Updated: Sep 18, 2019
A while back I reviewed King of Tokyo and I sang it praises, declaring it to be a firm favourite, “a great filler and a perfect family game.” However as the years have gone on we’ve played less and less. This is not because I don’t enjoy the game, I really do and I picked up King of New York hoping to reinvigorate the franchise but my little brother (with whom we play most games now) doesn’t enjoy the PVP aspects of games and much prefers co-ops or multiplayer solitaire.
The other thing I said in my review from way back when was “This game’s major strength is in it’s simplicity and it’s weight. The simplistic, yahtzee style nature of the game makes it easy to play with any group, even non-gamers and families.” Was I right? To the Review…
A Brief Overview
In King of Tokyo each player takes on the role of a monster attacking the Japanese capital. You play as King Kong, Godzilla or a bunny rabbit controlling a heavily armed mech, you know, the usual stuff.
On your turn you roll 6 dice, keep some, reroll others. You can reroll twice and then you must keep all results. The dice feature custom faces, some deliver victory points, others heal, attack or give you energy, the currency of the game, which allows you to buy cards and develop special powers.
If you are in Tokyo, all other players can attack you but when you attack you hit all players simultaneously. The longer you stay in Tokyo the more victory points you’ll score. The winner is the first to 20 victory points or the last player standing.
Why Choose It?
In my opinion King of Tokyo is simple; smash the other monsters and race to victory. Roll dice, analyse the results, buy fun upgrades and cause devastation. In PVP style games it is the King. Games that feature player elimination often cause contention, it isn’t fun to be knocked out of the game, but KOT manages to walk the line and stay on the right side of fun even after you’ve been eliminated. It’s fast, it’s furious and because your opponent is determined by their position on the board, it’s not personal when you're attacked.
All of this for me adds up to make a fun game that is easy to teach and learn… However, I found something rather different when I tried to actually teach it to real-life non-gamers rather than hypothetical ones.
New Player Complications
Firstly, we were playing five player King of Tokyo, so off the bat you’re teaching an alternate ruleset where there are two spaces in Tokyo until there are only four monsters remaining. Having the rules change mid-game makes the rules explanation more difficult and adds an complication that messes with the structure of the explanation. What I should have done was drop out and taken on the role of referee, which would have streamlined things for us.
The second problem was what is arguably the best part of King of Tokyo, the Upgrades. While for me these cards make King of Tokyo the game that it is, they allow you to customise your monster and give you a different experience each time you play. However, for new players (playing for the first time at something approaching midnight) they added an extra level of detail that really slowed the game down.
The problem with the upgrade cards is that you can’t really afford to ignore them and there isn’t really a way you can play without them for your first game either. This means that if you have a mix of gamers and non-gamers the non-gamers are going to feel pressured to buy upgrade cards in order to compete.
With many games of King of Tokyo under my belt, I finally feel qualified to address my biggest problem with the game. King of Tokyo is the title fight of the century, Mecha Dragon vs The Kraken, The King vs Gigazaur. However, most games of King of Tokyo I’ve played end in a victory point win, which is somewhat less exciting than the Kraken emerging from the decimated ruins of Tokyo to slide back into the ocean until the time comes once again when it must defend its crown.
Did They Like It?
Before I answer that, I will just say one thing... Pandakai! Any game that lets you play as a giant kungfu panda with a bo staff gets a big thumbs up from some players in the group! (Yes I know he’s from the expansion, but I think you should get that too!)
As I said, we started this one quite late on which was probably a mistake and afterwards two of the company pointed out the late hour and retired to bed. This could have been genuine fatigue or it could have been a reaction to KOT. However, two others stayed on and we played again, this time just three player, adding in the Evolution Cards from the Power Up expansion which in my opinion really adds to the tactics in the game.
So in conclusion, I think people did like the game, but perhaps the timing of it could have been improved and maybe four players would have been better than five.
I like to think of King of Tokyo as a gateway game but this experience made me rethink that perspective somewhat. I still think it’s a great game, with a ton of replayability but perhaps it’s not a first night game.