(Original posted at http://splitkick.com/king-of-tokyo-review/)
As a young child, I would stay with my grandmother from time to time when my parents went on trips or had to do secret Christmas shopping. Without fail, every time I visited, the television would be set to one of three things. She was either watching soap operas, game shows, or inexplicably, given every other part of her character… black and white monster movies. Dinosaurs and giant monkeys would battle each other for what seemed like a chance to destroy a city. It didn't seem to matter if the monsters in these movies were men in rubber suits or lizards with cardboard fins glued on it them. There was nothing about these movies I, as young boy, couldn't love. King of Tokyo by Richard Garfield takes the premise of these old movies and creates an enjoyable, easy to learn, dice game.
King of Tokyo is playable with 2-6 people and will take up to a half hour to play. I would recommend you aim for 4-6 players for the most enjoyment. The game consists of 6 different monsters, all homages to the classic monsters from the movies the game is based on. Each monster has their own standup piece and a character card used for tracking points and health. There is also a deck of 66 cards and a board which only has one space on it. Most importantly there are 6 dice. The object of the game is to either gain 20 victory points or eliminate all other players.
The board is placed in the middle of the table with every player’s monsters off the board. These players are now outside Tokyo. When someone is able to enter Tokyo, they place their character on the space on the board. Three cards are dealt to the side of the board. The cards have an energy cost and each describe a unique ability your monster can gain. Some of these may be temporary benefits like a victory point gain or some may be permanent like having the ability to use a shrink ray to decrease the number of dice opponents roll. My personal favorite is “It Has a Child” which lets you reset your character if you get eliminated.
The dice have numbers 1 through 3 printed on them representing victory points. They also have a heart, lightning bolt, and claw. On your turn you will roll all 6 dice. You will then get to re-roll any dice you wish up to two times. For any set of 3 of the same number, you earn that number of victory points. You gain an additional point for each additional dice of the same number you have for that set. For example, if you roll 3 2’s you earn 2 points. If you roll 4 2’s you earn 3 points (2 points for the set of 2’s and 1 point for the additional 2). Every heart you roll can heal your monster up to its starting health of 10. Every lightning bolt will earn you one energy, which can be used to purchase the ability cards. Lastly, the claws will allow you to attack other players. If you are currently outside Tokyo, or off the board, your attacks are focused on the monster in Tokyo. If you are in Tokyo, or on the board, your attacks land on every other monster outside Tokyo at the same time. .
For entering Tokyo, you will be rewarded with a victory point. At the beginning of any of your turns where you currently in Tokyo, you earn 2 more victory points. The downside to being in Tokyo is you cannot use heart dice to heal yourself, and you are going to need to heal yourself. Everyone is going to attack you when you are the King of Tokyo. Once you have had enough punishment, you are able to flee the city, thus forcing the monster that just attacked you to enter Tokyo.
This game is beautifully simple. Anyone will be able to grasp the rules within minutes. There is a Yahtzee feel with re-rolling dice to get favorable sets. The board, consisting of one space, couldn't be simpler and is there to support the game’s theme. You could get away with not having a board at all but then there is no Tokyo. Nothing about the game is overwhelming. This is surprising because the game designer, Richard Garfield, is the designer of the very popular collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, which is anything but simple. When looking at the deck of cards in King of Tokyo, you can see the years of focusing on Magic: The Gathering has paid off. The card abilities are clear and the interaction between certain cards melds seamlessly. In a given game, you will probably only reveal 10 cards or so. This keeps each game unique. You could have some favorite ability cards but it isn't likely it will show up when you need it.
One of the most frustrating things in traditional board games is the idea of player elimination. No one likes sitting around a table watching two friends drag out a game of Monopoly after they went bankrupt. Most modern/designer board games don’t have player elimination, most keep everyone involved till the very end. King of Tokyo is a rare exception and I don’t mind it one bit. It’s partly because the game is so short and one player usually doesn't get knocked out too much sooner than everyone else getting knocked out or that the silly nature of the game is fun to watch unfold.
King of Tokyo was a distant blip on my radar for a while. The game looked too simple at first and I was not a fan of the idea of cardboard standups for characters. Now playing it, I feel foolish for waiting so long. Miniatures would look nice on the table and I am sure there are people out there who have customized their game unique figures. In the game, you aren't dealing with the figures too much. Most of your focus is on the dice and your cards, adding figures would have increased the cost of the game unnecessarily.
There is an official expansion to the game out already that adds an additional character as well as adding evolution cards to the game, thus adding some complexity. I haven’t tried this expansion out myself yet but look forward to getting my hands on it. I am sure there will be more expansions to come in the future, as well.
This is a game that has quickly become a favorite of mine. Not only is it good fun to play, but it gets people laughing, all the while being extremely easy to get on the table and teach to newcomers. It's a game I feel comfortable breaking out during any board game session, being quick enough to play in-between other, more demanding games. That being said, I could still see it stealing the night. This is one to check out, for sure.