Ninjago Meets D&D

Ninjago. A theme so popular that even LEGO couldn’t kill it. A theme that has now been running for 9 years. A theme that had it’s own big screen adaptation. Surely, by this point, the people at LEGO are well and truly out of ideas? Nope.

The 2020 Ninjago sets represent something new and in my opinion is really interesting.

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When the Ninjago sets for the second half of 2020 were revealed they promised that you would be able to use the sets as the basis of a board game experience. That sounded pretty interesting so I made sure to include one of those sets in my latest LEGO order. The set that I got was the smaller of these board game sets – 71717 Journey to the Skull Dungeons.

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This set comes in at 401 pieces and has an Australian retail price of $49.99. Being a Ninjago set it’s easy to find at cheaper prices (see the end of this post for some links).

When you open up the box for the set you will very quickly notice something a little extra – a folded play mat that kind of looks like a map. This is where you can place multiple sets together to create a single large game board.

Playing the basic game

The included rules of the basic board game are very vague. I actually had to do a bit of looking around on the Ninjago website for a comic that actually explains things a little better. [PDF link]

Toss the “dice” spinner thing and move that many places. When you run in to an enemy you spin to see if you get a heart or a skull. If you get a skull you lose the encounter, and lose a life. Your lives are represented by a separate build with 3 heart tiles that can be flipped down.

If you get a heart you win and the enemy is defeated. Keep going until you make it to the end and collect the sword.

This set includes 4 minifigures, one of which is a bad guy that gets placed on the course. So in theory you could have a 3 people play the board game.

Conceptually it is great, the issue though is that this set alone is very limited in terms of play experience. There is only one battle encounter, and in total there are about 10 places on the “board”, depending on what you want to consider a place. There’s also a spider and I have no idea what to do with the spider?

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Overall if you were to play a game with this set alone you are only looking at a couple of minutes. You will probably also have to make up some particular rules for the game. For example it doesn’t say what happens when you lose an encounter other than losing a life. Do you go back to the start? Do you just battle again on your next turn?

Tabletop RPG

While the board game element of this set and the others in the range is interesting, there is actually another level of playability in these sets. It seems that LEGO has actually taken the time to develop a full featured Ninjago Tabletop RPG. Think Dungeons & Dragons but with Ninjago characters.

This document [PDF link] will give you a full overview of the game, but be warned that it’s pretty wordy. You’ll really need to take the time to learn the ins and outs of it.

Play works just like most tabletop RPGs. One person acts as the dungeon master (or gamemaster here) who guides the adventure by reading sections of story and providing guidance for what the characters can do.

For each action that a player wants to perform they must role the die and combine that number with the value from their character sheet.

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If you are familiar with D&D none of that will sound particularly out of the ordinary to you. If you aren’t then it might all be a bit confusing. I really suggest reading the PDF.

LEGO seem to have put a lot of work in to this. There are 4 fully fleshed out ‘adventures’ to play through and things like the grouping of actions clearly has a lot of thought to it. I hope there are more expansions released by LEGO or the fan community takes this concept and writes some new campaigns.

I really love that LEGO has created something interesting here instead of trying to keep things modern by slapping on an app experience. LEGO doesn’t exactly always hit it out of the park when they try apps – I know Hidden Side has it’s fans but I think it’s been a failure overall.

The fact that LEGO have gone super analogue with the play experience here feels bold. Imagine being the person in a meeting to pitch “a fully realised tabletop RPG experience for kids”.

Journey to the Skull Dungeons

There are of course some people that will never actually play the intended way with this set, and that’s fine it’s LEGO there isn’t a wrong way to play with it. As an actual LEGO set I really like this one. It’s a smallish set so there is not a lot of crazy innovative build techniques.

The finished model looks great as a fantasy dungeon. I particularly like the cage and the mechanism to raise and lower it.

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Included are four minifigures. There is Nya, Jay and Cole as well as one ogre (named Murt). Each ninja comes with the same style mask, pauldron and shield. The main points of difference are the specific face, torso and leg prints (and obviously the colours).

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Murt is a really well designed minifigure. All of the printing is really great but his pauldron is also a really nice element. Ninjago is brilliant at providing a wide variety of minifigures and Murt is a welcome addition to the line-up.

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Both Kmart and Amazon (currently out of stock) have this set listed for a regular price of $39. This is essentially what you’d get off during a 20% off sale at retailers that charge RRP.

Overall this set is part of a larger concept, a concept that I think is really interesting and well executed. I suggest anybody looking for something different take a look at this range of Ninjago sets.

This set was provided to me by LEGO at my request. Opinions expressed are my own.

3 Responses to Ninjago Meets D&D

  1. Magmafrost13 says:

    Oh so thats what those big cone things are about. Now Im actually kinda interested, if maybe just out of some vague nostalgia for Heroica (anyone remember that?)

  2. Bort says:

    I was mildly interested in this before, but much more so now. It looks like a nice way to spend an afternoon with your friends if you get all the sets…now to check the total price.

  3. Racey says:

    Looks like my 10yr old has a Christmas present sorted! he’s been collecting all the Heroica and loves D&D so i think this will be a winner!

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