The Ni No Kuni series started as a gorgeous PS3 game in the style of Studio Ghibli, receiving a deserved sequel and an animated movie. I'm always a bit surprised to see a board game version of a video game I love.
How will the game translate over and will the creators understand what it was that made the video game so good? And really, if there was any point to making the board game at all? The sequel had introduced an element of kingdom-building and this literally takes centre stage on the tabletop.
Let's Go On A Quest
Controlling one of four major characters from the video game, you go on quests guarded by fierce (and sometimes not-so-fierce) enemies, to be rewarded with goodies that are then used to build up your kingdom.
The ultimate aim is to defeat one of two final bosses, and this is a cooperative game rather than a competitive one; my wife and I had played through the single-player video games, alternating who played and who sat back to take in the glorious sights and sounds. So, it’s nice that we get to play this game together and fight with each other instead of fighting each other.
Up to four companions can team up, and there is a solo mode as well, which can be useful to figure out the game before getting your friends involved.
Much of the artwork in the game is directly from the video game with the Studio Ghibli inspirations. The mainboard representing your kingdom is functional and the decent-quality cards feature a lot of the crazy creatures and characters from the game. Though you probably won’t find yourself marvelling about what fantastic beast you’re battling or the quest you’re trying to complete, you’ll be more focused on what the symbols on the cards mean.
The four characters that you can play as. King Evan or his three advisors are represented by detailed miniatures which I enjoyed slapping a bit of paint on. In the game, these models are placed on the quests, sometimes alongside Higgledy helpers. The scraps with the monsters are fought out by comparing the battle values and rolling dice.
Is The Game Luck Based?
Although quite simplistic, the game can be heavily dependent upon luck. And not just in terms of the dice rolls, as the initial layout of quests and monsters means that if you have only powerful enemies on the board at the start, you will be less likely to get any early victories.
Failing all your quests in the first round can be very difficult to come back from and there are only five rounds, so each failure really stings. But while luck decides your successes throughout the game, the final fight is only represented by comparing the value of your Kingdom with the value of the final boss (aided by his surviving menagerie of monsters.)
If your score is high enough, you win, if not, you lose quite unceremoniously, but usually with a sense of what you can do next time for a better outcome.
With Only Five Rounds…
The game can end just as it feels you're getting going, though there’s nothing stopping you from carrying on if you want more chances to beat the ultimate evil! As Ni No Kuni II is a cooperative game you share the contents of your combined treasury. It’s up to the players to ensure that everyone works together, while everyone will get in on the dice rolling for the battles (I always make sure our Zatu dice tray is around when we're rolling the dice, just in case!).
In our first few games, first, we lost terribly, then we smashed our enemies in a glorious rout, but then barely achieved anything in our third game, showing that it might be simple but you won’t crack the formula right away. The different characters and varied ways to build up your kingdom mean that you’ll want to keep replaying it.
In fact, what we've discovered is that even if you don't have four players gaming together, then you might want to just use all four characters to play the game, maybe controlling two each. It is co-op after all! This way you have the full sets of minis, quests and monsters on the table and more attempts for things to go right, mitigating any horrendous early bad luck and just generally making it all a lot more fun.
The Victory Mechanic
The victory mechanic reminds me of a much (much!!) simpler version of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic” in which your score at certain times determines if you can defeat an evil fairy, though if you want a more straightforward fun co-op game "Forbidden Island" is always a winner.
Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game is a good game in its own right, however, and captures the feel of the video game series well enough. Though you'll never quite capture the journey of a full RPG in a game that lasts 30 minutes! It's colourful, bright and fun enough to appeal to all kinds of people, not just anime enthusiasts!