King of Tokyo Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide (2019)
In 1954, the first Godzilla movie was released.
The Kaiju genre of film and pop culture can trace its origins back to Japan. Kaiju is a Japanese film genre that features giant monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. Originally, Kaiju referred to monsters and creatures from ancient Japanese legends.
In Japanese mythology, Kaiju are also called titans. Godzilla is an example of Kaiju but others include Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, King Kong, Gamera, Gyaos, Daimajin, Gappa, Guilala, and Yonggary. I remember recording fuzzy copies of old Godzilla movies on VHS when I was a kid. As a young boy, I was fascinated by the variety of colorful characters and monsters that would come out of these movies.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. The Kaiju genre, which comes from the Japanese word “Strange Beast”, has permeated pop culture. From monster movies to TV shows, action figures, video games, and even board games, the fascination with giant monsters destroying things has been a guilty pleasure to many young boys and girls that we never quite grew out of.
The King of Tokyo board game takes this much-loved theme and runs with it. Imagine a cartoon version of Godzilla (plus tons of other monsters) in which players get to become the monsters, ravage cities, and battle each other. If this is up your alley, then buckle-up for King of Tokyo.
Play mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and other monstrous creatures, rampaging the city and vying for position as the one and only King of Tokyo! Stop at nothing to become the King of Tokyo… but that’s when the real trouble begins for you!
Who will be the King of Tokyo?
King of Tokyo is a free-for-all brawl where players will become giant monsters (Kaijus) and fight for supremacy of Tokyo.
So how exactly do giant destructive monsters settle their differences?
Yahtzee, of course!
Players roll dice to score victory points, generate energy for abilities, and attack other monsters.
It’s not all about the dice, however. Someone has to be named King, after all. Players will be moving in and out of Tokyo throughout the game in order to gain victory points. Attacking from Tokyo makes you much stronger, but it also makes you vulnerable from attacks on all sides.
King of Tokyo utilizes dice rolling, card drafting, and press-your-luck-mechanics in order to eliminate other players and secure an area of influence (Tokyo). In order to win the game, one must either destroy Tokyo by earning 20 victory points or be the only surviving monster once the fighting has ended.
In addition to the first and second editions of King of Tokyo, there are several variants and expansions that should be in any fan’s collection.
King of Tokyo Expansions
- Power Up!
The Power Up! Expansion is considered to be a mandatory expansion. The game is drastically improved with new power-up abilities for each monster. In addition to the new cards, every monster will receive unique permanent abilities and special abilities that are thematically tailored to each monster. The Power Up! Expansion is compatible with both the first edition and the second edition of the game. It includes abilities for the original characters and the new second edition characters all in one box.
- 56 new cards
- 7 tokens
- 1 new monster, Pandakai
The Halloween expansion adds another new type of ability for the monsters. You can now dress up your massive monsters of mayhem in… Halloween costumes?
Each costume bestows new thematic abilities on your monster making it that much stronger and harder to kill. To round out the expansion, there are also 2 new characters to play: Boogie Woogie and Pumpkin Jack.
- 2 new monsters: Pumpkin Jack and Boogie Woogie
- 16 new cards
- 12 new costume power cards
King of New York Variant
King of New York is a slightly different game. Both games are compatible with each other and the cards and giant monsters can be mixed and matched from different sets easily.
The difference is that King of New York adds slightly more variation to the game. There are 2 additional die results where players can attack buildings in New York or earn “Superstar” status. Everyone has their favorite anyway, so they might as well capitalize on it.
Destroying buildings can give bonus points, energy, or restore health. The Superstar card is another way to get victory points. When 3 celebrity dice are rolled (3 Stars) the player gets the Superstar card. Once a player has the superstar card, if they roll any celebrity dice, each one scored is worth 1 victory point. Fame is fleeting and superstar status can always be taken by another player when they score 3 celebrity dice on their turn.
King of New York introduces 6 original monsters that players can choose from to battle for supremacy.
My personal favorite of the series is Captain Fish; a giant mutant fish in a fishbowl head controlling an anchor wielding titan. Who comes up with this stuff? Seriously, I want to meet them.
King of New York Power Up! Variant Expansion
The Power Up! for King of New York is comparable to the King of Tokyo version of the game. This expansion adds new abilities just like the Tokyo version and it adds one brand new monster; a trident-wielding Mega Shark.
The abilities work just like the Power up! for the original King of Tokyo and allows players to mix-and-match abilities between the two separate games.
- King Kong
The Monster packs are small box expansions that come with one unique monster. Each pack includes all of the cards needed to be compatible with either game, including Power Up!. These cards will give the monsters comparable abilities. None of these are necessary, but if you’re fans of the monsters, it’s hard to say no.
Combining Tokyo and New York
Although very similar games, there is a distinction between King of Tokyo and King of New York. King of New York has some additional rules and playing styles that are not in the original game. If you’re feeling froggy, however, it is very possible to easily mix and match the different monsters. If you like the ruleset in King of Tokyo, but want to play with a King of New York monster, it’s 100% compatible. Most of the cards and abilities are also compatible so you won’t have any trouble swapping them back and forth.
King of Tokyo has excellent production value. It is a whimsical game that doesn’t take itself too seriously but delivers on quality components and high-quality cartoon graphics.
Each monster’s character card has a built-in life tracker and scoring wheel. They use thick quality cardboard cutouts and a wheel system to keep track of all of the numbers. They’re all prebuilt, so there’s no assembly required.
The cardboard cutouts are colorful and large enough that you’ll have no trouble identifying characters at any point during the game, and the cards were of a high enough quality that I was never worried about warping with my copy of the game.
Good Quality Dice
The dice are much larger than I expected when I first opened up the box, but it works well and helps to easily see the results on the dice. Speaking of dice, these are particularly nice. They are custom dice, specifically for King of Tokyo so you won’t be pulling them out if you lose your Monopoly dice.
These dice are solid. That’s not some weird 90s reference either. I mean that they are literally solid all the way around. There are no stickers on generic cubes; the die faces have all been etched in and are all one piece. I hate dice with stickers because they inevitably get spilled on and become a warped mess.
First & Second Editions
IELLO has put out a second edition to King of Tokyo that has some upgraded components but the majority of the game remains the same. Either one you find will be perfectly fine.
The first edition has more cartoony-looking monsters than the second edition. It honestly looked like the design team looked at the art and said, “Let’s make them look more bad@$$!” The monsters look a little scarier but are still cartoons. There’s an alien penguin. I don’t know how scary and tough you can make a penguin look, but they tried.
The first and second editions have some small, minor changes. A few of the cards have been reworded for clarity and the art has been changed to fit the new style. Two monsters were also replaced in the second edition. The Kraken has been swapped out with a Space Penguin, and Mecha Bunny was replaced with Mecha Kitty. The monsters don’t really have any bearing on gameplay, so it’s just a matter of preference. They may rerelease those characters in the future with an update pack, but at the end of the day it comes down to which one is available and which art style you like. Personally, I like the art style of the first edition better and I think the Kraken and Bunny are cooler. Never thought I’d say “Kraken and a Bunny” in the same sentence.
First, let’s talk about the dice.
The major dice mechanics used are Yahtzee style. Players will have a handful of dice rolled on every turn. They can keep as many they want and reroll the rest.
1, 2, 3
Players will get a total of 3 rolls per turn. 1 initial roll and 2 rerolls.
To score points with the dice, players will need to roll three of a kind in order to get the value of the number shown. If you roll four of the same number, each additional dice after three is worth an additional point.
- If you roll three 3’s that’s worth 3 points.
- If you roll three 2’s that’s worth 2 points.
- If you roll three 1’s that’s worth 1 point.
- If you roll four 3’s that’s worth 4 points.
- If you roll five 2’s that’s worth 4 points.
Punch dice showing monster fists indicate an attack on another player. You don’t need to roll multiples. Any 1 punch dice = 1 attack, so if you roll multiples you can seriously put the hurt on your opponents. Remember that if you’re the King of Tokyo, every punch hits every other player, but all players will be targeting the King.
Similar to punches, every heart rolled = 1 hit point healed. You cannot heal while you are the King of Tokyo. Every heart scored while the King is a wasted die.
Lightning bolt energy is like your mana and currency rolled into one. Each energy rolled will give a player 1 green energy cube. The energy can be used to purchase ability cards, and some abilities will require an energy cost.
Some special abilities let you perform additional actions, and others will give you some serious advantage over the competition.
- Fire Blast, when purchased for 3 energy, lets a player immediately hit all of their opponents with 2 damage.
- A Giant Brain for 5 energy gives a player 1 extra re-roll each turn. That’s huge.
There are also ability cards within the base game that let players roll additional dice (the off-colored green). In a game that relies heavily on dice, having an extra can put you closer to the win.
Becoming the King!
The game starts out with Tokyo empty. The first player to score a punch gets to move into Tokyo and become the King.
- Every time a player enters Tokyo they get 1 victory point.
- Every time they start their turn in Tokyo they get 2 victory points.
The title of King is going to change rapidly and often throughout a game for several reasons. The potential for victory points are much greater here, but also the potential for death. The King is a huge target because let’s face it, everyone wants to be King.
Every punch the King rolls is going to hit everyone. Trying to simply kill all of the other players is a legitimate strategy. Often games won’t even reach the victory point limit because everyone is dead. The downside is that every player who isn’t in Tokyo is targeting the King with their punches. One complete round may knock out a player before they even get to start their turn in Tokyo.
If the King is hit they can either take the damage and stay in Tokyo or take the damage and run away. Either way, they’re getting hit. If the King retreats, the attacking player is then forced to enter Tokyo and become the new King.
How do you win?
The first player to 20 points wins or the last surviving monster wins. It’s that easy… sort of.
Simply beating on your rivals is a legitimate strategy, but I’ve played so many games where I’m caught up in fighting and a player who I’ve neglected to put the hurt on chimes in with, “I win.” Keeping an eye on everyone’s points and health is an absolute must when playing King of Tokyo.
King of Tokyo is a game of dice.
Dice are completely random, and despite many offerings to the RNG gods and even banishment to dice jails, dice will be random.
The best strategy in King of Tokyo is to understand the rules and be reactionary. If you have a ton of energy on the first turn, start looking for ability cards to buy. Be aware of the stats of the other players and make sure you know what health everyone has.
Why So Serious?
Relax. It also doesn’t matter that much. It’s an absurd game and simply playing it with an absurd strategy like making the coolest monster with the coolest abilities is a valid strategy.
Have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously. The games are short and quick, so if you’re knocked out early, chances are the game will be winding up relatively quickly and you can start another game.
- Awesome artwork
- Lightweight and quick
King of Tokyo is very whimsical for a game about giant monsters destroying cities and each other. I absolutely love the artwork and the characters in the game. I personally prefer the first edition artwork, but I may just be biased because I own the first edition. The goofy cartoon graphics and characters always make me smile and the game does look pretty set up on the table.
- Player elimination
- Games seem to end abruptly
Any game that has the potential for early player elimination is going to ruffle a few feathers (or scales). There’s always the potential that with a few unlucky rolls a player will be knocked out within the first ten minutes or so. Usually, this isn’t a big deal in King of Tokyo. The games are designed to be quick, so by the time a player is knocked out, it’s usually close to the end of the game anyway. The possibility is always there though, so keep that in mind.
The game has received some criticism (and I agree) that it ends very abruptly. I’ve even played a few games with players ignoring victory points entirely in favor of just beating each other up and having the last monster standing.
King of Tokyo
- King of Tokyo is a lightweight press-your-luck dice game in which monsters will be fighting for supremacy in Tokyo. The first player to reach 20 victory points or whichever monster is left standing, wins the game.
- Players use Yahtzee-style rules to roll dice and perform actions. While in Tokyo, players receive 1 point for entering and 2 points every time they start their turn in Tokyo. All players will be attacking the King in Tokyo so if you stay too long, chances are you’ll die early.
- The game is quick and lightweight, suitable for all ages.
- Any violence portrayed is cartoonish and unoffensive for sensitive audiences.
King of New York
- King of New York is a standalone separate game that uses most of the same mechanics. The game’s characters/monsters are all compatible with each other.
Stats at a glance
King of Tokyo is a blast. It’s an excellent warm-up for a game night and a great game for families.
That being said, I don’t think it’ll ever be the main event at a game night. It’s fun, quick, and gets players rolling dice and having a good time almost immediately. After your second or third game in a row, however, you do start to notice some flaws. The game will seem to end out of nowhere. Players will be strategizing and rolling and you’ll be eyeing an awesome ability card that just showed up. The clatter of dice won’t even register in the back of your mind because you’re thinking of all of the possible combinations that you could roll and then your buddy will say from the corner of the table, “Oh, I think I won.”
That’s okay, though. King of Tokyo has never been the main event of a game night, but it acts perfectly as a fun warm-up game. Players roll some dice, figure out a strategy, and attack other players with goofy monsters. It’s not meant to be a super heavy strategy game and its not meant to challenge a player intellectually.
Just like the old school rubber monster movies of old, King of Tokyo is a blast to play and doesn’t take itself too seriously.