Where most people associate this festive time of year with the usual combination of socks, jocks and chocolates (cheers to Tim Minchin for that one), I have a slightly curious Christmas connection: Japanese monster movies. I put this down to the British TV network Channel 4 showing a whole bunch of them one year around this time when I was a kid, and after soon I had a childhood obsession with Godzilla and his rubber-suited ilk. Giant monsters (known in Japan as Kaiju) terrorising the world are always an entertaining thing to watch and now you get become one yourself (kind of) to take on other mutant beasts or take down the city in Richard Garfield’s dicefest, King of Tokyo!
It’s a gloriously silly game where you get to win in one of two ways; either be the first to score twenty victory points or smash each of your opponents into the ground so much that they can’t get up again. In the box you get enough for six players to get involved and even with the maximum amount of people around the table you’ll be done in thirty minutes, meaning that it’s an ideal way to fill some time between bigger efforts or round off your games night… but how does it work?
Simply put, you chuck six dice and see what happens. Rolling three of the same number will score you points (either 1,2 or 3) while each additional digit gets you an extra point – in other words, rolling three 3s gets you three points and rolling 5 gets you five. Claws showing on your dice initially allow you to take control of Tokyo, but then they become even more vital as you use them to attack your opponents.
Now, here’s the only vaguely tricky thing to consider about the game, the concept of being In Tokyo or Not In Tokyo. If you’re In, all attacks effect ALL of the players who are Not In. If you’re Not In, the poor mutant who is In Tokyo takes the hits. In the case of a five/six player game, there’ll be two players maximum in Tokyo, balancing things out a little. And that’s the most convoluted thing about King of Tokyo; understand that and you’ve got the whole gist of the game.
There are two other symbols on the dice as well; Hearts allow you to heal your Kaiju and Bolts bestow little green energy cubes upon you which can be spent on cards that will boost your monstrous abilities. Some are permanent (marked with a ‘Keep’ symbol) while others must be discarded to give you a one-off boost that is often very powerful. Everything from getting extra points through to bonus rerolls can be gained from your cards, so spend those glowing cubes wisely!
As the dice rolling continues, the game gets more and more raucous. King of Tokyo is not a game to take seriously, especially if you play with folks who may take offence at being attacked. With a lot of the focus on player elimination, some people may feel a little sore when they get ganged up on while they’re in Tokyo. You see, while you control the city, you can’t heal your Kaiju – any hearts that you happen to roll are useless, meaning that you have to push your luck and stay in as long as you can without getting wiped out. Once you decide to yield, you hand over Tokyo to the last monster that attacked (still taking the damage, mind you), try to patch yourself up and have your revenge.
Being dice based, there is of course a huge element of luck to the game, but that’s not to say that there’s no strategy in King of Tokyo. Deciding whether you should attack the beast in the city is as important as knowing when you should stop trying to defend it. Getting the right combination of cards can give you an edge, but should you rely on rolling as much energy as possible? This could leave you well behind the other players or allow you to construct a devastating last-place-to-first move… in Tokyo, you always have plenty of options available to you!
Now, having been out for a while and being that it’s a very popular game, the first expansion has recently hit the stores for you to add a little more to your battles. Power Up comes complete with a brand new monster – Pandakai – and a whole new game mechanism: Evolutions. These are different to the cards you get in the regular game in that each monster has eight powers specific to themselves that are shuffled and placed face down in front of the player before the game starts. Should you manage to roll three hearts (whether you’re In Tokyo or not) you may take the top Evolution card from your stack. When you reveal this new power is entirely down to you; some will give you a bonus from the moment you draw them, while others act more along the lines of an instant reaction.
The addition of Power Up has left me feeling a little muddled, and it’s all down to how many people I happen to be playing with. If there are three or four of us sitting around the table, it’s a welcome extra that adds another layer of strategy to the game. However, with five or six people involved things take a turn for the negative; it really begins to drag. As you get to heal as well as draw an Evolution when you roll those hearts (assuming you’re Not In Tokyo), it adds a LOT of time to the game. The basic King of Tokyo is a speedy, silly experience, but if you’re still playing the same game after an hour when a few players are still just slogging it out, slowly trudging towards a conclusion… it just doesn’t feel right.
King of Tokyo should be like the epic battles at the end of every Kaiju movie; quick, brutal and daft, and 99% of the time it’ll be exactly like that. Just be a bit wary of adding the expansion in when a lot of people want to play. By keeping it simple, the game will move along at speed and will never overstay its welcome. The old films never worried too much about overcomplicating things, so why should you?
Designed by Richard Garfield and with art by Benjamin Raynal, King of Tokyo was originally released by IELLO in 2011. The Power Up! expansion came out in 2012. The game plays in around half an hour and between two and six can get involved. If you’d like a copy, Gameslore does the base set for £23.99 and the additional set for a tenner.