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Cardboard Children - King of New York

Monster Mash

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It’s impossible, at this stage in the game, to talk about how Richard Garfield’s King Of New York shapes up in comparison to his modern classic King Of Tokyo. That comparison just can’t be made yet – not properly. King Of Tokyo is a game I have played maybe a hundred times, and I would happily play it again right now if I –

Sorry, back. I was playing King Of Tokyo. See, that is a great game. And a game that lasts. A game that deserves to be on the forever shelf. So when we talk about King Of New York, as we do today, we must be careful with our first impressions. Because time, in this case, will tell.

KING OF NEW YORK

The game is beautiful, just as King Of Tokyo is. A colourful, cartoonish game – all bright, bold colours and beautifully illustrated cards. The board is the first sign that things are very different from King Of Tokyo. There are the five boroughs of New York, with Manhattan the most important of them all. Monsters on the board can move from area to area. We’ll get to the why of that in a minute.

The monsters work as they always did. A health dial and a victory points dial. If your health drops to zero, you die. If you score 20 points, you win. All these new monsters can be used in King Of Tokyo – but the games themselves aren’t compatible in any way.

So what’s the same? Well – the game is still about being King of the Hill. You want to get your monster into Manhattan, and keep your monster there to start racking up the points. When attacks are made, the monster inside Manhattan can attack every other monster in the game, and every monster outside Manhattan attacks only the monster inside that borough. In every turn, you still roll a handful of dice, re-rolling the results you don’t like two times. You still get to buy a card with any energy cubes you’ve earned.

Here’s where the game gets different.

The dice. You can still roll the claw symbol to attack. You can still roll the heart symbol to heal (as long as you’re not inside Manhattan). You can still roll an energy symbol to generate energy cubes. But what about these destruction symbols?

You have your board, with the boroughs of New York. In each borough you place three stacks of three building tiles. These buildings have a strength value and a reward for any monster destroying them. Destroy a building with a strength of 1 and get an energy cube, right? Or maybe it’ll give you a victory point. What’s cool is what happens next. When you destroy a building, a military unit appears. You flip the building tile and place the army unit in the same borough. These units can be destroyed in the same way you destroy the buildings. Roll four destruction symbols and you can destroy a tank for 3 victory points. Lots of ways to score, lots of options. Eat a soldier and heal yourself. Pluck a plane out of the sky for some energy. Lovely.

But these army units, they fight back. When you roll an Ouch symbol on the dice, the army units in your borough attack you. If you roll two Ouch symbols, the army units in your borough attack all the monsters in your borough. If you roll three ouch symbols, every army unit on the board activates and attacks local monsters. And then the Statue of Liberty comes to life and joins you in your battle to liberate New York.

No, I’m serious.

The star symbols on the dice are worthless until you roll three of them. When you do that you claim the SUPERSTAR card, which allows you to start scoring points every time you roll a star. When someone becomes Superstar you’ll see all the other players desperately trying to claim that card from them. It racks up points fast.

So, that’s the dice. That’s the game. The monster in Manhattan scores points and energy (with that reward at its maximum if the monster survives in Manhattan for a few turns), the Superstar scores points from rolling stars, and everyone score points by destroying certain buildings. And the slaughter happens around that. The health values plummet and the points rocket. A fast, furious game.

The cards you can buy at the end of your turn are so cool. I won’t spoil them here, because it’s fun to discover how they change the game. If there’s anything Richard Garfield is great at, it’s designing fun cards.

DECISIONS

King Of New York has more fun decisions than King of Tokyo.

The buildings – do you roll to hit them hard? And when you do, which buildings do you destroy? What rewards do you want? Do you need the health or the energy or the points? Can you risk popping out all of those army units?

The stars. Are you going to try to roll three to become superstar? If you do, will you still be superstar when your turn comes back around? Maybe you can buy the Diva power card that makes it harder to steal superstar status from you. Maybe you ignore the stars completely, and just chase buildings and Manhattan for points.

The Ouch rolls. Are there a lot of army units on the board? Where are they? Do you roll for the big Ouch, and have every unit go on the attack? Can you take that hit? How is your health total, compared to everyone else? What if you only manage to roll one symbol, and you’re the only one taking the pain? Can you deal with that?

In Manhattan – you know if you stay in longer you can climb higher and claim a bigger reward. So do you stay? In King of Tokyo you might have run away by this point, but the rewards are bigger here. Do you stay? Are there enough buildings and units here to top up your health? Can you handle all those hits from the other monsters and the attacks of the army too?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Like I said, we have to be careful with our first impressions. Right now, I have the feeling that this is a better game than King of Tokyo.

Yes, a better game than the mighty King of Tokyo.

It doesn’t replace it at all. It feels different. The building tiles and army units, and the ability to roam around the board (you can even use the Tourist power card to score points for visiting places), change the game massively. This is a board game, where King of Tokyo is very much a dice game. There’s a little bit more to think about, more cool interactions, and a little bit more control over your fate. And what’s the point of being a monster if you can’t smash up buildings?

Just the act of fleeing a borough because it’s too hot with military activity makes this a very different game. Cards that award points for destroying certain landmarks force you to move around the map. Manhattan remains the big prize, sure, but in King of New York there are more ways to win.

The game is a little bit more tricky to learn than King of Tokyo. It’s not as easy for newcomers – but it’s still a very light and accessible game. And it is the perfect sequel. It doesn’t make the first obsolete, but it improves on it – widens it. That’s what I think right now, anyway.

As with all board games – time will tell.

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Robert Florence

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