#GDEReviews: King of Tokyo

#GDEReviews: King of Tokyo 

King of Tokyo is an exciting, fast-paced board game that acts as a great introduction to many of the traditional elements of board gaming.

2-6 Players

Ages 8 and up

30 minute play time


In King of Tokyo, players take on the role of giant monsters battling for supremacy in the streets of Tokyo!

King of Tokyo is an exciting, fast-paced board game that acts as a great introduction to many of the traditional elements of board gaming.

King of Tokyo is a “player elimination” game, meaning that players whose monsters are defeated are out until the end of the game. But King of Tokyo moves quickly enough that players shouldn’t be out for too long before they get a chance to play again. And you will want to play again!

There are two paths to victory: either be the first player to earn 20 victory points, or be the last monster standing after all other monsters’ health is reduced to zero.

Each player’s turn consists of four actions: dice rolling, dice resolution, card buying (which is optional), and ending the turn.

So let’s look at five elements of King of Tokyo – its pieces, dice, game board, cards, and counters – and how these elements serve as an introduction to some of the traditional elements of board gaming.


TOP ROW: The King and Gigazaur game pieces  BOTTOM ROW: Monster boards for Meka Dragon and Cyber Bunny

TOP ROW: The King and Gigazaur game pieces

BOTTOM ROW: Monster boards for Meka Dragon and Cyber Bunny

Let’s start with game pieces! In many traditional board games, game pieces – also known as tokens or “meeples” – represent a player or character on the game board. In King of Tokyo, the game pieces are thick cardboard images of the various monsters.

Some monsters in the game recall classic monsters from movies and legends such as The King, a giant ape; Gigazaur, a giant reptile; and The Kraken, an amalgamation of sea creatures. There’s also an alien, a mechanical dragon, and a giant robotic bunny operated by a normal-sized rabbit. Who will you choose?

The choice of monster at the beginning of the game is purely cosmetic – each monster functions exactly the same as every other monster. This means that until that first dice roll, all players are on equal footing.

In addition to their game pieces, players have monster boards that include pictures of the monster and wheels to track victory points and monster health.



Players roll six dice at the beginning of every turn.

Players roll six dice at the beginning of every turn.

So what can your monster do each turn? Roll the dice to find out! In King of Tokyo, players begin each turn by rolling six dice. The outcome of the roll will determine what a player’s monster can do each turn. If you’ve played Yahtzee!, then this part of the game will be familiar to you. After the initial roll, the player gets two chances to re-roll some or all of the dice before resolving the dice. Each die has six symbols: numerals 1, 2, and 3, a lightning bolt, a heart, and a claw. The numbers earn Victory Points, the lightning bolt earns energy (the game's currency represented by tiny green cubes), the heart earns your monster a health point, which are taken away when your monster takes damage, and claws represent damage your monster does to another player’s monster.

Dice are examples of randomizers. In any game that relies heavily on randomization, it can seem at times that strategy is secondary, and players are merely rolling dice and counting results. But in any game that allows – but doesn’t require – re-rolls, the player has to make several decisions. And this is where strategy comes in and works in tandem with the random element. The initial roll each turn is entirely random, and it is possible, though unlikely, that the first roll will be the exact result the player wants for their monster. But more often, players will need to determine which dice to reroll and which to keep. Making these decisions utilizes the skills of risk management and cost/benefit analysis.

For example, player one is playing Gigazaur, and on her first roll, she gets two 2s, one 3, two lightning bolts, and a heart. Three 2s will earn her two victory points, and she’s two-thirds of the way there. Three 3s will earn three victory points, but she’s only one-third of the way there. The lightning bolts are a sure thing – if she keeps them and earns two energy, she can use that energy to buy cards that grant her monster unique abilities. Should she sacrifice a sure thing for the possibility of three 3s? Or should she roll her 2s and 3s and try for more energy to buy more powerful cards? It’s her first turn, so she doesn’t need to heal, so she knows she’ll re-roll her heart. What would you do?

Once players finish rolling – whether because they like what they have or they’ve rolled the maximum number of times – they resolves their dice. This is the stage where players “cash in” their dice for victory points, energy, health improvement, or damage to other monsters.


The Kraken enters Tokyo!

The Kraken enters Tokyo!

What would a board game be without a board? While the board for King of Tokyo is very simple, consisting of only two spaces, it functions the same way a board does in more complicated games: it has spaces that indicate where a player is at a given time, and it indicates what a player may do while in those spaces.

The first player to roll (and keep) a claw symbol places his monster in Tokyo and earns a victory point. While in Tokyo, all claws rolled deal damage to all other monsters. All claws rolled by other monsters damage the monster in Tokyo. If a monster survives long enough to start its turn in Tokyo, the player earns two victory points. But monsters in Tokyo can’t heal, even if they roll hearts. Players need to be bold to earn victory points and damage their opponents’ monsters, but not too brash, or they won’t last long!

A monster in Tokyo who takes damage may choose “flee,” in which case the player removes the monster from the Tokyo board. The monster who dealt damage to the fleeing monster must take its place (and a victory point!).



Hit me!

Hit me!

Some games are card games. Some games are board games. A lot of games are both! King of Tokyo includes a deck of cards that players can purchase to earn bonuses. Cards are always played face up so that all players know what cards are available for purchase and what cards each player has purchased.

Each card features an illustration of a scene in the game. The art looks like a Pixar adaptation of Topps’ Dinosaur Attack! cards from the 1980s and adds a lot of flavor and personality to the game. In addition to the illustration, each card features the cost in energy to purchase, how to play the card (keep or discard), and the effect of playing the card. “Discard” cards represent one-time events in the game and are immediately resolved upon drawing. “Keep” cards have ongoing effects that modifies the players’ monsters and their abilities.

For example, “Skyscraper” costs six energy, it is discarded once purchased, and the player who purchased it gains four victory points. Thematically, this can be understood as your monster destroying a building and putting it one (or rather four) steps closer to conquering Tokyo.

“Spiked Tail” costs five energy, the player keeps it, and whenever the players’ monster deals damage, it deals one additional point. Your monster has mutated and is now more dangerous to its opponents.

There are always three cards face up in the play area that players can purchase. When a player purchases a card, another is immediately turned face up. Players can purchase any number of cards during the card buying phase. Players may also pay two energy to discard all three and draw three new cards.

Like dice, cards are randomizers. The cards are shuffled, and no one knows what card(s) will be drawn next. But as with the dice, every time a card is turned up, the player has choices to make to deal with this new information. Should players save up to purchase higher-cost, more powerful cards? If they do, other players may purchase lower-cost cards and immediately reap the benefits. Purchasing a card may reveal an even better card that the player can’t afford, making it available to opponents. If you could afford the Skyscraper or Spiked Tail card, which would you buy? The keep card that gives you a small benefit for the entire game, or the discard card that gives you a higher bonus one time?



Energy cubes and poison counters.

Energy cubes and poison counters.

How much energy do I have to spend? Am I poisoned? How do I know? In King of Tokyo, players keep track of these elements with counters.

In King of Tokyo, energy is currency – it's what players use to buy things. Your energy is represented by tiny green cubes. Each cube is one point of energy.

In addition to these energy cubes, King of Tokyo uses small round counters that represent ongoing effects of certain cards. For example, one keep card is called “Poison Spit.” When a monster with this ability deals damage to another monster, that monster’s board gets a poison counter that represents ongoing damage from the attack. At the end of their turns, monsters must take one point of damage for every poison counter they have. Poison counters can be removed by rolling hearts, but a heart used to remove a poison counter does not also heal damage.


Simple, right? You’ve got dice, cards, pieces, boards, and counters. Each of these different ways players interact with the game are examples of what game designers call “mechanics.”

And while the individual mechanics of King of Tokyo may be simple, players will need to think and act strategically to achieve victory.

Will players go for victory points on every roll? Or will they focus on earning energy to purchase cards that will make their monsters more powerful later in the game?

Will they wait to enter Tokyo until they’ve earned some bonuses to attack? Or will they rush in and attack opponents who are rolling for energy?

These strategic choices combine with the great art and an exciting premise to create an engaging theme that keeps players interested and invested. For these reasons, King of Tokyo is an enjoyable game in its own right in addition to being a great way to introduce novice players to many of the traditional elements of board gaming.