Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo took the world by storm with its action-packed twist on the Yahtzee-style of dice game. I continue to enjoy it as a fast and simple game that I can play with a casual audience, though it was never a great choice if you were in the mood for something with more strategic depth. This concern was partially addressed with the Power Up and Halloween expansions, though King of New York is Garfield and Iello’s first attempt at making a hardcore version of King of Tokyo. Is this sequel able to add some teeth to the original without losing the accessibility and fast pace that defined the original?
Just like its predecessor, this is a game about giant monsters battling each other for the right to rule a particular territory. There are two ways a monster can do this: score 20 points first or be the last monster standing. This is done by rolling six dice and resolving their effects to see if you score points, gain hearts, collect energy and/or inflict damage to your enemies among other possible outcomes. As play progresses, monsters will battle over lucrative territory, expend energy to give their monster new abilities and beat each other to a pulp until someone hits the score threshold or until everyone else is dead.
Monsters also work just like they did before, as each character starts the game with zero points and 10 hearts. King of New York comes with a whole new batch of characters, though you can also bring your Tokyo characters along for the ride. I was surprised to see that this new game didn’t come with the evolution mechanic that was introduced in the previous game, though I’m guess those will arrive as part of an inevitable expansion.
The move to New York makes for a more dramatic change than just the scenery. Unlike Tokyo, where the only two zones that mattered were being inside of Tokyo and outside of Tokyo, there’s more to manage in the five boroughs. In this game, the equivalent of Tokyo is now Manhattan, which has been split into lower, middle and upper regions. With each turn that a player spends in Manhattan, they can move up the island to score more points and more energy at the start of their next turn. Having said that, players cannot use hearts in Manhattan to heal themselves, so wreaking havoc on the main island will get harder to justify over time. I felt that Tokyo in the old game was generally too risky to be worth it, so having those extra incentives certainly makes the trek onto the big island more worthwhile.
If you’re outside of Manhattan, that doesn’t mean you’re in the middle of nowhere. Instead, players will stomp around one of the remaining four boroughs that surround Manhattan. What makes each borough different from the others are the buildings that inhabit each zone, which is an all new mechanic to the series. Each borough has nine building tiles that are stacked in rows of three and contain bonuses for destroying them, such as hearts, points or energy.
Be careful though, as destroying buildings will also gain the attention of the military. You can destroy their jeeps, tanks and jets for even more benefits, but one bad roll could trigger them to fight back. In an absolute worst case scenario, an especially bad roll can cause all military units in every borough to hit every monster. Having this option available to you makes perfect sense within the context of the game and adds a cool new aspect of risk and reward. It’s also something else to do to move yourself towards winning instead of just rolling for points or rolling for attacks.
To facilitate all of the new things that monsters can do, the dice have change. You’re still starting out with six dice, with the potential of gaining the ability to roll a total of eight, but three out of the six die faces have changed. Hearts, lightning bolts and claws have made the transition, but the numbers didn’t make the trip. Taking their place are three new and more interesting symbols: Destruction, Celebrity and Ouch.
Destruction, the broken building, lets you break buildings or military vehicles. Celebrity is used to earn fame, which is new to the series. If you roll three stars, you’ll gain the Superstar card, which immediately gives you one star and one star for each additional star you roll in future turns. Fame is fleeting though, as someone else can take that superstar status from you by achieving the same feat. Ouch faces, represented by the skulls, have the potential to be the most devastating of them all. Rolling one skull will trigger military units in your borough to attack you, two skulls will cause the military in your borough to hit every monster there, and three or more skulls will cause every active military unit in New York to attack every monster in their respective boroughs. This may be highly unlikely, but I’m hoping for the day I roll three skulls and inadvertently kill every monster in the game, causing everyone to lose.
I enjoy King of Tokyo for what it aims to do, though my brain is usually in cruise control due to how simple the choices become once you get a feel for the game. The same can’t be said for King of New York. Between the regular choices you need to make about energy, hearts and attacks, having all of the new gameplay elements make for a meatier game that is sure to please more experienced board gamers.
On the other hand, the addition of complexity comes at the cost of accessibility. A big part of King of Tokyo‘s appeal is that it was easy for just about anyone to learn within minutes. Over the last year or so, it’s been a great gateway game for me to play with casual gamers. Due to all of the extra elements that one has to account for, King of New York probably won’t work well in this common scenario. Because of the extra thinking involved, I find that games take a bit longer as well, though I generally think that speed for complexity in this case is a fair trade.
King of New York is the hardcore version of King of Tokyo that I’ve been waiting for. The ways in which this game has evolved make perfect sense within the context of the theme while adding a welcome punch of depth. Along the way though, it does sacrifice its ease and speed of play. Because of this, King of New York doesn’t make its predecessor obsolete. In fact, I’d almost treat them as two different entities that build off the same core concept in very different ways. For casual gaming sessions, keep King of Tokyo handy. When it’s time for a serious smash session, bust out King of New York.