After nearly 20 years, Magic the Gathering is still largely popular amongst the gaming community, with sanctioned official tournaments, yearly released sets, and even online stores dedicated to the sale and trade of individual cards. While its designer, Richard Garfield is responsible for popularizing the Collectible Card Game genre (Magic, Netrunner, Android Netrunner, and BattleTech CCG), he has been far from limited to it. 1994’s RoboRally (with a recent reprinting in 2005) proved that Garfield could successfully go beyond the card building mechanic and design an engaging board game many would now consider a classic. So it was with much anticipation when details of Garfield’s newest design, King of Tokyo began to stir up in mid-2010.
In King of Tokyo, players take the roles of city-sized, rampaging Monsters. By using a combination of action die and special ability cards, a player becomes victorious by being the last Monster standing or the first to reach 20 Victory Points. Simplistic in design, King of Tokyo provides the bare essentials of a light, thematic dice-rolling game, while at the same time can still provide engaging player interaction and important decision-making each turn. Before discussing how this all plays out, let’s first look over the components.
In the box you will find:
King of Tokyo game board
Monster player boards
Deck of special ability cards
Counters needed for some of the cards (Mimic, Smoke, Shrink and Poison)
Oversized Action Dice (including two extra green dice
needed for certain special ability cards)
First let’s take a look at how to set up the game:
To begin, each player will choose from one of the six Kaiju-themed Monsters to control during the game. There is no difference between each Monster other than the individual artistic designs. They include The King, GigaZaur, Cyber Bunny, Meka Dragon, Alienoid, and Kraken, and each is represented by a detailed cardboard stand-up figure. Players will also take the Monster player board that corresponds to their chosen Monster.
The Monster’s player board will be used to keep track of two types of statistics. In the upper left corner, Victory Points are tracked. In the lower right hand corner, the Monster’s Health Points are tracked. If a Monster’s health ever reaches 0, that player is immediately eliminated from play. Likewise, as soon as a Monster reaches 20 Victory Points, that Monster automatically wins and the game is over. To begin the game, each Monster will start with 0 Victory Points and 10 Health Points. During the game, player’s will gain Victory Points and cause damage to other Monsters in various ways, as I’ll discuss soon.
The main game board is broken up into two parts, Tokyo City and Tokyo Bay (though unless you are playing a 5-6 player game, you’ll only need to worry about the Tokyo City space). Tokyo City can only occupy one Monster at any given time during the game. A player who has their Monster on the Tokyo City space at the beginning of their turn will receive an automatic 2 Victory Points. Also, any Monster that moves into Tokyo City on their turn will receive 1 Victory Point. So think of this space as having a “King of the Hill” aspect to it. Player’s will attempt to knock each other out of Tokyo City, so that their own Monster can then take control of the space.
A player’s turn consist of four main steps:
1.) Rolling and Rerolling the Dice
2.) Resolving the Dice
3.) Buying Special Cards
4.) Ending your Turn
1.) Rolling and Rerolling Dice
At the beginning of a player’s turn, that player will roll the six black dice (the two additional green dice are only used when playing certain special card effects). Once all six dice have been rolled, the player can then choose to keep any of the rolled dice and reroll any or all of the dice two more times (in the same style of Yahtzee). It’s worth noting that dice saved after the initial roll can be kept or rerolled during the final roll.
2.) Resolving Dice
Once player’s have completed the Roll and Reroll phase, the actions on the dice must be resolved. Each dice has 6 different action icons, and resolve as follows:
1, 2, and 3 facings: Each of these are worth Victory Points, but only if they are rolled in sets of three of a kind. So, for instance, rolling two 2’s will get you 0 Victory Points, while rolling three 2’s will get you 2 Victory Points. After the first set is scored, each additional die with the same face is worth 1 additional Victory Point (so rolling five 2’s will net a player 4 Victory Points).
3.) Buying Special Cards
After all the dice have been resolved, a player can then choose to buy a Special ability card from the Card deck. At the beginning of the game, three cards are drawn face up beside the deck for display. The Energy cost of each card is displayed in the top left corner of the card, showing how much Energy cubes need to be paid in order to obtain that particular card. A player can also choose to pay 2 Energy cubes and discard all 3 face up cards, drawing 3 new cards from the top of the deck to display. As long as a Monster has the Energy cubes to pay for the cards, that Monster can purchase as many cards as they wish on their turn, in any order they choose. Each card has a special effect and there are two different types of cards:
4.) End of the Turn
Some card effects will take place during this phase, but when the turn ends, the action dice will be passed to the player to the left and that player will take their turn.
Neither Monster can do direct damage to one another if they are both outside Tokyo City
If a player is attacked while in Tokyo City, that player may choose to concede the space to the attacking player (though the Monster will still take the resulting damage). Remember that when you are in Tokyo, you are unable to use the “Heart” action dice for healing purposes. If a player chooses to concede, the attacking Monster immediately moves into Tokyo City and receives 1 Victory Point. Remember though, that if you’ve kept your Monster in Tokyo City and begin your turn while your Monster is still there, you also score 2 Victory points.
In a 5-6 player game, Tokyo Bay is used as a second spot and is treated exactly the same as Tokyo City. This allows more than one Monster to be on the board at any time. If at any time, players are eliminated and the player count goes below 5 players, Tokyo Bay is no longer used.
Players will continue to take turns until either a Monster receives 20 total Victory Points or is the last Monster standing.
When I describe King of Tokyo as bare bones, I don’t do so with a negative connotation. While a lot of games today have multiple paths to victory, expanded FAQ’s, and mounds of if-then rule sets, King of Tokyo is unique in that it is a game of pure simplicity, and better for it. The stripped down mechanics work well because nothing else gets in the way of them.
You have basic options every turn with the action dice. Special ability cards allow you to separate yourself slightly from others, but you’ll never have enough time to collect more than five, so it never feels overpowered. There’s a risk/reward element to the Tokyo City space, and a majority of how much you’re willing to risk its advantages and disadvantages will be based off other player’s actions and Victory/Health Points, as much as your own.
As far as the components are concerned, for the most part, King of Tokyo succeeds. There are over 60 different special ability cards, all of them are individually illustrated and it will take quite an amount of plays before you get a chance to see them all. While the game board and energy cubes are high quality, I’ve noticed the individual Monster player boards started to fray on the edges after only a few plays. The engraved dice are also a nice touch (though these were added in the 3rd edition of the game; Iello sells these separately for customers with previous editions where non-engraved dice had an issue with the facings rubbing off).
The game is definitely better as a 3-6 game. Two player games can feel a bit wonky if one player gets way ahead on Victory Points or low on Health. Especially with being able to force the other person into Tokyo City, but I wouldn’t say that it is unplayable or anything. Just something to watch out for if your gaming sessions tend to only include two.
At its core, King of Tokyo is a simple and quick press-your-luck, dice rolling game with a Yahtzee style mechanic. The game succeeds in that its able to mix a sense of balance with the luck-driven mechanic of dice rolling. Because of its ease, it’s one that families will want to look into, but shouldn’t be ignored by regular gamers as an addictive filler on game night.