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The King Is Not Dead, He Just Went To Tokyo (A Review of King of Tokyo)

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Sometimes, when you play a game, you’re looking for a cerebral, strategic experience. You want to make plans, counter your opponents, and conquer the world.

At other times, though, you just want to go on a monster rampage, fighting and destroying your friends and the city of Tokyo in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, for these times, we have Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo.

How it Plays

The premise is simple: each player controls a monster the size of a building attempting to be the first one to conquer Tokyo.

A turn consists mainly of rolling 6 custom dice, with an allowance of 2 re-rolls of any number of dice, and then resolving the effects of those dice.

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Meet the cast of tonight’s show

Numbers rolled in sets of 3 score points. Hearts heal you, as long as you aren’t in Tokyo. Lightning bolts score energy cubes, which can be used later to purchase cards. Claws do damage to the monster(s) in the opposite location from where you stand (IE the Monster(s) in Tokyo damage all monsters outside of Tokyo, while the monsters outside of Tokyo damage only the monster(s) inside of Tokyo).

After dice are rolled and resolved, the player has a chance to purchase cards, which provided bonuses and abilities –points, extra dice to roll, continuous damage, and much much more. Points are also scored by entering Tokyo (when the Monster you attacked chooses to leave Tokyo) and by starting your turn in Tokyo (a difficult prospect, considering you must survive the damage from all other monsters in order to do so).

Normally only 1 Monster can occupy Tokyo, but with 5 or 6 players, another Tokyo location can be used – Tokyo Bay.

The winner is the first player to 20 points – or the last monster left alive.

Fun custom dice!
Fun custom dice!

Is Tokyo Still Standing?

King of Tokyo is exactly the game it wants to be.  And that’s a good thing.

It’s a push-your-luck game built on the premise that rolling dice is fun – but wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t “roll high and win, roll low and lose” all the time? In fact, the dice-rolling element isn’t even the main push-your-luck part, and as a result, King of Tokyo is significantly more even-keeled than many dice-based push-your-luck games.

One of the reasons why King of Tokyo is so enjoyable, I think, is that it offers an extra level of choice beyond “should I keep going, or should I stop?” The different elements of the dice provide differing opportunities, and with two re-rolls of your dice you must choose which you will pursue. Do you want to damage your opponent as much as possible? Do you want to save up for energy cards? Do you want to heal and re-group? Do you want to try and score points? Obviously the answer to all these questions is yes, but with only 6 dice you can’t choose to do all of them effectively. You generally have to go for one or two. Of course there’s always the chance you won’t even roll what you want. But you have a choice and that makes it interesting.

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Shiny bits!

The real push-your-luck part of the game comes into play when you control Tokyo. Sure, if you control Tokyo at the start of your turn you get extra points – and you’re in the highly desirable position of being able to damage everyone else all at once, especially if you manage to roll a lot of claws. But it takes a lot of pain and/or luck to earn that – you can only take Tokyo on your turn, and then you have to suffer the claws of every player until it gets back to you. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and take very little damage. But most of the time, you will be within a few points of death. And you can’t just leave Tokyo on your turn either – each time you choose to stay, you are accepting that you will take at least one more damage before you leave. And you cant heal with hearts on the dice, either.

This also creates a threshold of success, which prevents any runaway leader. You don’t get an immediate bonus for absorbing damage – you have to continue to absorb damage all the way around the circle before you get any benefit. Even if you’re in full health you could end up at 0 by the time it gets back to you. If you stay in Tokyo too long, you waste valuable health points without gaining the benefits of extra points and massive damage. Unlike other push-your-luck dice games, no one can get lucky and roll and roll and keep rolling and scoring points, putting themselves impossibly far ahead of anyone else. (See: that Tabletop episode involving Zombie Dice for reference.)

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Cards offer more ways to power up your monster

These are all little things but they add up to create a fast, enjoyable experience. It may not be the meatiest combat game, but it’s a great game night starter or ender.

It helps that the production quality is good as well – I’ve heard of problems with the dice in the first print run, but the second run (which I have) is pretty solid. The green translucent cubies are a great touch; the cards are excellently illustrated and neatly laid out. The monsters are colorful and interesting-looking. The dice in the 2nd print run are engraved as well as painted, so they are easy to see and should last. The only real issue I encountered was that some of the dials (that track monster health and points) were not quite aligned, so the numbers would shift from too low to too high in the window as the wheel is turned; but, it’s not completely unreadable. It’s just a flaw you should be aware of. There were a few occasions that I have had to spin the dial back and forth to make sure I knew which number I was on because it was cut off.

The only element of the game I am not a fan of is the player elimination. Obviously, to win by last-man-standing, monsters have to be able to die. But no one likes sitting out as their friends play. (and it is always me, first. C’mon!) Fortunately the game is so short and it is enjoyable to watch, so it’s not the worst thing in the world. Games last 15-30 minutes and you may be eliminated for at most half of that time – but if you’re careful and don’t waste your time in Tokyo, you should stick it out for most of the game. And as players are eliminated, the game speeds up, with players able to stick it out in Tokyo for much longer periods of time, increasing the spread of damage and racking up the points. The player elimination pretty much can’t be avoided – Monsters will fall before the end, even if the game is won by points. In fact, most games I’ve played were won by elimination, although in many cases the points were very close behind.

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Cyber Bunny takes Tokyo!

The game supports 2-6 players, but it’s definitely more fun with more. 2 is a simple back-and-forth dicefest, which is way more entertaining after 4 players have been knocked out and the remaining 2 are on their last legs. 3 is fun, 4 may be ideal, and 5-6 works really well, especially with the addition of Tokyo Bay.

The theme is a whole lotta fun and it works well. The game itself is a bit abstract if you think too hard about it, but the pieces there allow you to use your imagination and the fast-paced nature of the game fits the rampaging destruction of Tokyo by enormous monsters. Nary a game has gone by that didn’t involve players voicing their monsters or re-enacting fights with their cardboard stand-ups.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a quick push-your-luck brawl with a delightful theme, King of Tokyo is great. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is; it does what it does well, and it is a blast. It plays fast, and it plays fun.

Want another opinion? See The Board Game Family’s King of Tokyo review or the King of Tokyo review on Play Board Games.

Summary

  • Rating 9
  • User Ratings (3 Votes) 7
    Your Rating:
Summary

Pros

  • Plays very quickly
  • Easy to learn
  • Great push-your-luck element
  • Colorful, fun theme
  • Fun to roll dice!

Cons:

  • Player elimination
  • Some minor production flaws
9 Excellent

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Second everything you said, except I had no production problems, and congratulations to the creators for winning BGG’s best Party, Family and Kids Game awards.

    One thing I slightly disagree with is the comment on rolling lots of points. While you can’t do it in a single turn, only the person in Tokyo has a chance to stop you if you get some good rolls for points. It is a small thing that comes up from time to time and the expansion is supposed to have some things to combat it.

    Good review. If I could write as well I’d be doing reviews too.

  2. I really like King of Tokyo, but the player elimination almost kills it for me. I had a great time with it for a half dozen or so plays, but seeing people sitting out is a bummer.

    And, I’ve had the (mis)fortune to play some epic longer games and that was a bummer for those eliminated early.

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