King of Tokyo Review – Big Trouble On Little Gaming Board
A few months ago I wrote about King of Tokyo for the first time. Each Christmas we all give our game group something from ourselves to the group and this year was no different. We ended up with the game group getting three new games. These were:
- A Fake Artist Goes To New York
- King of Tokyo
Since the middle one of those is a Jamey Stegmaier game, I’ll give you three guesses which one came from myself and my girlfriend.
Meanwhile, the other two we have played a fair amount of. A Fake Artist Goes To New York was a game we looked at near the start of the year, as of the time of writing we haven’t played Viticulture yet, and King of Tokyo I kind of glossed over. I wrote an article about it as a concept, but never actually reviewed it. You can read that article here.
So, let’s take a deeper look. Let’s talk about King of Tokyo.
What is the premise of King of Tokyo?
I cover this pretty thoroughly in the other article I wrote; however, it’s probably worth going through it again. King of Tokyo is a game in which you play as a giant beastie wanting to be THE ruler of Tokyo. The concept is similar to Godzilla, or another such movie, in which you are a member of the kaiju (giant monster) family who is looking to take over the city. An interesting fact that I have only just found out, is that Godzilla was often referred to as “King of the Monsters” – so it’s fairly easy to see where the inspiration came from.
The players are pitched against each other to try and score victory points (up to 20, with the first reaching 20 being the winner) or by defeating all the other monsters around the table. To do this they must fight.
The rules are incredibly simple to King of Tokyo. They can actually be listed fairly easily –
- After the very first player has had their very first turn, they must enter Tokyo. Tokyo can hold one monster in a 1-4 player game, and two monsters in a 5-6 player game. There must always be a monster in Tokyo, and they can only leave Tokyo if you take damage on your turn, however, the longer you are in the more victory points you earn.
- On their turn the players roll six identical dice, each having six faces. These are –
- One – Get three to score 1 point. Any more than three rolled and you score one additional point per 1 you have rolled.
- Two – Get three to score 2 points. Any more than three rolled and you score one additional point per 2 you have rolled.
- Three – Get three to score 3 points. Any more than three rolled and you score one additional point per 3 you have rolled.
- Energy – Energy can be used to buy upgrades. These may be additional damage, or stealing energy, or giving you something extra if you roll specific things. There are two types of upgrades – those that are one-shot items, and those that remain in play. There three items to choose from, at any one time, that the players can purchase.
- Health – Recover health. You cannot do this if you are in Tokyo. Only those out of Tokyo can recover health.
- Punch – You punch everyone who is not where you are for one damage per punch icon. This means if you are inside of Tokyo, you’re punching those outside of Tokyo. If you are outside of Tokyo then you are punching those inside of Tokyo. What this subsequently means is if you are in Tokyo you are likely to damage more people, but you are also likely to take more damage in a game of more than 2 players.
- If you don’t like your roll, you can reroll any number up to twice more.
- Gain lots of points and don’t die to win (as explained above).
That’s about it to be honest. King of Tokyo is for 2-6 players and was designed by Richard Garfield of Magic the Gathering fame. There is a random connection. It is also what we would consider a push-your-luck dice game, that is somewhere on the scale of Zombie Dice to Elder Sign around the middle. It isn’t heavy and it only takes around 20-30 minutes to play.
What is it like playing King of Tokyo?
I must admit, one of the things that really surprised me the first time I wrote about King of Tokyo is the sheer amount of love people have for this game. There were also a lot of people who jumped to its defence when suggesting that this is a game that can easily be compared (and I believe wrongly so) to games like Yahtzee. Looking further afield, it is possible to see even more love on BGG from people making their own 3D monster pieces to getting tattoos of the game art. It’s absolutely amazing to see how people adore this game.
That being said, and going back to the Yahtzee example, King of Tokyo is a creative game but it is a creative game based almost solely upon the push-your-luck style of gameplay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with games based around only a handful of mechanics, and 7 Wonders (which was my last review) is a prime example of how great games don’t have to be mechanically complex. That being said, it is also very possible to see a game based around push-your-luck becoming stale or unchallenging if all you are doing is rolling dice.
Actually, this is where the gameplay can get really interesting and really nerdy, as it is here you can start working out the statistics behind each roll. The power-ups and upgrades add an extra dimension which can kick the game into a whole new gear. More variables mean more potential outcomes, and more potential outcomes mean more calculations to work out the probability of any one thing happening.
So, on one side of things, King of Tokyo is a mathematical game, wrapped up in a cute giant monsters bow. On the other side, it is a creative tour de force that lets you play as giant monsters punching each other and spitting acid and scratching at each other and breathing fire just because you finally want to settle who is boss. It is, in a strange way, like a war game between a group of cardboard cutouts trying to determine who is the king.
One area where King of Tokyo really shines is within the theme of the game. It is original and humorous and really shines compared to some other games out there. King of Tokyo knows what it is, and it knows it isn’t a game you will play hours and hours of and that is okay. You’ll play it when you want something light and fun – something entertaining and different – something that is raw and exciting. The randomness allows for that passion and that fire to burn through into the game, and it holds the moment. It becomes tense and powerful. Then, there is that moment, when you roll exactly what you need and the joy washes over you like a giant moth monster over a non-descript overpopulated city in some black and white movie. It is invigorating.
Conclusion and TL;DR Summary
If you like heavy strategy games or games where you are in control, then King of Tokyo may not entirely be for you – however, if you just want to submit to anarchy, just for a little while, and roll a few dice then King of Tokyo is a charming and enjoyable game to play. There is a lot of luck (it is literally part of a subcategory of gaming called “push-your-luck” games) and, although these do not always appeal to everyone, I would urge anyone who has come across King of Tokyo and not played it not to judge it before giving it a go. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
So, I’ve kind of asked this before, but what are your thoughts on King of Tokyo? Can you get along with the randomness, or is it not for you? Let me know in the comments below.
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