King of Tokyo – Review
“We are witnessing extraordinary scenes coming out of Tokyo today, Bob.”
“Yes that’s right Larry, it seems that Totally-Not-Godzilla has been wreaking havoc on the city, and he is not alone!”
“Indeed Bob. Totally-Not-Godzilla seems to be going up against other monsters of a similar size: A giant robot, a mechanised dragon, even Totally-Not-King-Kong.”
“It seems Larry that even as we watch they are mutating and changing before our eyes, able to suddenly disappear into the buildings, grow wings or burrow underground only to pop out elsewhere.”
“Who knows who will win this battle to become King of Tokyo, but I for one welcome our monstrous overlord.”
Push your luck, take your chances
King of Tokyo, designed by Richard Garfield and published by Iello, has been in my collection for a long time and it still sees regular play, in fact I am surprised I haven’t gotten around to giving it a review before. It’s a regular visitor to my table and a great gateway into the hobby: easy to explain, theme is great and the production is excellent.
The moment you open the box you realise what a well thought through product this game is. The dice are satisfyingly chunky, the counters for energy delightfully translucent and all the cards, board and standees are adorned with fantastic, evocative art. It’s the sort of game where you could have gotten the same play out of cheaper, less well thought out components, but the refined component design makes everything that bit more joyous to interact with.
Selecting your monster you grab it’s standee and dial, setting your health to 10 and victory points to zero. Nothing else distinguishes the monsters. A player can win in one of two ways: be the last abomination standing, or get to 20 points first. On your turn you pick up all 6 of the gorgeous chunky dice and roll them, looking to get results that will help you on your way: claws to cause damage, hearts to heal, energy for currency and numbers for victory points. A couple of baked in re-rolls and you are off to the farm, well Tokyo.
You see the core of the game is in the name: Fighting over the Japanese capital. Whenever you do damage and there is no monster in Tokyo you must go in, picking up some points on the way. If you last a whole round in Tokyo you get some additional points. The wrinkle is that when anyone outside Tokyo deals damage they only hurt the monsters inside and the monsters inside only damage those outside. As you stand in the city and are pummelled you can choose to leave after taking any amount of damage, but maybe you can last until the start of your turn, picking up some precious points as you do. You can only heal outside of Tokyo, so picking the right moment to leave can be crucial. This weight of moment to moment decision-making elevates King of Tokyo above other dice focused games.
A shop of powers sits beside the board: An enticing promise of combos and abilities all can see and consider. You can use energy to buy these cards which are either new powers or a one off effect. All of these are beautifully, and often amusingly, illustrated and wonderfully thematic. From being able to grow an extra head or some wings, to blending into the buildings of the city. On top of that there are some great combos within the powers and as there are so many it is unlikely you will see the same build twice.
But wait, there’s more! There have been several expansions for King of Tokyo, but the most significant one was the Power up! expansion. This introduced a little deck of evolution cards for each monster. Whenever you roll 3 hearts you not only heal as normal but draw an evolution that might be a one shot power, or a permanent upgrade . All of these are themed to the monster and give them a more individual feel.
The first time you play with this expansion it tends to make the game much longer, as everyone tries to roll hearts and see what powers they can get. However after a few games playing with it, Power Up! just feels like something that should have been there from the start: An augmentation to a fine game that I don’t think I would now play without.
I’m the King!
There is a lot of luck in King of Tokyo but it never feels like the game is out of your control. Every decision to re-roll, purchase from the shop or turn you spend in Tokyo is down to you. Through those chunky decision points, you bring order to the chaos. There are a couple of cards in the deck that can swing games very hard towards the player that grabs them, but it is such a quick experience that you can always play again, or just remove those cards if they particularly annoy you.
Everything about King of Tokyo feels very deliberate, from the chunky dice to the awesome art direction everything has been carefully thought through, and it shows in how much fun my group and I have with the game. I thoroughly recommend it as a great filler game that can take a load of players.