Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 25 February 2013

Monster Filler Thriller

Being a city planner in Tokyo must be a thankless task. After all, every few months, the city and its infrastructure gets stomped, disintegrated with blasts of radioactive breath, pulverised with claws and tails, and otherwise converted from town planner’s big dream of city life into dusty piles of rubble. The culprits are Kaiju – big monsters, of which Godzilla is the most famous. Of course, all this is beneath of the notice of the monsters – well, they are big monsters – as King of Tokyo proves.

This is a light dice and resource management game in which between two and six Kaiju battle each other to be the one and only “King of Tokyo.” They include a big ape – “The King”, a giant humanoid crab – “Kraken”, a large lizard – “Gigazaur”, a colossal alien robot – “Alienoid”, an ernormous draconic robot – “Meka Dragon”, and a lapine “Cyber-Bunny”. Suitable for players aged eight and up, the game is quick to teach, looks good, and plays in half an hour or so.

Designed by Richard Garfield – the designer of Magic the Gathering and RoboRally – and published by Iello Games, King of Tokyo consists of a card and a standee for each of the Kaiju; a set of eight custom dice; sixty-six Power Cards; a pile of Power Cubes; plus a board and the rulebook. The latter represents the city of Tokyo and is marked with two spaces, one labelled Tokyo City, the other Tokyo Bay. The space labelled Tokyo Bay only comes into play when there are five or more players. The Kaiju boards are marked with two dials, one for Victory Points, the other for the Kaiju’s Health. The Power Cards grant a Kaiju special powers or bonuses, some of which are discarded after use, whilst others are permanent. Sample permanent powers include Fire Breathing” which lets a Kaiju blast his neighbours with fire each time he inflicts damage, whilst “Giant Brain” allows a Kaiju to reroll the dice four times instead of three. Sample discard powers include “Frenzy” which lets a Kaiju take another turn immediately after his current one, whilst he gains two Victory Points and heals three damage taken with “Nuclear Power Station.” Each Power Card has a cost which is paid in Power Cubes. Some of these Power Cards possess corresponding tokens indicating their use.

At the heart of the game are the dice. There are six of these, in black marked with a lurid green with the numbers one through three, plus a heart, a lightning bolt, and a claw. In addition to these six standard dice, there are another two dice, these in lurid green, but marked in black with the same numbers and symbols. These green dice become available when a Kaiju purchases certain cards.

On his turn a Kaiju rolls the six standard dice. He can roll each die a further two times if he does not like the result, but must keep the rolls after that. For every set of three of the same number, a Kaiju gains Victory Points – more if he rolls sets with more of the same number of them. For each Claw rolled, a Kaiju inflicts a point of Damage; for each Heart rolled he heals a point of his Health; and for each Lightning Bolt, he gains a Power Cube. Power Cubes can be spent to purchase Power Cards.

How a Kaiju inflicts Damage on his fellow Kaiju is where King of Tokyo gets interesting. A Kaiju outside of Tokyo can attack and inflict Damage on the Kaiju who is in Tokyo, but the Kaiju who is in Tokyo can attack and inflict Damage on the Kaiju who are not in Tokyo. Thus the Kaiju who is in Tokyo is likely to be attacked again and again – and worse, he cannot heal himself through the use of dice. So what then, is the advantage of remaining in Tokyo? A Kaiju gains Victory Points by being in Tokyo, but he can leave any time that he takes Damage, his attacker taking his place in Tokyo.

King of Tokyo is won either by amassing twenty Victory Points or being the last Kaiju standing.

Essentially, King of Tokyo is especially luck based, and at first glance appears to involve very little in the way of tactics or decision making. True, there is little in the way of a tactical element to the game – does a Kaiju attack or not? The game does involve more in the way of decision making though, and it all comes down to the dice rolls and whether or not a Kaiju can roll the symbols on the dice that he wants, or as the game proceeds… needs. During the opening stage of the game, a Kaiju will want to inflict as many Claws as he can to inflict as much Damage as possible on his fellow Kaiju, to gain as many Victory Points as possible, and to gain sufficient Power Cubes to gain those all-important Power Cards. As the game progresses and a Kaiju suffers Damage, then he will want to roll Hearts in order to regain Health. Of course, this is what a Kaiju might want to roll on the dice, what he actually rolls and decides to keep is another matter…

King of Tokyo is a simple, throwaway filler of a game. It is easy to learn and play, and it is a fun family game with an obviously joyous love of its theme that shines through in its components and “beat ‘em up” style of play. As much as will enjoy that theme, more serious gamers will quickly become aware of the game’s flaws. First, as much as it is a game designed for between two and six kaiju, it plays poorly with two and it really only plays well when there are four or more involved. Second, the game always comes down to a battle between two Kaiju as it is a knock-out game. Once a Kaiju has been knocked out, he cannot re-join the game and so has to wait for the game to end with nothing to do except cheer for one Kaiju or another. Third, the powers on the Power Cards are far from balanced, and since this is a luck-based game, getting the right combination of Power Cards can make a Kaiju nigh unstoppable…

Ultimately, whether you like King of Tokyo comes down to whether or not you like the theme enough to compensate for the luck factor. If so, then the game is fun, it is easy to teach, and a joyously silly filler thriller.