Buzzworthiness: King of Tokyo

For the last year, this Friday slot has been taken up by my ABCs of Gaming series.  Since that’s over, let’s do a review.  One of my most played games in recent months has been

image by BGG user kherubim

King of Tokyo was first released in 2011 by French company IELLO.  It was designed by Richard Garfield, the designer of Magic: The Gathering and (more importantly to me) RoboRally.  This 2-6 player game takes around 30 minutes to play.

When I first heard about the game, I was excited.  The theme of giant monsters destroying Tokyo sounded like a blast.  And the pedigree of Richard Garfield didn’t hurt matters.  However, after I read the rules for the first time, my enthusiasm was dampened (as recorded here on the blog).  It wasn’t what I was expecting – it seemed that it boiled down to a Yahtzee variant that didn’t involve destroying Tokyo at all, just beating on your opponents.  As time went on, I heard good things about the game, and got more interested.  Then after watching Richard Garfield himself demo it at GenCon this year, I got a copy without playing it first.

The game is simple enough to explain.  On your turn, you roll the dice.  Then, you keep however many you want and roll the rest.  After two rerolls, you’re done.  If you roll three-of-a-kind numbers (1, 2, or 3), you score that many points plus one for each additional number rolled.  So, if you roll four 2s, you get two points for the three twos and one for the fourth.  If you roll lightning bolts, you collect energy cubes that can be spent on power cards.  If you roll claws, you attack.  Players outside Tokyo attack whomever is in Tokyo, and players inside Tokyo attack whomever is NOT in Tokyo.  If you roll hearts, you heal, though you can’t heal while in Tokyo.  When you go into Tokyo, you get one point.  If you’re still there at the beginning of your next turn, you get two points.  After being hit, you can choose to leave Tokyo, at which point the player that dealt the damage goes in.  The game ends when someone reaches 20 points, or when only one monster remains standing.

COMPONENTS:  I like the component quality in the game.  The art in particular is very fun and evocative of both the theme and style of game.  The board is fairly small, and probably not strictly necessary – it’s only used to show who is in Tokyo.  You could have just have easily used the back of a card to signify Tokyo.  The dice are nice – I have the second edition with engraved dice, something that first edition people didn’t get.  They’re large dice, which fits well with the theme, particularly when you accidentally send things scattering after rolling.  The energy cubes are very nice.  The card are fairly good quality for what they are – you really won’t use that many of them in a single game.  There are also some extra tokens and dice that only come into play with certain cards, so they are very rarely used.  Overall, it’s a good quality game.

THEME: The theme of monsters in Tokyo is really the draw of the game.  However, if you’re looking for an experience where you’re actively attacking and trying to destroy the city, you may want to try Monsterpocalypse instead.  Here, you’re really just fighting each other.  There’s nothing to separate the monsters from each other, though the upcoming expansion should help with that.  But it’s still a thematic game – just try to keep yourself from roaring when you enter Tokyo.

MECHANICS: The term “Yahtzee-variant” is attached to a lot of games these days, particularly if it involves rolling and rerolling dice.  And the inspiration is clear in KOT – you have three rolls in which you try to get the best results possible.  However, the similarities end there.  KOT is far more interactive as you are constantly attacking, healing, and trying to gain enough energy to get the cards that will really mess up your opponents.  Whereas Yahtzee is the definition of multiplayer solitaire, KOT keeps players engaged throughout.  The mechanism of not being able to choose who you’re attacking is helpful for keeping the game from getting personal, so that’s good.  The biggest problem people seem to have is that there is player elimination.  The game is so fast, however, that it’s not a problem for long.

STRATEGY LEVEL: For a random dice rolling game, there are a number of good strategic decisions.  Should you heal, or go for the attack?  Should you try for points, or collect energy cubes?  What are your opponents likely to do, and how can you best thwart them?  How long should you stay in Tokyo?  Are those two bonus points really worth being down to 1 HP? (Hint: No, they aren’t.)  I’m not saying this game is all strategy – the randomness of the dice will determine most of what you can do.  But still, there’s some good decisions to be made.

ACCESSIBILITY: If you know how to play Yahtzee, you know how to play this game.  There are some subtleties that need to be picked up to be successful.  But this is a very easy game to learn and play.

REPLAYABILITY: This game is quite replayable.  I’ve played 15 times since buying it in August, and I’m still enjoying it.  It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s fun.  However, I am wanting to get the expansion in there to increase its replayabilitiy.

SCALABILITY: KOT scales well for 3-6 players (I haven’t played with two, and I don’t think I will).  I tend to think that the more you have, the better it is – Tokyo Bay is added with 5-6 players, giving a second location for a monster to occupy.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? YES.  If you can’t tell by now, I love this game.  It’s rapidly become one of my favorites, and a game I’ll take along to just about any event.  I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and most people I’ve played with have also enjoyed it.  The only ones who haven’t are the ones who get grumpy about player elimination, so if that’s going to bother you, don’t pick this up.  I tried playing with no player elimination once (just resetting someone completely when they died), and it didn’t work well at all.  There are two ways to win, but being the last one standing is the most popular by far in my games (80% won by eliminating everyone).

At Spiel this year, an expansion was released.  So, I’ll tag this review with a BONUS PREVIEW!

image by BGG user LordT

Power Up! is the the first expansion for King of Tokyo.  It doesn’t add more players, but does add a seventh monster – Pandakaï (who is bound to be referred to as Kung Fu Panda by everyone who sees him).  The big thing added is a deck of eight evolution cards for each monster.  These cards are drawn into your hand if you roll at least three hearts on your turn.  You can use these hearts to heal as well, and can even use hearts rolled while in Tokyo.  The card can be played at anytime, discarded after use or kept in play (as with the power cards in the base game).  This basically gives your monster a special power no one else can use.  Variants listed in the rules include starting with a random evolution, drawing two at a time and keeping only one, or having a draft at the beginning of the game.  It all looks very good, and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting it someday.

Well, that’s it.  To sum up – King of Tokyo is awesome, and the expansion looks like even more fun.  Thanks for reading!

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