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What is King of Tokyo and What makes it Interesting?

It is a Christmas tradition, in my gaming group, for us to gift games to the group around the Festive Season. This year was no different with three games entering the fold. The first of these, was A Fake Artist Goes To New York, that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It is a social deduction-come-drawing game that places one line drawings at its core.

The second of these was from myself and my girlfriend – Viticulture. I’ve already mentioned how I am becoming a Jamey Stegmaier fanboy, and so going for Viticulture where we have already been writing about Euphoria and Scythe seemed like a natural progression.

Thirdly, and finally, we received King of Tokyo, a game designed by Magic the Gathering genius – Richard Garfield. It’s quite an interesting game and so I thought, in a rather relaxed way, that today we will just take a closer look at this cartoony masterpiece that has taken so many gamers by storm. What is King of Tokyo? How is it different to other dice games? And, why is it so popular?

What is King of Tokyo? Controlling Tokyo.

Controlling Tokyo

What is King of Tokyo?

So, what is King of Tokyo? King of Tokyo is, for all intents and purposes, a push your luck dice game. Where this may sound simple, and games like Zombie Dice or Trophy Buck come to mind, King of Tokyo is ahead of the game. It is not simply a dice game, but instead has elements that break the mold. Yes, it relies heavily on luck – but there is also some skill in there, and this is where the game comes into its own.

In King of Tokyo, each of the players takes control of King Kong and Godzilla-sized monsters, looking to claim Tokyo for their own. Each monster starts the game with the same statistics (namely, 10 health), and is determined to fulfill one of two goals. Either to be:

  • The first to twenty points (by controlling Tokyo and rolling dice)
  • The last monster standing (to destroy all enemies)
What is King of Tokyo? The dice in King of Tokyo

The dice in King of Tokyo

Each turn, the players roll six dice, and on said dice they can achieve the results of:

  • One – if you get three ones, then that is worth one point. Any subsequent ones score one point each – making the maximum you can get in a turn 4 points.
  • Two – if you get three twos, then that is worth two points. Any subsequent twos score one point each – making the maximum you can get in a turn 8 points.
  • Three – if you get three threes, then that is worth three points. Any subsequent threes score one point – making the maximum you can get in a turn 12 points.
  • Energy – you gain an energy per energy result. So, maximum energy per turn is 6 energy.
  • Health – you regain health per health result. The maximum health you can revitalise by each turn is 6 health. You cannot heal if you are occupying Tokyo.
  • Claws – you hit the monsters who are not in the same location as you, doing one damage per claw. The maximum number…you get the gist.

You can reroll up to twice more after your initial roll to try and maximise your results.

What is King of Tokyo? Two monsters in Tokyo - the full board.

Two monsters in Tokyo – the full board.

The game is split into two locations. You can be inside of Tokyo and (wait for it) outside of Tokyo. If you are inside then you attack the monsters outside. If you are outside then you attack the monsters inside. After being attacked in Tokyo, you can yield, and leave Tokyo. The monster who attacked you can then enter. Remember, you cannot heal if you are occupying Tokyo, and this forces a circulation of the monsters occupying Tokyo. You cannot be the biggest monster in Tokyo forever.

There is one other aspect to the game, and this is what you do with the energy you have accumulated during your dice rolls. Energy can be stored, and saved up to buy bonuses. These may be discards – so you gain an instant bonus like more health or points and then discard the card. Or, they may be kept bonuses like Poison Spit, which causes enemies to gain an extra damage at the end of their turn – or they have to spend valuable dice on getting rid of the poison.

So, what is King of Tokyo? Well, that’s the outline – but what makes it unique? What makes it interesting?

What is King of Tokyo? The King - A character card and the upgrade of

The King – A character card and the upgrade of “Poison Spit”.

Why is King of Tokyo different? What makes it interesting?

It’s strange, because, although a really simple game, King of Tokyo seems to have stolen our hearts a little bit. This is surprising as, deep down, one of the largest criticisms there are of the game is that it can be considered Yahtzee with monsters. This, as a criticism, is both true and untrue at the same time. Yes, it is very similar to Yahtzee however, it is fundamentally different.

Yahtzee, as a game, dates back to before there were official records as to when games began. It is a revised version of several other games, including the Scandinavian Yatzy and the English Poker Dice. Both of which, I believe, are public domain games because…well…they’re just so freaking old. The press-your-luck mechanic (not to be confused with the ‘roll and resolve’ mechanic to do with board game movement) is incredibly simple at heart. It is about rolling and rerolling until you have a hand you like or until you run out of rolls. There is, as much as I hate to say it for the sake of King of Tokyo, nothing new to do with that mechanic.

Instead, however, the game comes from the removal of the abstract and the addition of the theme. Through expanding the theme, to one of giant monsters and robots, the game suddenly gets blown open to new mechanics that make total sense within context of the game.

For instance, King of Tokyo has area control as monsters battle it out over Tokyo. It has cards, and upgrades that can warp the game to something beyond the luck of the dice. These work really well together to flesh the game out.

Unlike similar games, King of Tokyo has plenty of player interaction due to needing to fight players for Tokyo. Assuming the rolls are favourable, it is ultimately up to a player as to whether they want to attack, store energy, or go for points, and so players can be as confrontational as they wish. This means there are actually strategies that exist for a game that relies heavily on luck.

What are you getting at? What is King of Tokyo then?

What King of Tokyo is, fundamentally, is a compelling game. It is fun to play and, although this isn’t a review, it will be fun to review; however, it is also more than that.

What King of Tokyo is, is an exercise in how a theme can translate a basic game, something that has been around for years, into something fresh, exciting, and enjoyable to play.

That is what King of Tokyo is. It isn’t just a reskin of a game, but a reinvention into something enjoyable for a completely new experience. It reinvents the wheel, and that is, in no ways, a bad thing. In this industry we all adore, we need more games like King of Tokyo, pushing the boundaries of what we believe a game is.

Exciting.

So there we have it – a brief rundown of what King of Tokyo is, what I believe it is, and how it has taken our gaming table by storm. Fun, furious, and fast-paced. Watch this space for a full review in due course.

20 Comments »

  1. It’s odd how people will stereotype a game to death. I had the same issue with Cthulhu Wars “Oh, so it’s Risk with big monsters…!”.

    Anyways, this is a game that I was introduced to when I started to get into more traditional boardgames a few years ago. I love the theme, and the simplicity is such that it’s not hard to teach but can still be fun those of us who might like something more.

    I like to start off with the base game, and if people are getting into it, we quickly transition into the Evolution cards. Which makes the game even more fun.

    Not too many games are that simple to teach, with an expansion that adds another layer just as easily.

    Liked by 1 person

      • The Evolution Cards come in the “Power Up” expansions. If your group likes King of Tokyo, I would definitely recommend that expansion. It gives you a deck of cards for each monster, when you roll 3 hearts, you get a new power from your Evolution deck. It’s random, but still very cool because they are tailored to the individual monsters and differentiate them a bit.

        Also, if your group is looking for a bit more, try King of New York. Same game, but adds tanks and other things to combat. The first time we played it, someone had just cracked open the box and didn’t know the rules, and it didn’t go over so well. I’ve since bought the game and ran it at home, and even though there is a little more going on, I feel like it’s still a pretty easy game to play. Though with people who are new to boardgames, I’d still start with King of Tokyo.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m totally with you on this. I always wanted to try out King of Tokyo just to see, but definitely went in thinking I wouldn’t enjoy Monster Yahtzee. But I ended up having a great time with it. The cards went a long way to fleshing out the narrative and building stories around our monsters. I’ve been thinking about writing a short piece about this side of the game too because I really wasn’t expecting it to all fit together as well as it does until I had played it myself. Great piece, looking forward to the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I look forward to reading your article!

      I think the cards do add to the game, as does the territory control. They make it more than Yahtzee.

      Apparently there are proper strategies for Yahtzee, and I guess those will transition across to King of Tokyo. Those, plus the additional card provide quite a few options for strategy – but that’s something to explore at a later date 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Me and my boyfriend play this when we have friends over who are not that into boardgames (sometimes even with our diehard boardgame friends). And everybody likes it or at the very least enjoys one or two games. Me especially as I am the one who wins 90% of the time ^_^.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We love King of Tokyo! It was one of two board games (Terror in Meeple City being the second), when we were on vacation. I don’t know just how many hours we spent playing, but we couldn’t stop laughing (two teen boys and a twisted sense of humour does wonders for playing games).

    Liked by 1 person

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