I grew up loving kaiju movies, especially any centered around Godzilla. This includes movies like King Kong. The best types of those movies are when two or more of those enormous creatures battle each other. This concept has spawned many movies and games, whether we’re talking board games or video games. Richard Garfield‘s (the inventor of Magic: the Gathering) game, King of Tokyo, is another game in the genre, but one that is nicely done and easy to play.
# of Players: 2-6
Game Duration: 30 min
King of Tokyo won three Golden Geek awards in 2012: Best Children’s Game, Best Family Game and Best Party Game. The rules are easy to learn and can be explained in about 5-10 minutes. Game play is quick and rotates very quickly between players, so even with five players, no one is left out of the action for long (unless his or her monster is killed). We played it with a group including an 8 year-old, a couple of teenagers, and a couple of adults. All of us had fun, all of us could quickly determine a course of action during our turn, and there was a lot of back-and-forth until the end. All in all, it was a great game that works for adults as well as children.
So other than monsters battling each other, what’s the game about? Like most Japanese kaiju movies, everyone’s headed to Tokyo. And everyone is going to lay waste to Tokyo. This is tracked by your victory points. Get 20 victory points and you win the game. You can also win the game by being the last monster standing. Then, unopposed, you wreak havoc on the hapless city. Win and you’re the King of Tokyo.
The main mechanic revolves around dice. Get three of a kind with respect to the numbers and you earn that number of victory points. More than three? Each additional one adds another victory point. Get a heart? If you’re not in Tokyo at the time, you heal a wound, up to your max health of 10. Get a lightning bolt and capture an energy cube. And if you roll a clawed hand, you make an attack. If you’re outside of Tokyo, you attack the monster(s) in Tokyo. If you’re in Tokyo, you attack everyone outside of it. However, getting matches on roll is hard. Anyone who has played Yahtzee! knows this. Therefore, King of Tokyo works like Triple Yahtzee! in that you get three rolls. You can pull dice out not to re-roll and you can put dice back in. Whatever you have at the end of your three rolls determines what you can do.
If no one is in Tokyo and you roll an attack, you enter Tokyo. Why would you want to do this when you can’t heal? Entering Tokyo automatically earns you 1 victory point. If you can stay in Tokyo until your next turn, you get 2 victory points. Why, then, would you leave Tokyo? While in Tokyo, you can’t heal, at least not from the dice. Therefore, if you get attacked and sustain some damage, you always have the option of leaving Tokyo, provided you’ve not been reduced to zero health and thus killed. Therefore, there’s strategy around getting in and staying in or getting out of Tokyo. Stay in too long and the monsters around you will rip you apart. That happened to one of our players. He took a chance and if he could have survived to his next turn, he likely would have won.
So what’s the energy for? The energy allows you to purchase cards and the cards have different effects, some of which require energy. For instance, the card that won the game for me was Herbivore. It gave me a victory point each round I didn’t attack. By concentrating on matching dice to earn victory points and avoid attacking, I was able to stay out of Tokyo in the later stages of our game. Yet I racked up victory points and maintained the ability to heal any attacks coming from a Tokyo based monster. The cards add significantly to the game because they change strategies greatly and immediately. For instance, the player that took a chance and stayed in had a card that gave him a victory point every time he attacked. Therefore, if he could have survived and pulled off an attack from Tokyo, he would have won the game.
Even though the rules are simple, the situations and the cards can mean some significant strategic thinking, which clearly happened in the game we played. Even my eight year-old was caught up in considering when to stay in and when to leave Tokyo. If I hadn’t have pulled enough victory points to get to twenty my final round, she followed me and could almost potentially get to twenty herself. Therefore, it’s a great game for all ages. The mechanics work well and they keep the game moving. When playing with children, adults can still have a lot of fun. There’s not a ton of pieces so you don’t spend an hour on setup like with some boardgames. You can get set up and going in five minutes, teach the rules in another five, and play a full game in half an hour. It’s the perfect game for a family game night or for a game party. We’ll be playing more of King of Tokyo, especially after adding the expansion, which I’ll cover in a later review.