Hail to the king, baby! A review of King of Tokyo

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DSC_0627[1]By Strange Prawn

Ah you kids today with your futures. Now, the future in the 1980s, that was a future. It was/is/will-have-could-been a fascinating beast. All that cyberpunk. All those katanas. Pink neon reflections on the rain-slick streets of Neo-Tokyo shattered as a gang of netpunks scream by on their heavily customised lazbikes. Groovy. Thing is, you can’t make a stylized dystopian future without breaking a few metropolises. How did that go down then, y’reckon? What cataclysm could have befallen old Tokyo to require  such reconstruction? Fortunately we can now know the answer definitively since those events are recorded in the datapacket transmitted back from the future in the form of the board game we in the present know as King of Tokyo.

Now, there is a chance –however slim-  that King of Tokyo is not, in fact, the result of a garbled message from the future, broadcast technopathically back through time directly into the mind of Richard Garfield. Such fringe views obviously do not gain much traction, but… and you’ll have to indulge me here, let’s pretend that such is indeed the case. What then, can be learned from the game? Well, firstly, let us regard King of Tokyo, and how she is played. Shouldn’t take long.

Along with two to five of your chums the first thing you’ll do is choose your monster. Yeah. Monster. Don’t fret over the decision mind, they are all identical to play with, the choice is purely a cosmetic one. Nextly, everyone should claim the appropriate standee and board, the latter of which has dials to track your fame points and health points. Finally the first player will scoop up the six chunky custom dice and roll them. Up to three times. If they want to. Keeping any they like as they go…until they’ve got a set of six they like and/or are stuck with… erm… and that’s pretty much it.


DSC_0635[1]Well, a bit lies. Right, why are you doing any of this? The victorious monster can tell he or she is victorious in one of two ways. Get twenty fame points or kill the others. Wipe them out. All of them. Cos the dice, they aren’t numbered one to six, they’re numbered one to three… and then three other things! Okay, so rolling triples of the numbers scores you that many fame points. Very civilized. The first of the blasphemous non-numerical faces depicts a lightning bolt. Roll any of these and you earn the corresponding amount of ‘energy cubes’ to spend on upgrade cards. Some of these award you points, extra dice to use or other abilities. Some are next to useless, and some are ridiculously overpowered (hi ‘wings’), and they appear at random to replenish a shop front of three face up cards as they are purchased. How does that make you feel dear reader?

No, don’t tell me just now, but hold that thought.

Okay, next up are the hearts. These, as is the way of these things, recover your lost health points (You can lose health points!?) unless of course, you are in Tokyo (Tokyo? What?!). Don’t worry, I’m just getting to that. For the final face is the claw. ooOOooh. Each claw you roll and keep until the end of your turn will inflict one whole damage to your opponents. But not all of them, just the one(s) who aren’t where you  are. You see, the first player who has a claw takes Tokyo, represented by a diddy wee board with a circle on it. It says Tokyo right on it, so you don’t forget. This is nice for them, since taking Tokyo gets you a fame point. In fact, if that guy can hold on till it’s his turn again, he’ll get two points just for starting his turn in Tokyo. This is also bad for him. As he is now in Tokyo and everyone else is outside Tokyo, all other players’ claw rolls do damage to him and him alone, and as mentioned above, he won’t be able to heal whilst there. Of course, his claws in turn scratch every other player, but there’s some holding on to be done before those dice are back in his nervous, clammy grip. If the heat gets too much to bear though, there’s an out. When taking damage in Tokyo a monster may yield Tokyo to the attacker, crawling away to lick some wounds (hopefully its own) and forcing the attacker to plant buttocks firmly on the hot seat.

DSC_0636[1]Right so it’s Yahtzee. Roll some dice, reroll some dice, reroll some dice, score some points. But it’s also very much not Yahtzee. Roll some dice. reroll some dice. reroll some dice, SLAUGHTER PUNY HUMANS

Specifically, the ones in Tokyo. That one idea of the hot seat, the double-edged sword of guaranteed points and guaranteed pain changes everything, and will cause you to develop psychic powers through sheer strain. You will get to the following point:

I have only two health points left, no way am I going into Tokyo I’ll roll for hearts and energy cubes or points… hang on, Katie’s next, and she’s only on two life as well, so she won’t want to go into Tokyo either. That means I could kill Ross who’s, there at the moment, and get the points for claiming Tokyo and get someone out of the game. Except after Katie it’s Scott’s go, and he’s got enough health to legitimately make a run at Tokyo, so maybe Ross wants to cede the city before that…

you’ll go around the circle of players until it gets to the point where you’re trying to predict your own behaviour from the perspective of whoever’s to your right…

And the end up with your last reroll giving you exactly what you didn’t want. What’s your reaction to this? What do you feel as the gossamer lattice of probabilities burns and falls to ashes around you? If it’s a mix of frustration, infuriation and contempt for a system that could allow this to happen, you’re probably right. You also should definitely not play King of Tokyo. But, if you throw back your head, maw agape and laugh at the vagaries of fate as your plans are trampled into the dirt for no good reason… well, I know where you can buy a game you might like…

DSC_0640[1]King of Tokyo is a racing car, stripped down to the bare essentials. no radio, no hubcaps, you’d think no soul. But you’d be wrong. Sure, if you insist, it’s Yahtzee with bells and whistles, but those bells and whistles are also stripped down, cleaned to within an inch of their life of any hint of fluff, and in this instance, vitally important. You can almost see where the flab has been excised. Where the game has been built up and then stripped down again until nothing was left other than that which generated the fun. A sleek lithe beast with massive dice and massive monsters.

Yeah, so it’s light as anything, but it’s done in twenty to thirty minutes, so it’s no big deal to sit out if it really isn’t your thing. Yeah, the standees are, well, standees, and there’s a big wodge of (albeit managed) luck in the mix. But there’s also nail-biting, luck-pushing, second-guessing, trash-talking, silly-monster-voice-doing, human-devouring… fun.

You know, if you like that sort of thing.

I have typed Tokyo a lot today.

King of Tokyo is available from:


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2 Responses

  1. We have this one in at work, and I’ve always shied away from buying it because it looked a bit too simple. I prefer games with a bit more meat on the bones, but I’ve noticed recently, that when friends come round, not all of them are up for the set-up time and rules intricacies of your Arkham Horrors. May give it a go…

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