Chairman of the Board: Hail to the king

Illustration by Ed Appleby
Illustration by Ed Appleby

‘King of Tokyo’ board game review

By Ed Appleby, Illustrator

Some days you want a nice quiet tea with your friends. Other days you want to knock down buildings and eat a bus. This is a game for the latter.

King of Tokyo is a dice-rolling game for two to six players, designed by Richard Garfield and published by IELLO in 2011. Each player controls a giant monster bent on ravaging the metropolis of Tokyo, and takes turns powering up, healing, scoring points, or damaging other players. Because there can only be one King, the last one standing or the first player to reach 20 points wins.

The game is fun and fast, lasting around 30 minutes. Like a lot of high-theme games, there is a lot of room for role-players to adopt the personas of their characters, like the giant monkey, the robotic dragon, or the bunny-piloted mech suit. In other high-theme games such as Gloom or The Red Dragon Inn, playing in-character is very important for gameplay, whereas with King of Tokyo you can still play the game straight and have lots of fun.

A lot of the gameplay is based on mitigating risk. You need to know when to attack, when to retreat, when to focus on gaining power, and when to focus on gaining points. All of the characters start out balanced, so personal strategy comes heavily into play. There are expansions that add characters and add character-specific powers to the mix, and, unlike most expansions I have played, they don’t overly complicate the game.

Garfield is known for his high-theme games, and I found King of Tokyo refreshingly simple compared to his other game, the extremely complex and ubiquitous Magic: The Gathering. It is a really fun game, great for family and friends, especially if you are a fan of kaiju.