My Wife Always Wins: King of Tokyo

Brian Shabbott
July 10, 2017

This Week’s Game: King of Tokyo

We recently celebrated the Fourth of July here in the U.S. This holiday harkens back to the day in 1776 the Second Continental Congress released the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming their desire to throw down the yoke of British colonialism and instead live as a sovereign nation. The American War for Independence began the following year, and lasted for nearly eight and a half years, when the British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, in 1783.

Few people remember these details as they celebrate with barbeques or fireworks, but I always keep this in the front of my mind. Of course, I still enjoy the festivities, and this year my friend Mike invited me to his house for a barbeque, an invite I gladly accepted.

Mike wanted to play some games, though he doesn’t play a ton, so I figured I would introduce him to some of my lighter fare. The first that came to mind was King of Tokyo. Lyndsey and I hadn’t played that game in a while, so we decided to take it to the table prior to our Independence Day celebrations just to re-familiarize ourselves. After all, I had my own tyranny to declare independence from too.

The Basics

King of Tokyo is a dice-rolling game where each player is a giant monster raining down destruction upon Tokyo, and each other. There is the giant dinosaur, Gigasaur, no doubt a nod to Godzilla, and the King is a giant ape in homage to King Kong. But there are other original monsters as well… at least I think they are – I don’t recall a giant space penguin in any giant monster films or stories. T he player choices are just for aesthetics, and no unique skills are applied to any of the monsters.  

The object of the game is to eliminate all other players or reach 20 victory points (VP). The game board consists of an open area, and two enclosed circles – Tokyo City and Tokyo Bay. Tokyo Bay is only played in games of five players or more, and follows the same rules as Tokyo City.

Each turn consists of rolling six dice, and you can reroll any number until you’ve rolled three times. The sides of each die consists of the numbers one, two, and three, and collecting a set of three of these will grant the player that number of VP. There is also an energy side which grants energy cubes to buy ability cards, a smash side which allows players to deal one damage to all monsters that aren’t in the same area (if a monster in Tokyo uses a smash, all monsters not in Tokyo take the damage and vice versa), and a heart that allows the roller to heal one damage (if the player is not in Tokyo).

Another way to gather VP is through the control of Tokyo. Whenever Tokyo is unoccupied at the end of a turn, that player must enter Tokyo, which grants one VP. If that player is still in Tokyo at the start of her next turn, she receives two more VP. Controlling Tokyo is a quick way to compile VP, but monsters can’t heal in Tokyo, so when they have taken too much damage players will eventually have to relinquish their control. Once she has entered Tokyo, the player may only leave after taking damage from another monster’s smash (though she doesn’t have to, creating a press-your-luck scenario surrounding health management).

Check out the rules here.

Time to Play

I was playing my usual Space Penguin, and Lyndsey opted for Cyber Kitty (also her usual). I got to go first, as I am oldest, and in my first rolls I rolled a set of threes, two smashes, and an energy. I took my three VP and moved into Tokyo which provided an additional VP. Lyndsey rolled a smash in her first turn, four twos (which is worth three points – two for the set and one for the additional two), and an energy. I opted to stay in Tokyo, as I wasn’t too concerned at nine health, which allowed me to collect two more VP at the beginning of my next turn.

I remained in Tokyo for two more rounds, forced to leave only when Lyndsey had reduced me to three health and I wasn’t willing to risk it anymore. I left Tokyo with 10 VP, as well as an ability card that allowed me to take an extra die roll each turn for one energy cube. Lyndsey entered Tokyo at this point, though her time there was short-lived.

I had a lucky round where I rolled six smashes, and lowered Lyndsey down to two health. She had no choice but to leave Tokyo so that she could heal, and on her next turn she clearly had only two goals in mind: Heal herself or defeat me outright. Fortunately for me, she only rolled one smash and one heart, dropping me to two health, and raising her to three. I left Tokyo, and Lyndsey entered for the very last time.

On my turn I rolled the necessary three smashes to reduce her to zero health and claim victory.

Final Thoughts

On my turn I rolled the necessary three smashes to reduce her to zero health and claim victory. No, that wasn’t a typo, I just wanted to write that sentence again. Each game we’ve taken to the table for this article series has ended in defeat for me (even some of the cooperative ones), but not this time. For a few minutes I considered retiring this series in general, because now that I have a victory under my belt, I’d rather go out on top. But I am having too much fun, even when I lose, so I quickly did away with those thoughts.

King of Tokyo is a game we played at two-players, but even though the rules allow it, it is not a two-player game. Our game quickly devolved into trading Tokyo back and forth, making some moves for VP, but in the end it just became dice combat as we hit back and forth at each other until one of us hit zero health – and it wasn’t me this time (man, this doesn’t get old)!

Without multiple players to threaten the person in Tokyo, the first player can really sit in the city for multiple rounds, and build up VP. During that time the player outside Tokyo really has to focus on dealing damage to force their opponent out of Tokyo. By this point VP is nearly out of reach for player two, and player one will opt for healing and retaking Tokyo. But once Tokyo is retaken, the other player is likely low of health, and that becomes a more viable route to victory. By the end of a two-player game King of Tokyo is just chucking the dice to deal out smashes. With the exception of my one ability card picked up in the first few rounds, cards didn’t even come into play. At two-players, this game is one of my least favorite.

But King of Tokyo grows in enjoyment by leaps and bounds as you add more people. At my friend’s party we played at four-players, and later at six, and that really changes the dynamic of the game. Tokyo is traded back and forth often, so that rarely does a player start their turn in Tokyo. The player in Tokyo is likely to take significant damage while those outside do not. As such, there is more time to focus on ability cards, and building sets of VP on your dice.

If playing at two-players, leave this game on your shelf and opt for something better (something crafted specifically for two-players: Star Wars Rebellion, Patchwork, 7 Wonders Duel). But at four or more, especially with people who may be new to gaming, King of Tokyo is an easy choice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my writing obligations for the weekend are complete, so I intend on spending the rest of my Sunday doing victory dances around the house. I don’t know when I’ll ever get another chance to do this.