This is a review for Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game: this is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players, ages 14+. But of course, we have to discuss the video game first!
The Video Game
Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch was originally a video game I played for my PlayStation 3 back in 2013. I had picked it up because it had gotten good reviews as a solo adventure game (and it was by Studio Ghibli, which has a stellar reputation). It was surprisingly addictive, and I ended up playing through the whole thing.! My intense like of this game was a surprise on multiple levels! Why? Because (a) I am not in Anime (b) the game’s theme is slightly “cutesy” (c) the first few plays was fairly basic. The game was quite addictive and really evolved as you played. In the end, Ni No Kuni was one of my favorite PS3 games!
The Board Game
When I saw an announcement for Ni No Kuno II: The Board Game, I have to admit, I was very excited! The PS3 game really captured my imagination. Would the board game?
The components are very nice and evocative of the original Video Game.
Each player in the game takes the role of one of the characters: Bracken, Tani, Roland, Etc. Each character has a different special power and their own miniature.
Each player also gets help on the form of the “Higgledies”: little pets/sidekicks who help you in the game.
The Board is nice and has nice art.
The monsters are far too cute, and very evocative of the original game.
In general, the components are very evocative of the original game.
The rulebook is very good. It’s fairly short, gets to the point, and it has some nice examples and art.
I am always very happy when the game describes what comes in the box. NNK does a great job of this, showing actual pictures of components with some descriptive text as well! Very nice.
A good rulebook shows a nice picture of the set-up as well (see above). I wish they had some labels and a little more “step-by-step” set-up, but honestly, this was good enough. You get a sense very quickly what the game looks like when set-up and how to play.
I was up and playing fairly quickly because the rulebook made it easy.
The gameplay is fairly straight-forward: you take your character (and possibly some Higgledies with you) on some quest(s) (you can send multiple characters/Higgledies on quests simulaneously). Quests involve rolling dice, depending on how many characters and Higgledies you send on the quests.
Each quest has a monster associated with it: if you defeat the monster, you get the resources (coin, experience, supplies, and possibly 2 special resources).
After all quests are complete (a failure means you simply don’t get the resource), you can use your resources to buy buildings for the map:
Every building has a cost, but you need buildings!! To defeat the final bad guy, you need the Kingdom Influence (upper right corner) of your all your buildings to be MORE than the Influence of the final Boss!
By the end game (the game only lasts 5 rounds), you need enough power of your buildings to beat the final Boss!
That’s the basic idea.
The game moves pretty quickly: sually it’s over in about 20 minutes. The decisions are fairly simple.
- Which Quests do I want? (Can I defeat the monsters ON those quests? What resources are on that Quest?)
- How many Good Guys (characters, Higgledies) do I send on a Quest?
- If I win, which buildings do I buy?
To solve each Quest, you roll some dice (based on your combat stat: combat, ranged, or magic) to see if you defeat the monster. So, the number of Good Guys you send on a Quest informs how many dice you get.
In the end, the game is .. a little bit of a math problem. (Don’t say this too loud or you’ll scare some people away). What are the odds I will win this Quest based on the number of Good Guys I send? Can I get enough resources to buy a good building? Do the sum of the buildings beat the (Big Bad) Boss at the end? The trappings of the game are very cute and thematic, but at the end of the day, this feels kind of like an abstract counting/math game. That’s not a bad thing, but once you see it, you can’t unsee it (so don’t tell your fellow gamers).
The good news is that this game has solo rules (ya, Saunders’ Law), and these rules are easy to understand. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t work too well (as given) as a solo game! As you are playing, you don’t have enough resources to make a lot of decisions: you only have your character and 2 Higgledies. EVERY time I played, I just went on one quest, because I didn’t have enough Good Guys to even try multiple Quests! And I got unlucky, each quest has a “mininum” number of Good Guys you place, and I NEVER had a Quest that could take just one guy. Honestly, as a solo game, I never felt like I had a lot of choices: there was an “obvious” quest I had to go on, and that was all I could do … all I got to do is roll dice. For a while, I was pretty down on this game because of the solo game!
BUT, if you take the role of 2 characters, and pretend the game is a 2-Player game, your decision space opens up! Then, you feel like you can make more decisions, and it’s a lot more fun!
So, I will say this: play the solo game (from the rulebook) to learn the basic rules of the game. From then on, play the solo game as two characters in a 2-Player game. The game is much more interesting.
Big Bad Boss Special Powers
One mistake we made almost every time (in the first few plays) was NOT looking at the Boss The endgame Boss you choose really changes how the game plays and honestly changes up the game quite a bit. I would almost recommend IGNORING the Boss special powers the first time ANYWAYS (because the Boss’ special power makes the game more random). Honestly, since you aren’t supposed to turn over the Boss until the last turn, you forget the Boss even HAS special powers.
Just ignore the Boss special powers for your first few games. You will (on accident) anyways.
At the end of the day, this is a very light cooperative game. Actually, it might be too light for some heavier gamers. The theme and the gameplay itself are both pretty light. It works much better as a multiplayer game than a solo game (unless you use the special 2-Player solo rule presented above).
We found that this game works (for my game group) as a “I’m waiting 20 minutes for Andrew to arrive” game or an “End of the Night: Our brains are fried” game. It’s a light co-op with enough decisions to be interesting, but not a lot of huge decisions.
The 14+ age rating seems weird to me: I think that younger kids (with the guidance of an older parent/adult) would really like this game. (It’s probably because testing games for 14 and under is expensive, and it’s usually just cheaper for the manufacturer to put 14+ on the box). I can see this being a gateway game for younger kids to learn about some more modern concepts (gathering resources, buying buildings, computing the number of warriors to commit) in board games.
At the end of the day, this is a pretty simple game (with some luck) and some nice components. I don’t think this game for everyone. If you like the theme, I suspect you will enjoy playing in this universe. If you want to play a simple co-op game with your young niece, I suspect you and your niece would enjoy this. If you want a very light co-op (end-of-night game, waiting for someone game), this is a good time filler. If you want a heavier game, this is probably not for you.