Doug's Dungeon - King Of Tokyo
Blaring sirens. Gunfire. The low thunderclap of explosives. All of the chaos in the city dulls as you and your party hurry underground. Your breathing is labored from travelling over encumbered with food and supplies. Overpowering the looters was no easy task, but doing so has forever marred your respect for people of Tokyo. You reach the entrance to the shelter as the tunnel around you shudders violently. The earth heaves in response to the deafening war cry of the 50-storey-tall monster. With not a moment to lose, you perform the complex knock technique on the iron door. It took you hours to memorize, but your survival was worth it.
A well-built soldier drags the door open with an irritating screech against the floor. You dump your cargo in a stockpile nearby and continue to practice the firm speech you will be giving to your travel agent when you finally escape this nightmare. You take a moment to rest, sitting yourself on a large pipe protruding out of the wall in the cramped space. Around you, military crews bark orders through radios and argue ceaselessly. Some of the monitors they have rigged up show the cause of all this. On screen, An enormous metallic dragon? Lizard? … THING, tears through highrises, seemingly unaffected by the tanks and jets unloading their weapons upon it.
Sitting next to you is a small girl, no older than 10, turning the dial on her radio looking for frequencies. For a moment you hear a familiar voice. In broken, slow Japanese you ask the child to turn her dial back. You take the small pink ‘Hello Kitty’ branded box to one of the soldiers and ask to switch to the frequency you found. And of course, It had to be Doug.
Wait what? Doug begins. You’re here too? Well hey-
You force the microphone out of the operator’s hands and begin screaming obscenities into it. There could be no coincidence that a madman with unlimited resources just HAPPENS to be in the same area as a WORLD DESTROYING MONSTER. AT THE SAME. TIME.
Okay, first off: You and I both know what assuming makes both you and me. Secondly, you think I did this? If I were going to level a thriving metropolis, I would do it quick and painless. Just press a button and bam, its all gone. Aaaaand now that I say that out loud thinking about Japan that sounds even worse. Anyway, don’t worry. I have gathered the top paper mashe artists in the country. We’re gunna build the big boy a massive fake girlfriend and see if that calms him down. In the meantime, why don’t I tell you about one of my board games that once again fits this contrived situation?
You groan with a force of a thousand insubordinate teenagers, but agree to any form of distraction.
Have you played Yahtzee? It was a dice game from “THE OLD WORLD” of tabletop games. All you needed to play it were five six-sided dice. Roll em up with two rerolls handy to grab one or more of the listed combinations and score points. And then the game ended… after… a few rounds of… scoring… points. Listen I’m all for recognizing and appreciating the roots that games have come from, but come on. Where’s the plot? Where’s the INTERACTION? WHERE’S THE GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE AGAINST AN INNOCENT POPULACE? I know, I know, not appropriate talk in our current situation. But Games used to be either all flavour, or all mechanics. But that all changed when we upgraded to games like KING OF TOKYO.
King of Tokyo looks complex and terrifying from the box, but it’s just Yahtzee. With giant monsters destroying Tokyo. The goal in this game, as a monster, is to either slaughter the other monsters (players) OR end the game through victory points. Each player picks out a monster with its associated scoreboard, and play begins. Your turn involves rolling the 6 dice (with two rerolls) and resolve the actions shown on them. The dice can either let you: attack, heal, gain energy, or score victory points. What you want to roll for depends on your situation.
The attacking (claw symbol) makes you smack an enemy for 1 damage per claw rolled. The enemy you attack is whoever is not in your location. That is, Players are either IN TOKYO (with their monster on the supplied board) or NOT IN TOKYO. Think of it as a ‘king of the hill’ game. Only a single player may occupy Tokyo (or two with 5+ players) at a time. Anyone in Tokyo will attack ALL MONSTERS OUTSIDE TOKYO. This might seem like a sweet deal, but the risk is that all monsters outside only attack you on their turns. As such, to maintain control of Tokyo you need to survive a barrage of enemy attacks, all without the ability to heal your wounds.
Players can gain energy and use it to pick up cards that either give victory points or cause some mutation. For example, the card Another Head gives you another dice to roll on your turn. Most of the victory point cards represent your monster smashing down buildings and tearing through the human military (which causes some of these cards to damage you). Using these cards and rolling enough victory point numbers will take you to 20 to win the game. Taking and controlling Tokyo also pushes you toward this number, though the risk is huge.
What I find truly enticing about King of Tokyo, besides the amazing art style, is the theme of immense size. The board you play with is rather small, as it only ever houses up to two player tokens at a time. But the tokens themselves are ENORMOUS. The designers could have made the monsters a less cumbersome size to save on materials and space, but I believe a conscious choice was made to make them larger than life. This makes the monsters feel as big as they are in context. Placing them on the small Tokyo square makes them look even more imposing as they blot out a large portion of the space. To add to this, the dice are some of the largest I’ve seen. Most kids will need to roll them with both hands. Hell, my hands are on the larger side but even I won’t use one hand to roll them. Everything feels BIG, and that’s a good thing.
Some may look at King of Tokyo’s central dice mechanic and poo-poo it, citing that the game is ‘purely random’. And while I do agree that dice are difficult to implement well, I believe the almighty Richard Garfield has done a great job here. In many cases, players don’t have a ‘best roll’ that they can perform, as the dice are not numeric. Players need to manage their health, know when to attack, try to acquire the upgrade cards with energy and keep a healthy amount of victory points to threaten victory. Players need to learn to assess risks and see, after their first roll, what result they can reliably go for to maintain an advantage. The victory point faces on the dice ARE numeric, however, and can sometimes lead to some quick and uninteractive victories. That’s just a small nitpick though.
King of Tokyo has so much character and will always have a space on my display shelf. It’s simple and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome on game night. With the ability to support up to 6 players, it’s a solid buy for any board game enthusiast.
As Doug concludes his review, you can’t help but notice a palpable silence within the bunker. You look around to see every set of eyes transfixed on the screens showing the monster outside. The largest pile of sloppy newspaper you have ever seen has been shaped into a terrible doppelganger of the mechadragon. Though you can see through this ruse, it appears the monster cannot, as it sidles up to the creation and leans flirtingly on a nearby building. You may be mistaken, but you thought through guttural sounds and roars you hear it say
“You like jazz?” as it points a single claw towards the fake.
Okay Operation: ‘Clingy Paper’ is a go. After a few dates and a meeting with a couple of paper mache dinosaur parents, we’ll peer pressure the monster to move in with the fake in their ocean dwelling. I just hope that thing wasn’t made with self respect...
(Since writing this article, a second edition of the game has come out - Editor's note)
I'm an avid lover of all things table top. I also have a growing collection of board games which inspire me to create my own. I put my loud and expressive personality to good use as a dungeon master for my friends, having run many campaigns through 4th and 5th edition D&D.