“Ooooooh…” That’s the collective sound from the table as the Kraken releases a furious attack from his perch in the center of Tokyo, dealing wicked damage to every monster outside of the city. As health levels dip and point totals climb in King of Tokyo,
you may experience bloodlust, blurred vision, palpitations and frisson
. That’s because you’re one of six monsters squaring off in a life-and-death battle for the titular city. Get ready to roar.
King of Tokyo’s central mechanic is built on the Yahtzee dice system. You get to chuck a massive fistful of green and black dice up to three times, re-rolling or keeping as many dice as you like on each roll. You can go for sets of numbers to get victory points. Or keep claw symbols (do damage to other monsters), hearts (heal your monster) or lightning bolts (earn you irresistible little plastic cubes that act like money you can amass to buy a changing selection of upgrade cards.)
The winner is the first monster to 20 victory points — or the last monster standing. You must decide how to cultivate your rolls and score points, attack opponents, heal yourself or get upgrade cards. Victory points are the most common way to win at our table, but a few monsters usually get slabbed along the way to keep things exciting.
The game has this king-of-the-hill aspect that makes gameplay more electrifying. The monster occupying the city earns bonus victory points if it can remain there for a whole round. When your monster is in the city, every claw symbol you keep on your dice deals damage to every monster outside. And every attack by a monster outside the city damages the defiant monster in the middle. You can’t heal yourself while you’re in the city. Want to rejuvenate? You'll have to survive an attack and flee, giving up the center of the board to an incoming monster. (The designers also made a genius move by adding an extra spot in the city to incorporate more players.)
With a thick deck of upgrade cards that let you do everything from delivering more vicious attacks to scoring on special dice combinations, you’ve got a rousing, rambunctious 30 minutes on your hands. Everyone we’ve shown this game to has been able to get their heads around it quickly, and immediately start racking up points and grudges.
One caveat: I've never enjoyed this game while sober. (I'm quite certain this is more reflective of me than it is the game itself, but there it is.) All our best King of Tokyo sessions have happened when it’s late at night, the hooch has been flowing and we want to play just a little bit longer without having to do anything complicated.
That being said, I don’t see how you can go wrong by having King of Tokyo on your shelf. Before long, you’ll have a favorite monster, a patented battle cry and your own scrapbook of victories and defeats in a rubble-strewn city, heaped with the slagged carcasses of your rivals.
Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.