Turning Japanese

Whilst I was growing up, my only real knowledge of Godzilla was the 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, which proudly demonstrated no affiliation with the original Japanese monster movies. Essentially a soldier, a scientist, a kid and Godzilla’s cowardly nephew (yeah – really) travelled the world in their boat and summoned Godzilla himself to help fight various monsters and villains. What you need to take from this is that a) it wasn’t very good and b) child me was an idiot.


It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I came to know of the Japanese monster movie (also known as Kaiju – yes, that’s where Pacific Rim got the name from). And as someone who loves B-movies and rubber suited monsters (we had original series Doctor Who back then), I really enjoyed the ridiculous nature of a random creature destroying much of a major Japanese metropolis. And of course, when these beasts met that was only ever one outcome – a big monster scrap. Naturally with more destruction added into the equation.

I do also accept that there were two Hollywood Godzilla movies, of which we shall discuss no more of …

This more rambling introduction than usual is all to bring us to one of my favourite lighter games, than nonetheless, gets plenty of play with both my friends and family. It’s one of the perfect ways to start a gaming night whilst you are waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s a lot of fun to play with your children due to the quick action and fun design. And you get to have monsters punch the ever living snot out of everything. I refer to Richard Garfield’s King Of Tokyo published by IELLO.


Yes Magic: The Gathering fans … that Richard Garfield.

The concept behind King Of Tokyo is simple, a group of monsters based upon various classic kaiju stalwarts, decide to descend upon Tokyo and fight until only one remains. The aim of the game is to either generate 20 victory points (I like to see these points as representative of how much of the city your trash) or by reducing the other monsters to zero health. And you do this through playing Yahtzee

Wait – don’t go! I haven’t lost it …

Each turn monsters roll a 6 dice and collect points based upon what they roll. Just like Yahtzee you can keep dice and reroll others to try and get the best results for you. The dice are designed for the game and have a number of different symbols upon them. Each has a different outcome on the game.

The number facings (1, 2 and 3) are one of the ways to generate points. A set of three gives you that number of points. For each extra one you roll gives you a bonus point on top of that (so four 2s score 3 points for example). The claw symbol allows you to attack other monsters and the heart symbol heals a point of damage. The lightning bolt gives you a point of energy, which allows your monster to evolve new abilities from the power card deck.


The other way to gain points other than the dice is to control Tokyo itself. At the start of the game, Tokyo remains vacant and is only occupied when one monster rolls a claw result. That monster gains an immediate victory point and gains two victory points if it is in Tokyo at the start of its turn. In larger games, there are two control points in Tokyo – the city and the bay, which means more than one monster, can be in play there. From its place in Tokyo, the monster can also attack all other players. Each time it rolls a claw result, every monster outside of Tokyo takes a point of health damage. However, the reverse is also true and being in Tokyo also means that everyone can wail on you.

Whilst you are in Tokyo, you are also prohibited from healing damage, so you have to judge when may be a good time to get out. After taking damage, a monster can volunteer to retreat and the player that attacked them takes their place (gaining a point in the process). This normally results in very cagey play to begin with, as no one normally wants to jump straight in and paint a target on themselves too early, but very frantic game play later in case someone if getting too many points and you are desperate to knock them out of the city.

The power cards add another level of variance to the games. Before the game starts, three cards are turned face up and players can spend energy points at the end of their turn, to buy them. They can also spend 2 energy points to sweep the board and replace with three new cards. The cards come in a couple of flavours – keep card which give monster new abilities and discards which are one off effects like victory point boost or damage monsters.


These cards are I believe where a lot of King Of Tokyo’s game play variance comes from. As depending on what card you get, will determine the way you try to achieve victory. If you get Shrink Ray or Acid Breath, you will want maximise the damage output as much as possible. Using abilities like Psychic Probe (where you can force others to reroll dice) and Herbivore (which gives you points for not attacking) will result in a more passive ‘rack up the points’ style. Nicely the cards never result in any game breaking combos, so whilst they may give a player an advantage, they never tip it too far into unfairness. There are few dud cards in their (Monster Batteries anyone?) but these are few and far between.

The graphics and design are bright and bold and each of the player pieces is distinct from one another. The dice are chunky and easy to read. The player board has great dials upon them that allow you to set point and health easily through the game. Each card is illustrated in a very light hearted style that permeates the entire game. The only minor complaint I would have is the green energy cubes. For a game with big, bold components, why give us these fiddly little things? You can almost guarantee that after packing the game away you will find a couple on the floor a few days later. But it is a very minor matter for an otherwise brilliant design.

The gameplay flows very quickly, as you would expect – roll the dice three times and see whether you want any cards. As a result, games do not last longer than 30 minutes. Whilst theoretically players can get knocked out after three player turns, you would have to be incredibly unlucky for that to occur. The first player elimination doesn’t tend to happen until about 5 or 10 minutes from game end (if indeed anyone gets eliminated). However, if you have a problem with any form of player elimination, you will not want to get involved with this.

I do have quibble with the monsters themselves – despite the various designs they all play exactly the same and the only difference is aesthetic. You do feel that a giant robot should play different to a Godzilla like creature. And that a cybernetic ape should be different to those. There is an expansion, Power Up, which gives you unique evolution cards to your creatures. A part of me can’t help but feel this should have been included in the basic game. But perhaps that’s me trying to find fault.

A sequel called King Of New York has also been released featuring new monsters, specific buildings and location on the game board, as well as a US military that fights back. However, for quick knockabout fun, I will always go back to the original.

King Of Tokyo take an older concept of dice game and puts a bold and beautiful skin upon it. It is designed to pitch you into a chaotic monster melee and see who comes out the other side on top. It’s something I would heartily recommend to anyone’s game collection, as pretty much anyone can pick up and play it. It’s simple stompy and silly fun.


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