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Firstly, I know there are a lot of reviews for this game already. Sure, I'm late to the party, however I just got my hands on this and I think my experiences with it so far may prove useful to people hoping to pick this up over Christmas, allow me to explain...
So far I have only been able to play this either 2 player with my partner (she plays a few games but she's by no means a hardcore gamer) and 4 player with my partner and my parents (late 50's and neither of them gamers in any way). Not the kind of people who are usually receptive to new game experiences, but a good indicator of how this plays with newbies if you're hoping to crack this out with the relatives after Christmas lunch.
Thoughts on the components
First of all let me say that the components are fantastic. Some people decry the inclusion of miniatures or feel that the game is better when you proxy in miniatures from something like Monsterpocalypse. While the miniatures fan in me can certainly see the appeal, for the purposes of this game the monster cutouts are a great choice. Their only role is to indicate who is in or out of Tokyo, so they needn't be anything special (you could do the same job with coloured wooden tokens), but these are big chunky, thick card with amazing cartoon monsters that instantly draw people into the theme.
Card is also a good decision over plastic since you will be moving in and out of Tokyo a lot over the course of a game, and I can see proper minis getting dropped or snagged and broken very easily, that's not going to be an issue here.
The dice are really chunky and fun - I have the version with engraved dice (I believe these were not in the original but are about to release as an additional purchase). If anything they're maybe a little too big, how often is that criticism levelled at a game! Seriously though, it's really satisfying to throw these down but it might be a consideration if playing with very young players, a handful of these plus one or two bonus dice could be a little awkward.
The rest of the components comprise a bunch of bonus power cards, which again all have fantastic cartoon artwork (I love the Urbavore, a giant caterpillar casually munching down a skyscraper), energy cubes used to purchase the cards (just little transparent green plastic cubes but they fit the theme) and a board representing Tokyo, which is minimalist but really nice.
The box is small and well design and everything fits nicely back inside, my one concern is that it all fits a bit too snug which probably means the upcoming Power Up! expansion won't fit in the same box without removing the insert.
Thoughts on the game
I'm already a big fan of this game. Gameplay is incredibly simple, but that's a bonus since you can be playing competitively right out of the box. The two routes to victory are either victory points or last monster standing, my on real criticism of the game is that the number of victory points is not adjusted based on the number of players, so in a two player game it's much easier to win on VPs (since you're taking far less damage per round so it's easier to stay in Tokyo). So long as you know this is the case you can adjust your tactics to fit but it would have been nice to have some minor balancing mechanism for those who prefer the bloodthirsty game. It's a small criticism, this is by no means unplayable two player, it's just more fun with more.
My experiences (2 player, playing with non-gamers)
So my first few games were 2 player and that's where we ran into the issue that VPs are perhaps a little too easy to win with. If you're the first monster in, unless your opponent has an insane attacking run, it's easy to get far enough ahead that they will struggle to catch up. It does mean that whoever is initially out of Tokyo will probably be playing really aggressively, which can be fun (I remember when my GF was 1 turn away from winning on VPs with 5 health left and I managed to roll 6 hits on 7 dice), but I think a house rule would even out the gameplay a bit here - maybe you only get 1 VP for being in Tokyo at the turn start? Nevertheless we had a lot of fun, it plays so fast that we got a whole bunch of games in, my GF was actually asking to play again, which is almost unheard of.
Next up I had my mum and dad over for the weekend and we tried the game with them. Bearing in mind my mum very rarely plays games, she doesn't really get themes and she always assumes the rules will be too complicated. My dad never plays games, full stop, so I was amazed that he agreed to play (he sat out the first round and watched, then jumped in for a few rounds). They both seemed to really and enjoy it and wow is this game a lot more bloodthirsty with 4 players!
I like the fact that it's not easy for couples to pair off and work together, because it often feels like a player didn't win the game but was gifted it. Here it's harder to do, because if you roll an attack against your other half you have to attack them, and it's amazing to see how quickly alliances fall apart when you have to flee Tokyo and put your other half in the firing line, hehe.
Again, my parents loved this and requested we play again, which was totally unexpected - the short play time was a real boon here and meant we easily got a few games off.
I'd already heard so many great things about this game it was almost a no brainer, but I'm always hesitant introducing any new game to non-gamers and usually invest a lot of time considering what might go down well. Well I can say this is definitely now top of my list of fun gateway games having put it to test, if you're considering it as a gift, or whether to take it along to those family re-unions but aren't sure how well it will go down, I would say rest assured it will be a great success. It also plays two to six players so can accommodate most small social gatherings.