Tuesday, November 1, 2011

King Of Tokyo - How A Giant Bunny Robot Stomped The Eldritch Quiddity Out Of Recent Dice Games

From GenCon 2011 until just recently, companies have decided that dicefests are the new deckbuilders. We've seen Elder Sign, Quarriors, Bears!, Martian Dice, and now King of Tokyo come to fruition, and I'm quite excited that publishers are finally realizing that deck building has been done to death. I'm a huge fan of tossing overstuffed handfuls of dice at unsuspecting tables, so the fact that dice games may be the 'next big thing' gives me great joy. The only problem is that the games, thus far, have either been too light, too abstract, or just totally, unabashedly retarded.

Enter King of Tokyo, a game that has more "personality" than Minka, succeeds where the inexplicably popular Quarriors miserably fails, and costs about half to boot. The game is a big, wet tongue-kiss to the glans of anyone who wants a dyed-in-the-wool Ameritrash game that doesn't take 2 hours, isn't incredibly deep, isn't sadly shallow, and can seat from two to six players. It's totally a Goldilocks game that hits the balance just right, and for 25 bucks, it's a total no-brainer.

The concept of the game boils down to six big baddies doing big baddie shit in the capitol of the most infamously unlucky place on Earth, Japan. Not enough that America nuked them not once, but twice, not enough that they've recently nuked themselves once, not even enough that Katsuhiro Otomo nuked them. No, apparently every big bad monster in the known universe wants to devastate Tokyo as well. I truly weep for the people of Japan.

Anyhow, each player rolls dice and can heal, hurt, score points, or gain energy which is used as the currency of the game to buy cards which represent mutations and events which change the game. These little green cubes have colloquially been known by my friends as Energon Cubes, for what it's worth. Players can be eliminated, and the only way to win is to earn 20 victory points or to kill off every other big baddie in the game. In short, it's awesome.

Not only is the gameplay slick and polished, the bits are damned fine as well. First, the art is really campy, but not sloppy, and fits the theme very well througout. Then there's the cards, of which there's a metric assload, which all detail cool things that your monster can buy or do. On top of that are six standies, six standie holders, and six character cards with two wheels a piece to track stats. While the cards are a little on the thin side, the standies are really stout cardstock and the character stat trackers are superbly executed. The last little bits are the eight dice, two of which aren't always used, the energy cubes, and a eight inch square board that represents poor Tokyo and Tokyo Bay, the two locations that monsters can attack.

Now getting into the rulebook, I don't even think there's 5 pages. It's a very simple game, and some of the more wonky powers that cards represent are given as examples in the book to allay any confusion. While it's easy to read and understand, there's some terms that aren't covered in the glossary, such as "neighbors", and some of the card timing could've been explained a little better, especially the card that provides you wings that allow you to pay two energy and avoid damage. All this considered, unless you're a fun murdering, rules lawyering asshat, this game is totally playable without a single point of contention.

Setting up is a breeze, which is awesome as well. You set the board in the middle, pick whichever creature you want to play with, get the standie in its holder, take the stat sheet, and make a pile of cards. Three of these are laid face up, and these are the ones that players can buy initially. That's it. Choose a first player, and begin the assault on the proud Japanese homeland.

Each player, on their turn simply rolls the dice and decides what to do from there. Each die has a one, two, three, heart, lightning bolt, and claw on it, and each performs a different function. Numerals, when rolled in triplets, score you that many points, and for each additional numeral you get that matches your triplet gains you one additional point. For example, if you roll three twos, you get two points, and one extra point for each additional two you roll. Lightning bolts earn you one energy cube each. Hearts heal your monstrosity one point each, up to the maximum of ten, provided you're not in Tokyo. Claws hurt players that are in Tokyo if you're outside of Tokyo, and hurt all players outside of Tokyo if you're inside.

You can reroll any dice you wish, with three possible re-rolls allowed per turn, and once you either stop rolling and keep the results or run out of rolls, you resolve them. The trick is that if you wound someone in Tokyo, they may choose to yield the city, and you have to enter. While you may choose to leave, you are required to enter if the city is vacant or recently vacated when you roll even a single claw. This simple mechanic makes King of Tokyo one the daimyo of press-your-luck dicefesting, because if you accidentally roll a claw and are forced into the city when you're on the verge of death, you are unequivocally fucked because it's a sure thing that your opponents are going to beat you down and take you out of the game.

The good thing about being in Tokyo is that you earn a point for just entering the city, and if you manage to stay there for an entire round, you earn two points for not abdicating your position. While two points doesn't seem like much, most of the games I've played ended up with a couple of players low on health with 17 or 18 points, battling it out for a win. Now normally there's only one monster at a time allowed in the city, but if there's five or six monsters still in the game, one monster may occupy Tokyo while another occupies the Tokyo Bay location, doubling the chances of being hit when you're outside the city, but allowing you to tag two enemies at a time as well.

At the beginning or the end of your turn, but not any time during, you may purchase powers using cubes. The cheapest power we've seen was valued at three, and the most expensive was valued at seven. These powers are so various that I could not possibly list them all, but my favorites are those like the "Two Heads" card that allows you to do an extra point of damage and the Nova Breath that allow you to do damage even if you didn't roll a claw. Other notables are those that allow you to re-roll numerals for free and those that heal.

Some cards, however, are not mutation buffs, they're events that can do various things. One card allows you to buy it and immediately heal two points of damage. Another causes fighter planes to come swooping in and hit you for several damage points but grants you an immediate five point boon. Another cool thing about the cards is that if you don't like the cards that are showing or want to deny a power to someone, you can pay some energy and change them all out.

The end-game comes when either all players but one are dead or when any player gets their twentieth point. It's always tense, always climactic, and always a total blast. I was one of the first to pooh-pooh this as yet another dicefest in Chancetown without merit, but I have totally eaten my words. This game rocks like Kiss and AC/DC playing together at a birthday party at the Playboy Mansion. I was shocked to find out how much I enjoyed it. This is a game that may even knock my old big monster favorite, Monsters Menace America, from the top slot in Monsterland. While it absolutely does not have the epic feel of taking over a city block by block or territory by territory, this game is the best game with an oversized monster theme I've ever played.

Why King of Tokyo Is The King Of Dice:
- Fast turns will not allow asshats to play on their Iphone between turns
- Great art, bits, and outlandish monsters really get you in the mood to destroy Tokyo...again
- The game's all about tension, important decisions, and fuckery that would make a senator blush (or take notes)
- The replay value's immense...I played this twice in a night and wanted to play two more times that night

Why King of Tokyo Should Be Exiled:
- The rules could've had a little more meat to explain the more exotic cards
- The box says 2-6 players, but I'd not play less than three at a minimum

This game is phenomenally fun if you like a lot of randomness that is mitigated by important decisions. It's just a truly wonderful hour-long romp through Chancetown, and the fact that every single action you take is crucial, from deciding to vacate Tokyo or not, which card to buy, or when to roll or stay with dice. This is twice as fun as many 50 dollar games I've bought, and this will surely hit the table more often than most. This game trumps Elder Sign and Quarriors, so if you only wanted one of the current generation of dicefest games, this is without a doubt the one.

4.5/5 Stars

Check out the game's site here, but you'd better speak French if you go: http://www.iello.fr/index.php/iello/Nos-produits/Jeux-de-société/IELLO/King-of-Tokyo

Or, you can check the BoardGameGeek.Com page, which is more useful:


Andrew W said...

You SOB. Now I have to add another game to my buy list.

And your opinion on Elder Signs just made me erase it from said list (but I'm gonna download ES: Omens 'cause I need something for subway).

Buy buy $$$

Good review and sorry for the SOB comment.

Pete Miller said...

Thanks for the rundown, Pete.

- Pete

Aldo Baker said...
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