King of Tokyo

Ah, Tokyo. How many times has it been destroyed on film, in manga, or in anime? How many fictional giant monsters have rampaged through its streets, tossing cars aside like toys, causing wanton property damage, and showing a casual disregard for the proper use of pedestrian crossing points? If you want to simulate the joy of epic scale urban destruction, then this is the game for you. In King of Tokyo, you play the part of one of the many colossal creatures looking to destroy the city, upstage your rivals, and be crowned best beastie. To win you need to accumulate the most victory points, or simply be the last monster standing.

In King of Tokyo, you play the part of one of the many colossal creatures looking to destroy the city, upstage your rivals, and be crowned best beastie. To win you need to accumulate the most victory points, or simply be the last monster standing. If the titanic threats to Tokyo seem very familiar, it’s because they are versions of famous movie monsters, just this side of the copyright infringement safety line (The King for King Kong, Gigazaur for Godzilla – you get the idea). Gameplay is fairly simple. On your turn you throw dice which you can either keep or reroll up to two times, to try and get the combination you are looking for.

Claw marks allow you to attack other monsters, hearts allow you to heal damage, lightning bolts gain you energy cubes, which can be used to upgrade your monster, by growing an extra head, breathing fire, or getting armour plating, and if you manage to roll three matching numbers, 1, 2 or 3, you gain that many victory points, with any extra matching numbers giving you extra victory points. I’m told this dice rolling mechanic is similar to Yahtzee, but as I’ve never played Yahtzee I have no idea if that’s true.

The first monster to go on the offensive enters Tokyo, which is both good and bad. You gain victory points the longer you stay in, but you can’t heal damage. To make matters worse, when you are in Tokyo every monster outside that attacks damages you, and only you. On the flip side your attacks hurt everyone outside, but generally speaking, stay in Tokyo too long and you’ll end up a dead monster. It’s perfectly possible to win the game without going into Tokyo at all, and more often than not you’ll be actively trying to avoid going in but can’t avoid it if you roll a claw and the current resident decides to move out.

The crux of the game is making decisions about when to go on the offensive, when to sit back and lick your wounds, and when to accumulate energy and build up your power. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your rival monster’s victory points and health before deciding whether a dash for a 20 point win or an all-out attack is your best bet, and hope the dice gods are with you. At times you’ll need to gang up on someone to stop them winning, but there is enough randomness to prevent a kingmaker situation arising too often, where a weaker player can determine which of the stronger ones wins.

King of Tokyo is immensely popular, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s fun, inclusive, easy to pick up but with enough going on to keep you interested. The artwork is cartoony, light-hearted and full of fun pun-heavy power up cards. These add an interesting twist to each game, as the cards each monster acquires can significantly affect how things turn out.

The game combines some solid core mechanics with an engaging and entertaining theme and is a good one to play with children. There’s enough mix of luck and strategy to satisfy casual gamers and those that favour tactics, although hard-core serious gamers might find it a bit too fluffy and random for their tastes. But they can always go and play a four-hour worker placement game about the Italian renaissance or something, while the rest of us enjoy ourselves.It’s affordable and doesn’t take forever to finish. A copy will set you back about £30, it takes approximately 45 minutes to play, and the game scales up and down for more or fewer players pretty well.

As fun as it is, King of Tokyo does have a few issues. The first is player elimination, which can happen fairly quickly, especially to new players who don’t appreciate how dangerous staying in Tokyo can be. Usually, monsters don’t start dropping until at least the mid-game, but it’s probably the worst aspect of playing, although the possibility of monster death does ramp up the tension.

If you’re not a fan of player elimination, you can remove the ‘it has a child’ card and includes a rule that any monsters knocked down to zero health can restart at full health and zero victory points. For games with more players, the game recommends using Tokyo Bay, meaning that two monsters can be inside Tokyo at once, reducing the lethality of venturing in, as you have at least one temporary ally with you on the inside lashing out.

The board itself is a little redundant, essentially just acting as a reminder about who is in Tokyo, and the stand-up cardboard monster tiles, score and health trackers, and energy cubes are all nice to look at and do make it easier to keep track of everything, but aren’t essential to play. All you really need is the dice, the power-up cards, and a few sheets of paper.

But what fun would that be? The essence of King of Tokyo is in the theme and trappings, the imagination and child-like joy in being a big monster smashing things up. If you’re a creative sort, you can even have a go at making your own DIY creatures, preferably with a pun-based name. That way the citizens of the beleaguered Japanese capital can groan collectively as they flee for their lives from ‘The Loch Ness Monster Munch’, ‘Dragon Their Feet’, or ‘The Alpha-Yeti Spaghetti Monster’. Have fun.

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