I think the first thing I noticed about King of Tokyo was the attractive box art, which perfectly encapsulated the theme of the game. At thirty pounds it is not cheap, but the production quality is high. This game is a celebration of the Godzilla “monster eats Tokyo” B movie genre, and a good one.
So what do you get in the pretty box? A pack of special cards, with nice art that covers many of the genre motifs; some pretty green glass cubes that serve as energy tokens, a tiny almost irrelevant board, some decent counters needed for some cards powers as tokens and six monsters.
The monsters are the stars of the show; your playing piece. Each monster is represented by a cardboard piece with a plastic base – big and pretty but plastic monsters would have been far cooler so I was a bit disappointed. You also get a little scoring card for each monster with wheels to keep track of victory points and your monsters health. These work fine in play. Hugh Wake played the Kraken, insisting, in the worst pun of the night it was a case of “The Kraken Wakes!”
One oddity is the full colour rule book, which is not in the box, but attached underneath like a advertising leaflet, under the shrink wrap. It fits in the box, so I have no idea why, but it could easily be discarded or missed, I wondered where it was till I examined the box to see why no rules and noticed what I had thought was just a piece of packaging was the short rules leaflet, which is fairly clearly written. I noticed two minor ambiguities, but these are with regard to specific cards, and we went with the common sense reading. Why does poison quills not give poison counters though?!!!
Finally there are the dice. Six special six sided black dice are the core if the game. (There are also two green dice used with certain Cards). On your turn you throw the dice, put aside the ones you want to keep and re-roll those you don’t.
A lucky throw can have big effects — but there is skill in selecting which dice to keep and which to throw again, with up to three rolls before you are stuck with the dice in front of you.
Once the rolling ends you translate the symbols on the dice in to actions. The actions are damage other players monster, heal your own monster, acquire energy points or acquire Victory points.
Energy points are the currency used to gain cards which generally either give you victory points for certain things, damage all the other monsters or give you interesting powers in play.
Three cards are randomly drawn and available to all players at the start of the game and this market is replenished as they are purchased with energy tokens. The cost varies with the power of the card – a good card might help your monster greatly; the problem is you might have to spend several turns actions collecting the energy cost.
The key to the game is the board, representing the one space (two in the 5+ game) of Tokyo itself. Your monster is either in Tokyo, or not in Tokyo. If in Tokyo you get victory points each time it’s your turn, but all the other monsters can only attack you. The advantage is that if in Tokyo, you attack and damage ALL the other monsters. Possession of, and knowing when to relinquish Tokyo is the key tactical decision in the game.
There are two ways to win: kill all the other monsters leaving you as last player in the game (happened in one of our games), or win by reaching twenty Victory Points ( a tight final round thing between at least two players in three of them). You have ten health points for your monster, which fluctuate throughout the game as you heal and take damage.
The game is for 3 to 6 players: I have only played four times, losing every game, with four players, so I can’t really speak for how the game works with more players. With four it’s a lot of fun: and simple enough that an intelligent older child could easily play (it says 8+ on the box, I might think 9-10+) Barby who has only played a couple of modern board games before (Zo0loretto and Pandemic) won half the games, and we all found it easy to learn and pick up. EDIT: I have since played at least 5 games with 5 players, which adds Tokyo Bay. While the rulebook is not as clear as it could be, it did work very well, and is just as enjoyable if not more so with more players.
With four players average game length is around 30 minutes, but feels longer and is a satisfying play experience. There are lots of tactical options available, and despite the relative simplicity of the design and large numbers of dice involved I think a high degree of skill. You have to make difficult choices, and at times gamble on risky outcomes. Different strategies emerge: do you go for hearts and heal your monster, go for Victory Points and try to win, or go for attacks and try to knock other players out? In three of the four games we played I was eliminated before the end 0f the game, killed by the other players through trying to hang on to Tokyo too long. Do you accumulate energy to buy cards, powering up your monster, and denying them to the opposition?
The game is designed by Richard Garfield, the man who invented Magic: the Gathering, and the cards show the usual excellent design one might expect from him, and really do add complexity and excitement to the game.
I would recommend the game. At the end I asked Hugh and Tom experienced gamers and Barby who has not played many games at all (compared with us) to rate it out of ten; Barby gave it 9, the other two 8. I think I might give it 7 out of 10: after all I lost every game. ;) So let’s say 8 out of 10; stylish, simple, extremely fast paced, with turns going round so quickly and other player turns effecting yours with a high level of interaction so you are never bored, and the random dice rolls adding a strong element of risk and fun.
As a family game, highly recommended, and as a quick game that can be played by hard core gamers while waiting for people to show up, or easily take up a whole night, also recommended.
As a child I despised family board games, because let;’s face it they are either rubbish, go on forever (like Monopoly or Risk) or are simply too random and lacking skill – Snakes & Ladders! When I was young I was introduced to Diplomacy, a pure skill negotiation wargame I love, but still avoided even the 80′s Games Workshop games on the whole. Yet recently I have discovered Eurogames, basically for 2-4 players, with little randomness, high skill, and where no player is eliminated to the end. There are some brilliant Eurogames out there – one which I believe is actually American is Pandemic, which I will review soon, but Ticket to Ride and Agricola both of which I have reviewed on this blog are excellent too. American style games seem to go up to 6 players, and involve dice and randomness more, and this can often to my mind be a weakness, but in King of Tokyo these things work. My only criticism is that you can be knocked out quite quickly, and that means sitting around waiting for the next game, though it is fun to watch, and once players are eliminated things clearly speed up greatly.
If you have never played modern board games, this may take a little getting used to, but certainly if you have played Magic the Gathering, or have any gaming experience, you may enjoy this one. Buy it!