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Consumed With Hate: King of New York

🐵 If I Can Make It There...

The Crime: King of New York
The Guilty Party: Richard Garfield
Overview: IELLO Games follows up their hugely successful Kaiju king-of-the-hill dice game with a sequel that seems to not understand any of the appeal of its predecessor.

Why I Hate It...

King of Tokyo is a family-weight press-your-luck dice game designed by Richard Garfield and published by IELLO. It arrived early in the post-Catan board game renaissance and caught enough attention to be considered a staple of a tabletop gamer's collection. It was featured on Wil Wheaton's TableTop YouTube series for Geek and Sundry. It showed up in listicles talking about the new games you should be playing instead of Yahtzee and Monopoly. I've written about it before. It has fun mechanics, it plays quickly, it's easy to learn, it has charming art design, and it offers a great tactile experience. It's very swingy because it's a dice game and--as any gamer can tell you--dice hate you, but that's thematically appropriate, and there are multiple paths to victory so it never feels unfair. It's a solid, simple, accessible game.

King of New York takes this model and throws away all of the simplicity and accessibility.

On the one hand, it's not terribly hard to see how they got there. They'd already released expansions for King of Tokyo that added new characters and mechanics, and these were well-received. The new characters are fun and the mutation cards gives the game a little bit of asymmetry. But the thing was, while these changes made the game more complex, they only made it a little more complex. And they were totally optional, tacking more mechanics onto a game that worked on its own and being integrated into the game by players who had likely played without the new mechanics at least a dozen times already.

With King of New York, they decided to go all in on the added complexity, baking it into the core mechanics. The king-of-the-hill mechanic has been given a progression track, meaning you're trying to advance while also fending off other monsters. There are buildings for you to destroy that give you bonuses. The point system has been reworked with its own king-of-the-hill mechanic. There are military vehicles that can attack you. And you know what? None of these ideas are bad on their own. They add some strategic depth and variety, but they also get needlessly fiddly. For example, if you roll at least three stars, you get the Celebrity card, which allows you to translate stars on dice into Victory Points, which are also rendered as stars. The first time you do this, you get n-2 stars where n is the number of stars you rolled, but if you still have the card in front of you on subsequent turns, you get one star for every star you roll.

The rules for military vehicles and building destruction are just as unnecessarily comprehensive. If you roll building destruction, you have to spend your points, although you can't use them on tiles that were revealed this turn, and you don't have to optimize them as long as you attempt to spend them on buildings or vehicles in your borough. And it just goes on. All of this makes for in a game that's counter-intuitive to people who are used to King of Tokyo and utterly incomprehensible to people who've never played it at all. And I'm not even exaggerating. I played this game with some very smart people who enjoy board games, and after the game ended an hour and a half later, at least one person still didn't understand how to play.

Because here's the thing. Complexity and strategic depth are not bad things in games. Frequently, they're awesome things to have in a game. But they still need to be streamlined and paired with easy-to-understand iconography. And they're definitely a bad thing to try to shoehorn into a family-weight press-your-luck dice game. Dice games are swingy because, as I've noted above, the dice hate you. Dice rolls are random--far more random than most people can actually internalize. And when so much of the outcome is tied to a set of six six-sided dice cooperating with each other, any hope of strategy is overwhelmed by the sheer chaos of the rolls. It makes for a game that's either frustrating or confusing or, more often than not, both.

Next week we return to literature with Christopher Hitchens' overly catty attempted take-down of Mother Teresa in The Missionary Position.

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.