I Played It, Like, Twice
A crop from the cover for Ni no Kuni 2 the board game, with the title text laid over a cartoon image of a long dragon soaring through a partly cloudy sky over a quaint city below

A Question of Influence: Building Your Kingdom in Ni no Kuni II: The Board Game

  • You’re all doomed!

    Doomed

  • Nearly two years ago now, I wrote about Resident Evil 2: The Board Game from Steamforged Games, and discussed the oddness of specifically starting their line with the second game in the series. Steamforged has since released versions of the Resident Evil board game focused on the third and first games in the franchise, as well, but they’re not what I’m here about. Instead, I’m here to discuss another videogame to board game adaptation from Steamforged that is also adapting a sequel when there is no equivalent board game version of the first game.

    Unlike Resident Evil, I had never so much as heard of Ni no Kuni II before I came across the board game version. I have since learned that the videogame is a 2018 sequel to the 2010 and 2013 roleplaying games Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, all released by Bandai on various platforms including Windows, Playstation, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch.

    Like the board game, the videogame version of Ni no Kuni II (which is subtitled Revenant Kingdom) is set hundreds of years after the events of the previous game and, from what I can gather (having never played any of them) contains very little, if any, continuity between the two. Instead, Ni no Kuni II follows Evan Tildrum, the rightful king of the usurped nation of Ding Dong Dell, as he tries to build a new kingdom called Evermore.

    In the videogame version, this takes the form of a bunch of the usual kinds of quests and adventures, as players control Evan Tildrum throughout the game’s overworld, and use the abilities of other characters who join his party whenever combat happens – a format that will feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a game like this. From what I understand, the kingdom-building happens as a sort of resource-management sub-game, with the decisions about what you put into your new kingdom helping to strengthen Evan and his allies in various ways.

    The full cover for Ni no Kuni 2 the board game, with a long dragon soaring above a quaint seaside town with two characters watching from a cliff above, one in a long jacket and the other with cat ears and a cape

    Released in 2019, the board game version sort of flips the focus. Here, the board represents the kingdom of Evermore, and the goal is to build various structures on it in order to grow your kingdom before the inevitable confrontation with an enemy boss that ends the game. You get the resources to build said kingdom by completing quests and defeating enemies, which are generated by cards placed along the outside edge of the board. Then, you use those resources to buy structures to add to your kingdom, which are also represented by cards dealt out into a supply across the top of the board – again, all pretty familiar mechanics.

    You have only five turns to complete your kingdom before you trigger a confrontation with either Doloran or the Horned King, the two big baddies included in the box. This also means that games are short, with the box estimated a 30-minute play time. While your individual characters may fight the other enemies, it is the strength of your kingdom itself which defeats the boss (or doesn’t), which the game measures in terms of Influence, which is affected by what you build.

    In addition to the two big bads, the game comes with four playable characters, each representing figures from the videogame. They each have unique stats and a small plastic miniature. The game is also fully co-op, making it playable solo or with up to four players. As of this writing, I have only played it solo, but it seems like it would actually get a little easier with more players.

    The player characters are aided by tiny elemental sprites called “Higgledies,” which are reminiscent of the kodama from Princess Mononoke – and that’s probably no accident. In fact, for people like myself who have never played the videogame, the biggest selling point of Ni no Kuni II might be its charming, brightly-colored artwork, which bears the unmistakable look of a Studio Ghibli cartoon. While the Higgledies may be the most obvious lift, everything in Ni no Kuni II has that cozy, Ghibli-esque vibe.

    Some cards from the Ni no Kuni 2 board game featuring characters Bracken, Roland, Tani, and Evan. Each has a distinctive style drawn from the Ghibli animated movies and some numbers with swords and other symbols

    Strip that away, and you’re left with a relatively straightforward and fairly familiar resource management and kingdom-building game. If you’ve ever played a game like this before, there’s really nothing new in Ni no Kuni II. Each challenge has a certain difficulty, and each character adds a certain number of dice to try to beat that difficulty and complete the challenge. Each completed challenge yields resources, which can be spent to upgrade your kingdom, which in turn gives you various advantages. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    In some ways, however, the simplicity of Ni no Kuni II is also part of its strength. It’s a game that’s easy to learn and quick to play. In a world full of overly complex titles packed with fiddly little tokens and pieces, it almost feels old-fashioned.

    Will it appeal to fans of the videogame? That I can’t say. I’ve never played it myself and, to the best of my knowledge, don’t know anyone who has. Will we ever be seeing adaptations of the previous Ni no Kuno games coming from Steamforged? I can’t speak to that, either, though it doesn’t seem like this game has caught on quite so well as their successful Resident Evil line, so it may be unlikely. What I do know is that, back when I was writing about Resident Evil 2, I sent Steamforged an email asking them why they had chosen that title.

    They wrote back, in part, that their videogame adaptations tended to “focus around a single release,” thereby “allowing us to really explore each narrative […] to the best of our abilities.” Which might explain the existence of Ni no Kuni II – its kingdom-building makes for a pretty obvious conversion to board game form – and may mean that, if we ever do get another Ni no Kuni board game, it might be something very different altogether.

    ———

    Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, game designer, and amateur film scholar who loves to write about monsters, movies, and monster movies. He’s the author of several spooky books, including How to See Ghosts & Other Figments. You can find him online at orringrey.com.

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