to the AoB ratings & San Ni Ichi Review Click Here.

AoB Description:

You’ve studied for years, you understand how to use your body, your mind, and the elements around you to defeat your enemies. But usually your enemies are untrained hacks, no more skilled in the art of combat than a potted plant. Not today. Today you are facing off with the best of the best. Your fellow Ninjas.


San Ni Ichi is strictly a card game. In each round players select a card from their hand in secret, then all players reveal their chosen card together.

Each card is identified in 2 ways, first in strength/speed (by a number) and by elements (by color and symbols). After the reveal players must either deal damage to other players (by placing their card in a players combat pile), discard, or play defensively by placing the card on themselves.

At the end of the round, the player who has the highest numbered card on the top their combat pile, must flip that deck over – taking all the cards in their combat pile as damage. Whoever has the least amount of damage after 7 rounds wins.

While this game seems pretty straight forward, it is the element symbols and defensive moves that turn a light “take that” game down the road into the deeper waters of strategy.


To give you an idea of how deep the strategy (and mind games) can run – I need to explain a little bit more about the mechanics.

The three elements (wood, fire, and water) can each only be played into empty combat piles, or on top of a specific other element in someones combat pile. Let me explain.

  • Wood cards can only be played against a player if they have either no cards in their combat pile OR the top card of their combat pile is a water card.
  • Fire Cards can only be played on an empty combat pile OR on top of wood.
  • Water can only be played on top of fire, or of course on an empty combat pile.

Doesn’t seem too complex right? Well, as you go around the table dealing damage you aren’t just looking at where you can play your card on someone else, you are also looking to see if players who go AFTER you can deal damage to you.

Remember, the person with the highest number damage card on top of their combat pile is the only one that is going to be injured at the end of the round.

Another tactic that adds to the brain burning is the Counter. When you do this you play your card into your own combat pile (like a defensive move) but then move your combat deck to another player who has no combat deck at all! You have to be careful though because, of course, if you have no cards in your combat deck, someone can use the Counter move on you!!

There are special also cards in play which add unique strategies and consequences as well. All of these elements contribute to this being a great strategic game while still falling into the category of “filler.”


Game Specs:

Price Range: $15.99 (You can buy it HERE)

Players: 3-6 (I personally believe this game plays best with 5-6 players. 4 is ok. 3 was not fun in my opinion)

Style: The primary mechanic is Take That, which is the design since the theme is all about fighting each other. There is, however, a great deal of strategy in your hand management in this game.

Estimated Game time: 15-20 Minutes

Expansions: None

Spin Offs: None


AoB Ratings:

Geek Level: Beginner – San Ni Ichi is a very quick learn. Even if you don’t understand it after the rules explanation, after a couple of rounds players will quickly pick up on the mechanics. The strategies make take a bit longer to develop, but what game isn’t like that?

Fun Factor: This game is filler to the core. It’s quite fun to play (as long as you have enough players) but I also think it will also challenge you a lot more than your average filler.

Teachability: Pretty easy to teach once you get the right flow!

Replayability: I don’t see my game group pulling this off the shelf as a main game. But, that’s not what it’s designed for. I do, however, see this one coming out if we are waiting for more people to show up, need something a little lighter between games, or if we have an hour and don’t want to pull a big box out of the closet. When we do pull it out we’ll probably play it at least 2 or 3 times – because of the game length. Which is great.

Theme: The artwork is simple and superb. The rule book says that you are supposed to cry out “hiyah!” or some such ninja like sound when you deal damage to other players…my game group doesn’t do this so maybe we missed out some of the theme there, but, it worked for us just fine without it. 🙂 I do feel the group melee fits very well with the strong take-that mechanics.

Official AoB San Ni Ichi Review:

San Ni Ichi is going to be going on a few of my game lists:

  • Easy Games to Pack When Traveling
  • Fast Filler Games
  • Quick Games to Teach
  • Inexpensive Games with a Strategy Punch

My only con for this game is the card quality. I’m not typically someone who sleeves their cards, but I will be sleeving these ones to protect them. I would have liked to have seen a thicker, sturdier card. Sleeves are easy though and maybe Ironmark will up the card durability on a future release.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this San Ni Ichi review are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That aside, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Get Victory Points for Sharing

Leave a Comment