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Subject: Games Ponies Write - King of Tokyo Review rss

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Andrew Bartosh

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For more board game reviews (as well some other stuff, if that's your speed), visit Games Ponies Write.

Generally speaking, when it comes to board and card games, I like games that force me to flex the gray matter in my skull. I like to have tough decisions, turn after turn. I like to develop a strategy, make tactical decisions, and emerge victorious over my decimated foes, knowing that it is my superior brain power has led me to victory.

Or, you know, I mess something up, get outsmarted, lose, and curse my incompetence endlessly. Either way.

That isn't to say those are the only type of games I like. There are nights where I - or any other number of people in my group - just don't want to think. We want something light on the rules, easy to set-up and breakdown, engaging enough that we're invested in the game, but not so difficult that we are forced to invoke the "don't talk to X on their turn" rule. Unfortunately, my group was having a bit of trouble finding a game that really fit this bill for us. Sure, there were several games in our collections that met most of the requirements but, for some reason or another, they just never really managed to hit the table.

Until King of Tokyo.

King of Tokyo

Mechanics: Die Rolling, Push Your Luck, Player Elimination

Publisher: iello

Designer: Richard Garfield

Players: 2-6

Time to Play: 30-60 Minutes

If you read my preamble above, it should come as no surprise that King of Tokyo is a pretty straightforward game. You play as one of 6 adorable/terrifying monsters. Your goal? Become the King of Tokyo.

That was easy, eh?

To claim your title, you either need to end up as the last monster standing or rack up 20 points.

On your turn, you gather up 6 (delightfully large) dice and roll them. Each side has an effect:

Claw: Deal 1 damage.

Heart: Heal 1 damage.

Lightning: Gain 1 energy.

1, 2, 3: Gain points if you roll three-of-a-kind (+1 for each additional instance of that number rolled). e.g., 3 3's is 3 points, 3 1's is 1 point, 4 2's is 3 points, etc.

After rolling the dice the first time, you can collect any dice you don't want and roll them again. Then, after that roll, if you STILL don't like some of your dice, you can scoop them up and reroll them again. Then you are stuck with what you've got, resolve all of your dice effects and, if you have the energy, you can buy one of the available upgrade cards.

The biggest complication of the game is the presence of Tokyo and how attacks interact with it.

Basically, when attacking, if no one is in Tokyo, you enter Tokyo. If you are in Tokyo, your attacks will deal damage to everyone NOT in Tokyo. If someone else is in Tokyo, you will deal damage to them and they will then have the option to stay in Tokyo or leave and forcing you to enter.

Entering Tokyo is pretty cool! For starters, you score a point just for getting in. Then, if you manage to stay there until you next turn, you get another TWO points. Oh, and you get an opportunity to enact that whole "attack everyone not in Tokyo" thing.

Sounds cool, right?


In addition to the fact the everyone outside of Tokyo is gunning for you on their turn, being in Tokyo denies you the ability to heal, meaning every one of those little scratches or giant punches you've taken while hanging around in Tokyo? You're keeping those until you wuss out and bail after taking one on the cheek.

And... really, that's the game in a nutshell. There's a little bit more to it (one use/permanent special abilities that can be purchased with energy), but that sums the game up well enough. You roll dice, you roll them a couple more times, you swear when all those rolls don't get you what you need, and then you curse mightily as the guy on your left murders you with a 6 Claw roll.

The Good

The game's (relatively tame) theme, vibrant/colorful art design, and simple rules make it a sure winner with families and younger gamers.

The game usually plays quickly, making it ideal to play between bigger games, before you're ready to really start for the night, or when the evening has wound down but no one is quite ready to go home.

As a player, the game manages to hold your attention well. While luck obviously plays a large part in the game, you do have a number of decision to make (what do I want to do with the dice, do I want to enter/escape Tokyo, what should I buy) every turn.

The ability cards provide a nice chunk of variety and help provide strategies for players to follow.

For a spectator, the game manages to hold your attention as the die rolls provide a solid hook each round, especially as the game draws to a close.

Those monstrous (har, har) dice FEEL GREAT.

You get to be Mekadragon.

The Whatever

Player elimination is just short of an inevitability, especially in larger games. While the game is short enough and entertaining enough to watch that I feel it works well, this could still touch some nerves - especially if a lucky roll takes you out early.

Certain shipments of the game took a beating and look a little thrashed out of the box. I've heard that iello will replace the components no problem, but it is still something to watch for.

The Bad

Ultimately, this is a dice game with a capital D, so there are obvious limits to its depth. And, of course, no matter how well you plan? Luck is gonna wreck you sometimes.

Unintuitively, Tokyo is actually a very bad place to be in a large game. It is very much a hot potato of wanting to stay OUT of Tokyo, lest you get pummeled by 4-5 other players in exchange for the amount of points you could earn by rolling 3 3's on ONE of your turns and only one chance at attack everyone else.

The game can drag on a bit at times depending on how long players take on decisions and dice rolls. It won't ever go on for, like, 3-4 hours, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 45-60 minute games every now and then. This is particularly annoying if you get eliminated early.

Some of the cards can be fairly game warping at times. While there are tools to deal with them, sometimes people are just going to end up with brutal card combinations.

The insert is pretty lame, barely managing to fit the components and leaving the ability cards a bit loose.

The rules leave a bit to be desired at times, especially regarding the nature of attacks .

Sometimes you don't get to play as Mekadragon.

Final Word

King of Tokyo excels at being exactly what it wants to be: a light dice game.

Maybe that's stupid to say, but hey. There are plenty of games out there that have failed at doing what they set out to do.

If you love chucking dice and are looking for an easy, quick, engaging, and family-friendly game, then I definitely recommend giving King of Tokyo a look. If dice make you uncomfortable or you're looking for something with some real bite, then give King of Tokyo a pass.
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