King of New York Review


What does this rating mean?

Posted by Craig on Apr 28, 2015

"If you liked King of Tokyo, you’ll love King of New York.”

This statement is true in the same way, “You love Yahtzee, so Roll for the Galaxy would be perfect for you,” is true. If you’ve ever said, “I see little Janey loves her Fisher Price farm set. I should get her Agricola for Christmas,” then King of New York is the logical next step.

That doesn’t mean KoNY is a bad game; it’s just a larger step up from the popular and beloved Richard Garfield-designed dice game that precedes it than it looks. People who’ve finally convinced their non-gamer significant other to play King of Tokyo, take heed: steering them toward New York will be a Godzilla-sized step backward in your master plan. I went into this game expecting a good progression from Tokyo. Instead, I found out what might happen if a group of German theoretical physicists got together and “improve” a simple, silly dice game.

Conflict still takes place on a map, with the boroughs of New York ringing the island of Manhattan, and monsters win just like in Tokyo: reach twenty VPs or be the last monster standing. Notice I didn’t say “kill the other monsters”, because New York sports several ways to cause kaiju death, and much to my dismay, it turns out your fellow monsters are the least of your worries, because for the first time in its ninety-year history of monster-battling, the National Guard affects the outcome.

Building destruction is possible in New York, which is a spectacular addition to the game, but the resultant mobilization of jeeps, tanks and planes it causes quickly turns King of New York into a markedly different affair than its predecessor. Once the armed forces return fire, each player’s focus turns to their own survival, with a secondary goal of shifting the attention of the army toward their fellow monsters. Exit the Ameritrashy monster mash and enter the passive-aggressive Euro.

Jumping into Manhattan is the path to victory points and monsters residing there can still damage their outlying foes, but the managing of health, building destruction and army battling quickly leaps to the fore and we often found ourselves surprised when the Manhattan monster’s turn came around. “Oh yeah, you’re about to win the game. We should try to stop that,” is muttered often, and then quickly forgotten as another plane swoops down at you. If you have a spare moment in your decision optimization algorithm, you take a swing at each other. The Big Apple has fallen far from the Japanese Maple, indeed.

The designers added building destruction, just not in the way it should’ve been added, and whiffed completely on the other must-have: unique monster abilities. Kaiju choice in KoT was purely personal preference, mine being The King, mainly so I could refer to myself in the third person with an Elvis accent. Surely the next step is monster-specific abilities, right? Wrong. The only thing not enhanced, upgraded or otherwise fiddled with are the supposed stars of the show. Monster personalization is still up to the player, and with the National Guard getting between all the monsters and hogging gamers’ attention the goofy, magic moments from Tokyo are long gone.

New York looks better on the game board than Tokyo does, until the game’s set up. After that a sea of tokens obscures the Five Boroughs, expanding every time a building is knocked down and flipped over to reveal its military response. Tokens must be moved around to read what the monster earns for occupying that space and shuffled when another monster moves, turning the City that Never Sleeps into a jumble of hearts, jeeps and jets.

Oh, and fame. Monsters can now become famous, which is another way to earn victory points, and makes total sense because Godzilla knew postwar Tokyo was the place to party and King Kong never shied away from a camera flash. In that spirit, King of New York offers special fame-based cards for players, roles that give exceptional abilities under certain conditions. Roles that, just like fame itself, can be taken away. It’s an interesting notion, a unique twist on the original game’s card purchase mechanic and would’ve fit right in if it’d been anything other than fame, but kaiju don’t want fame. They appear to show us the error of our environmental or scientific ways and draw attention to our greed by destroying our famous landmarks and smacking the crap out of each other, going away only after we’ve learned our lesson. Except in King of New York. Here they strategically topple buildings to convince the National Guard to turn its guns on their fellow megafauna while balancing healing and fame to maximize victory points. Pacific Rim seemed more plausible.

So what does it all mean? Is King of New York a good game? Depends on what you want. If it’s a push-your-luck dice game combined with strategic positioning, health and victory point optimization and the judicious use of pieces on the board to dissuade or damage your enemies, then King of New York is the game for you. If you’re like me and were looking for bigger and better monster combat, seek satisfaction elsewhere.