Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Wheaton Effect Part Six: "King of Tokyo"


Although my first exposure to King of Tokyo was actually Davecon 2012, I really didn't feel compelled to buy the game until Wil Wheaton and his cohorts featured it on Tabletop:


I can definitely relate to Wil's preamble about seeing his first Kaiju film on T.V. in the late Seventies as a kid and becoming completely bespelled by it.  For me, whenever I saw a photo of Godzilla in a book or a magazine, I was instantly mesmerized.  Let's face it: the image of a three-hundred foot tall, fire-breathing giant lizard stomping a major metropolitan city into a mudhole is nothing short of kid catnip.  

Over the years several game designers have given us their take on the classic monster mash with decidedly mixed results.  In 1979 Greg Costikyan brought us The Creature that Ate Sheboygan, an olde-skool wargamey approach to the subject which came complete with cardboard chits and an honest-to goodness Combat Results Table.  Despite showing its considerable age, I still maintain that an updated reprint of this game has the best chance to pay homage to its rubber-suited inspirations.

When Avalon Hill was in its death throes in 1998, J. C. Connors and Ben Knight offered up the low-fi, eleventh-hour die-chucker Monsters Ravage America.  Seven years later, Hasbro decided to blow the dust off this defunct title by repackaging it as Monsters Menace America.  While doing their usual awesome job on the production side of things, Hasbro didn't go far enough when they revamped the rules.  Even though the city destruction / army battling phase of the game is fun, the clunky and arbitrary conclusion left a lot of players cold.  

Then, in 2011, fans rejoiced when Toy Vault announced that the Big "G" himself would get the full board game treatment in Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars.  Even better, the game would be designed by Richard H. Berg, who gave us such grognardian classics as Blackbeard and Terrible Swift Sword.  Unfortunately Toy Vault must have spent their entire production budget on the stellar miniatures, because the rest of the components were either slapdash or impractical and the paper pamphlet rulebook (which looks like it was reproduced on an 80's-era library photocopier) was Beta-level at best.

Fortunately, that very same year, the vastly superior King of Tokyo reared its scaly head.  The brainchild of Magic: The Gathering designer and Wizard of the Coast demi-god Richard Garfield, the game played out like a fusion between Zombie Dice, collectible card games and that playground favorite "king-of-the-hill".  Unlike its predecessors, King of Tokyo completely eschews simulation in lieu of an all-out, main-in-suit monster brawl.  The game's fanciful and humorous graphic design only adds to its charm.

Here's an un-dubbed synopsis of the game from Iello's website:

"Slap around your enemies and become the King of Tokyo!

"Play mutant monsters, gigantic robots and other monstrous creatures, joyfully whack your opponents, rampage the city and become the one and only King of Tokyo!

"Combine your dice to gather energy, heal your monster or just slap others.  Spend your energy to trigger permanent or one-shot special powers: second head, body armor, nova death ray...

"Stop at nothing to become the King of Tokyo... but that’s when the real trouble begins for you!

"Rules Review:

"At your turn, you get three successive throws after each of which you choose whether to keep or discard each of the six special dice.  Your final combination will enable you to win destruction points, hoard energy, restore your health or whack other players into understanding Tokyo is your territory.

"The fiercest player will be crowned King of Tokyo... and will end up facing all the other monsters alone until he wins the game, gets whacked out of the game or decides to let another player take over the city.

"Top this off with special cards purchased with energy and granting a permanent or temporary power, and you hold one of the most explosive and fun games ever!

"In order to win the game, one must either destroy Tokyo by accumulating 20 destruction points or... be the only surviving monster !"        

Still looking for the game's full weigh-in?  Then pound on the following link to get the full tale of the tape!

***

King of Tokyo plays so fast n' smooth that we managed to get four games of it in on the very same night we played Love Letter.  Here's how those games went down:

GAME ONE

THE MONSTERS
Chad...Meka Dragon
Me...Gigazaur
Jeremy...Cyber Bunny


First player Chad managed to score an Attack result, giving Meka Dragon the right to lumber into Tokyo. After scoring a metric shit-ton of Energy, Chad augmented ol' M.D. with Camouflage, giving him the opportunity to shirk one point of damage for every Healing result rolled.  As Gigazaur I tried to focus on what would win me the game, scoring four Victory Points and delivering a sneaky cheap shot to Meka Dragon in the process.

After rolling four different die results on his first toss, Jeremy decided to specialize in Chad-damage, three points of which managed to sneak past Meka Dragon's Camouflage.  He also stockpiled three Energy for later use.  Gigazaur then piled on, knocking Meka Dragon down by three more points.  Chad managed to roll one Heart in response, but his scaly avatar still took two points of damage.  That same round I also hauled in three Victory Points and one Energy Cube.

Weary of getting picked on, Meka Dragon scored three Victory Points and then delivered a single point, Three Stooges-style communal slap to both of his rivals.  Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.  Cyber Bunny responded by netting five big Victory Points on an avalanche of "2's" and then thwacked Meka Dragon for another point.
In stark contrast, I only ended up with a single Victory Point and a paltry pair of Energy Cubes on my next turn.  I promptly exchanged the latter for the "Complete Destruction" card, which would give me nine Victory Points if I could pull off a full house of die results.  

Chad continued to invest heavily in cards, acquiring the powerful "Freeze Time" ability.  After rolling triple "1's" on his very first try, Chad activated the card's ability and played out a bonus turn with one fewer die.  By the time the dust settled he'd scored one Victory Point, collected three more Energy Cubes, further augmented his monster with "Parasitic Tentacles", and then bitched slapped both of us for two points of damage!  

Meanwhile, Jeremy's Cyber Bunny got stuck with a crappy pair of "2's" and "3's".  All he managed to do that turn was stockpile two Energy cubes.  After rolling a "1", a "2", a Heal, an Energy and an Attack on my very first throw, I felt downright obligated to go for "Complete Destruction".  After all, if I could just roll a "3" on two attempts, I'd walk away with nine big Victory Points!  Unfortunately, I ended up rolling two Energy. Even with such a scattered final result I still Healed one point, collected one Energy and, most importantly, dealt one damage to Meka Dragon!

Still clinging doggedly to Tokyo, Chad managed to "Freeze Time" again for a bonus turn.  In the end, he waltzed away with three Victory Points and also managed to double clothesline Cyber Bunny and Gigazaur in the process.  Jeremy tried to return the favor but Meka Dragon went all Camo on him.  He ended his turn with one more Energy Cube and three Victory Points. 

I kept adding to my Victory Point total by conjuring up four "3's".  Gigazaur then lashed back at Meka Dragon but the big dumb jerk was still cloaked so my single strike hit nothing but air.  I also made sure to apply a badly-needed point of Healing.  Hey, even giant monsters need a siesta once and awhile!

For the third time in a row, Chad pulled off "Freeze Time", netting two Energy Cubes and one Victory Point on his first go-round and then dishing out three points of communal hurt on his bonus turn!   Determined to polish off Meka Dragon and claim Tokyo for his own, Jeremy diced up three damage in response.

We all watched intently as Chad rolled his Camouflage die, but he could only conjure up a single Heart.  Like an infinitely cuter sumo wrestler, Cyber Bunny hurled Meka Dragon out of city limits, where the beast crashed to the ground, dead as disco.  

On the first die throw of my turn I rolled a "1", a "2", a "3", a Heal and an Attack.  Currently sitting pretty with 11 Victory Points, I just couldn't resist the siren call that is "Complete Destruction".  Again, the entire table was rapt as I tossed the die once again, scoring an Energy, fulfilling the cards requirements and winning with 20 Victory Points!  
           

Winner: Me!  
Without even setting foot in Tokyo no less!

GAME TWO

THE MONSTERS
Chad...The King
Me...Gigazaur
Jeremy...Cyber Bunny


After three rounds of rolling I was left with four "3's", a Heal and an Attack.  Even though I couldn't use the Heart, I did end up with four Victory Points and Godz...er, Gigazaur picked up a bus, threw it back down then waded through the buildings towards the center of town.  I'm in Tokyo, bitches!    

The King, clearly incensed that his turf had just been usurped, came flying into the Ginza district, delivering a four-damage double axe handle to Gigazaur and scoring two Energy in the process.  In the face of such vicious fury, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and surrendered the city to the giant, brain-damaged ape.  Meanwhile, Jeremy quietly worked on his Victory Points, scoring three "3's" in quick succession. He decided to celebrate by firing a few rockets into The King's homely mush, scoring two points of damage!

Clearly still woozy from that last assault, I got stuck with a pair of  "2's", leaving me stranded.  I decided to take out my frustrations on The King, delivering a solid claw-rake for two points of damage!  Unfazed, The King gathered up four Energy and then performed a spinning fist attack, dealing a point of damage to each of his rivals.  Chad then used his Energy cubes to pimp out the King with "Alien Metabolism", giving him a sweet price break on new cards.  He immediately used this ability to buy "Omnivore", which would give him a bonus Victory Point every time he rolled a straight of "1", "2" and "3"! 

Smelling blood (or rather, detecting blood via a complex network of sensors), Cyber Bunny pounced, drop-kicking Meka Dragon clear out of town.  Before taking his place as the new champeen, Jeremy also collected two Energy and a single point of Healing.  He was gonna need it.  After rolling two "3's" and a crummy "1", Gigazaur grabbed Cyber Bunny by his adorable metal ears and promptly made a wish.  Despite the three points of pain, Jeremy decided to stand his ground.  

The King wisely spent a turn licking his considerable wounds by applying two Healing dice and then collecting 3 Victory Points.  Even in traction, he still couldn't resist the temptation to fling his feces at Cyber Bunny for a single point of damage.  After wiping the Suzuki Fit-sized chunk of poop out of his ocular display, Cyber Bunny concentrated on making the most of his stay in Tokyo.  He collected three Victory Points on four "2's" and also picked up a single Energy cube.

I finally had a decent round, scoring three Victory Points on as many dice.  I also summoned a point of Healing and one Energy, building up for the perfect time to strike.  The King has no such restraint.  After compiling three Energy and one Healing he waded back into the fray, and then man...er...monkey-handled Cyber Bunny for two points of damage.  Jeremy held fast, collecting two Victory Points for holding Tokyo for a round and earning four new Energy cubes in the process.  He spent this little windfall on a "Giant Brain" for Cyber Bunny, which would give him a highly-prized free re-roll every turn!  

After regenerating one damage with a Heal die, I also decided to get my claws dirty, kicking Cyber Bunny right in the metallic junk for three points of damage!  To my surprise and consternation, Jeremy surrendered Tokyo and I suddenly found myself right in the eye of the storm.  Not particularly choosy about who to pound on, The King lashed out at Gigazaur with a mean single-point left hook.  He also Healed a point of damage, collected four Energy cubes and then  purchased "Alpha Monster", which would give him a bonus  Victory Point every time he attacked.  Yikes!  

Using Cyber Bunny's newly-acquired "Giant Brain", Jeremy orchestrated two points of Healing, a new Energy Cube and three Victory Points!  As a reward for fending off all challengers in Tokyo, I scored two Victory Points at the start of the round.  Despite stranding a single Healing die, I managed to rake in four Energy cubes and lash out at my opponents, dealing a point of damage to each of them.  I then spent four cubes to purchase and then play "Commuter Train" for two more Victory Points!  

After Chad fortified The King with two more Healing dice, the giant ape clipped Gigazaur right in the pie-hole for a point of damage.  Even though it wasn't a powerful hit, I was in really bad shape and I certainly didn't want to stick around for Jeremy's turn.  Ergo, I ran away with my spiky tail tucked between my legs. For performing an attack as the "Alpha Monster", Chad also bagged a single free bonus Victory Point!

Jeremy conjured up two Heart symbols for some Healing and three Energy cubes but couldn't do anything with a stray "2".  He re-rolled one of his Energy results and got a Claw, which delivered an inadvertent yet welcome eye-gouge on The King!  Seeing how close Chad was to victory, I really wanted to roll a slew of Claws, but it just wasn't to be.  After three rounds of rolling I ended up with two "3's", a "2" and three Hearts.  Healing definitely wasn't going to stave off the inevitable!  

As we feared, The King got exactly what he needed on his next turn: three "3's" a "2" and a "1".  Not only did the triples give him three Victory Points, Chad also had everything he needed to fulfill the requirements of "Omnivore" for two more Victory Points.  Chad then capped his win with a flourish: buying and playing "Tanks".  In spite of the three damage delivered by this heavy armor, Chad banked four more Victory Points for the win!     


Winner: Chad!

GAME THREE

THE MONSTERS
Andrew...Alienoid
Me...Gigazaur
Mac...Cyber Bunny
     

Because of Mac's crazed blood-lust, this one was almost over as soon as it started.  In an omen of things to come, I ended up moving into Tokyo on a wretchedly horrible roll of one "3", two "2's" and 3 Claws. Andrew came out of the gate rather well, scoring four "3's" a single Energy cube and a stray "2".  Meanwhile, Mac began his reign of terror by dicing up one Energy, three "3's" and two Attack results.  This was my first bloody nose among many.

The lethality continued as I busted out two Energy and three Attacks, which did little to endear me to my table-mates.  Andrew's Alienoid actually took the high road, rolling two "3's", a single "2" and 3 Energy. Mac, obsessed with bringin' tha' pain, nailed me again for a single point of damage.  In retrospect, I should have bolted right there and then, but I had idea what was coming next.  Clearly disappointed by the distinct lack of carnage thus far, Mac parleyed the three Energy he'd acquired that round into "High Altitude Bombing", which dealt three damage to every monster, including his own.  Sweet Jezum crow!

Undeterred by superfluous crap like strategy or common sense, I diced up three Energy and three Damage for Gigazaur.  In the face of Mac's withering rage, Andrew was reduced to an almost benign presence, rolling two "3's", plus one each of Energy, Attack and Healing.  With only a single Life Point left, I was a prime target for a finishing move from Mac.  After acquiring three "1's" and two Hearts for himself, he then polished me off with three points of damage.  With that, the mighty Gigazaur was felled, leaving the city vacant for a triumphant Cyber Bunny.  


But his victory would be short-lived.  On Andrew's turn, his monster decided to chow down on a Gas Refinery.  After the facility detonated and destroyed the better part of Tokyo, only the Alienoid could be seen lumbering away from the wreckage! 

Winner: Andrew!

GAME FOUR

THE MONSTERS
Andrew...Alienoid
Me...Gigazaur
Mac...Cyber Bunny
      
Cyber Bunny took the initiative, netting three energy and then stomping into the heart of Tokyo via two Attack dice.  Still bitter about last game, Gigazaur chomped down on C.B.'s metallic extremities (?) for three damage whilst scoring a single Energy cube.  Reigning champion the Alienoid decided to add to the chaos, building up one Energy cube and then blasting Cyber Bunny right in the back of the dome for three more points of damage!  Nasty! 

Doggedly clinging to Tokyo, Cyber Bunny struck back, dealing out three damage to the interlopers while nudging his Energy reserves up by one.  Taking Mac's bait, I kept pummeling away with Gigazaur, gnawing on the Bunny's elbow for three more damage.  Andrew, perfectly content to sit back and watch the two of us beat the tar out of each other, calmly stockpiled five Victory Points on five rolls of "3".

Fighting like a cornered badger, Cyber Bunny performed a 360° fire spread, blasting both the Alienoid and Gigazaur for three points of damage.  I responded by accumulating two Hearts and two Energy and then swinging back with single claw strike.  Half-dead, Mac was finally forced to relinquish Tokyo to me.  My reign didn't last very long, however, as the Alienoid built up three Energy and then sniped me from behind for a single point.  Knowing that I was unlikely to survive another full assault from Mac, I crawled out of Tokyo, yielding the city to the Andrewenoid/Aliendrew. 

His red rage exhausted, Mac spent his next turn building up three Energy and Healing one point of damage. After earning two Victory points on three "2's", I rolled one each of Energy, Healing and Attack.  That single errant strike was enough to dislodge Andrew and I suddenly found myself back atop the heap.  Andrew, conspicuously docile that turn, opted for one Energy, two Hearts and three Victory Points instead of attacking.  

In an attempt to string together a bunch of "2's", Mac tried to use Cyber Bunny's newfound "Stretchy" ability
but Andrew forced him to re-roll one die via "Psychic Probe".  The resulting Heart negated any Victory Points but it did earn him a point of Healing.  Andrew proved to be just as annoying during my turn by negating a Claw.  Mercifully, I still finished up with four Victory Points and two Energy, the later of which I traded in for the defensively-minded "Wings".  This acquisition immediately proved fruitful after I avoided two points of damage on Andrew's turn by burning two Energy.

This led to a bit of a debate.  I assumed that I needed to spend two Energy every time I wanted to use my "Wings", but both Mac and Andrew thought that I could only activate them on my own turn.  In other words, they believed that by paying two Energy on my turn I'd be insulated from harm until my next turn.  Although this sounded a tad overpowered to me, I accepted the consensus.  

So desperate was he to heal, Mac actually altered one of his Claw results to a Heart.  Still playing the trickster, Andrew forced him to re-roll, so Mac ended up with three Victory Points, a single "2", one Energy and a lone Heart.  My dice next turn were equally schizophrenic: two Energy, one Claw, a "2" , a "3" and a Heal.  This was so pathetic that Andrew didn't even prompt a re-roll, he just recovered two Life Points on his turn and then purchased Rapid Healing after picking up two more Energy cubes.  

Mac finally got the Healing roll he wanted, five Hearts in total!  Naturally, Andrew refused to let that slide and forced Mac to re-roll one die, leaving him with four Hearts and a single Energy.  On my turn I managed to get three shots in on Andrew and then insulated myself from harm via "Wings".  

Against my better judgement, I renewed my case that we were playing "Wings" incorrectly and this time everyone agreed with me.  Since acquiring two Energy every turn is pretty easy, I could conceivably camp out in Tokyo indefinitely, virtually impervious to harm.  From that point forward we switched to my original interpretation, which made a lot more sense.  Any charges of "Asterisk!" were quickly silenced after Andrew pulled out the win by patiently camping out in Tokyo for two Veeps per turn, using "Psychic Probe" to scramble our best efforts to unseat him and then rolling up some consistently-high Victory Point totals.  

Winner: Andrew!   

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Innovative gameplay feels like a mash-up between a "King of the Hill" Halo match and Zombie Dice.
  • Rules are clear, concise and very easy to teach.
  • Games are fast and furious and never seem to drag.  We easily played four matches in three hours and still had time for some other quick games.  
  • The variable card powers add a ludicrous amount of replay value.
  • Our four games are clearly indicative of several perfectly valid strategies.  Do you stay out of the fray and let every one else beat the snot out of each other?  Do you invest heavily in creature augmentation and go for surgical strikes?  Or do you march right into Tokyo bold as brass and start chuckin' knuckles?      
  • The components are fantastic.  As some point in time you may find yourself compelled to pull a Pac-Man and gobble up a handful of those green Energy cubes.
  • The game's art is fantastic, evoking shades of 50's-era sci-fi films while retaining plenty of familial appeal.
CONS
  • Some of the card text is a bit vague, leading to misinterpretation. Combining several of these effects together can also result in some big-time head-scratchery. 
  • Although King of Tokyo is a lungful of fun, I'd still prefer an Ameritrash-style simulation.  I wanna wade my official Toho-brand monster miniature through tiny high-tension wires and buildings, whilst tearing up bridges and sticking trains and buses in my toothy maw.  I wanna char tanks and the national guard with my atomic breath and gobbling down populace units like Pez.  In other words I want the handsome and brilliant love child of The Creature that Ate Sheboygan and Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars.  Get on that, Fantasy Flight!    
***

As a nuanced and tactical little beat-'em-up, you can't do much better then King of Tokyo.  It easily earns five pips outta six, with a tilt up towards The King's hairy nutsack.  

           
***
Looking to re-enact your very own version of Gigazaur vs. Cyber Bunny vs. Meka Dragon vs. The King vs. Alienoid vs. The Kraken, I.E. THE GREATEST MOVIE EVAR!?!  Click on the pic below to order a copy of King of Tokyo and help support this blog! 

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