Niya: More than Meets the Eye

Niya is one of our new strategy games from 2014 that pits players against each other in Japan’s Imperial Garden. Beautifully illustrated tiles and tokens contrast the ruthless tactics needed to win.


How to Play

You and your opponent represent members from two rivaling clans and receive 8 tokens. The 16 garden tiles are shuffled together, and randomly arranged in a 4 x 4 grid. On your first turn, you can place a token on any of the outside tiles to start the game. From then on, you and your rival can only place a token on a tile that shares an element in common with the previous tile chosen. The first player to place four tokens in a row wins: horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or in a 2×2 square. A second way to win is to block your opponent so that they have no more legal moves. For example, if the elements on the previously removed garden tile do not match any of the remaining tiles, the player has no legal moves to choose from, and therefore loses.


Aesthetic Appeal

The illustrations are inspired by classical Japanese artwork and are nicely designed. A contrast exists within the dynamic of this game: serene, natural symbols and settings are conquered by battling clan members.

I’m drawn in by the artwork for Niya. Each token has a detailed character illustration of a rival clan member from classical Japan. The character tokens add subtle personality: the intricately drawn portraits bring you back to an ancient land and its feudal system; the garden tiles showcase nature-inspired animals and symbols. It took me a second sit-down to notice that each character is noticeably distinctive from each other. I only barely noticed the first time since it’s so fast-moving. For such a sophisticated game, ruthless strategizing and quick-thinking can give you an advantage.

Educational Value

Niya develops problem solving, and sharpens focus & attention skills. Players need to think quickly to find a match, which sharpens cognitive speed. By trying to predict their opponent’s next move, children gain the ability to solve problems while having fun. Many cognitive faculties are being used at the same time: visual perception as players scan the tiles for matches, and focus as they strategize their next move.

My Connection to Niya

Every year around this time, the Cherry Blossom festival in Japantown welcomes visitors from all over to appreciate the gorgeous blooms. I remember the first time seeing the bright pink flowers on the trees and feeling at home. My mother, born in Wakayama, reminds me each spring to attend. In Niya, many of the garden tiles contain flowers, or other natural elements such as maple leaves or cranes. These images are symbolic within the Japanese culture. Niya is fun to play, but there is something to be said about how all its elements come together to create a game that is refreshingly nuanced.

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