Game: King of Tokyo

Release Year: 2011

Publisher: IELLO

Designer: Richard Garfield

Player Count: 2 to 6 players

Play Time: About 15 to 30 minutes

Rules Complexity: Simple

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Imagine you're a knock-off King Kong clutched atop the Empire State Building. You're surrounded by other massive kaiju-style monsters, including a knock-off Godzilla, an enormous kraken, an alienoid being, a robotic dragon, and a... cyber bunny?

Oh, and all of this is actually happening in Tokyo, not New York City. That's basically King of Tokyo in a nutshell.

King of Tokyo is a modern classic board game that takes the thrilling appeal of Yahtzee! and turns it into a king-of-the-hill battle royale where the last one standing emerges victorious. But it's been over a decade since it came out. Does it still hold up? Or has it succumbed to the passage of time?

Here's everything you need to know about King of Tokyo, how it plays, what my experiences with it have been like, and whether it's still good now.

This review is based on my own personal copy of King of Tokyo, which I bought used from BGG's GeekMarket. Not a free review copy. (Mine is the first edition of King of Tokyo. The second edition that came out in 2016 tweaked the monster selection but is essentially the same game.)


In King of Tokyo, players each take on the role of a massive kaiju-style monster and will duke it out until only one player is left alive.

The thing is, one player will be "in Tokyo" while everyone else is "outside Tokyo"—and the people outside Tokyo can only attack whoever is in Tokyo. Meanwhile, whenever the player in Tokyo attacks, they hit everyone else. Once your HP reaches zero, you die and you're eliminated from the game.

On your turn, you roll six custom dice that all have the same set of faces. After rolling, you can choose to re-roll any number of dice, and after that, you can re-roll one more time. At that point, you're stuck with what you have.

Based on what you rolled, you can do the following:

  • For each Claw symbol, you deal 1 damage. If you're in Tokyo, that's 1 damage to everyone. If you're outside Tokyo, that's 1 damage to whoever is in Tokyo.
  • For each Heart symbol, you recover 1 health. You start with 10 health and they disappear fast, so healing is important if you want to stick around.
  • For each Lightning symbol, you gain 1 energy cube. These energy cubes accumulate from turn to turn and can be spent to buy special cards from the central card market (of three cards).
  • If you roll a set of three 1 symbols, you gain 1 victory point.
  • If you roll a set of three 2 symbols, you gain 2 victory points.
  • If you roll a set of three 3 symbols, you gain 3 victory points.

If a player ever reaches 20 victory points, they win! So there are actually two ways to emerge victorious in King of Tokyo: either race to 20 points or kill everyone else.

At this point, you probably have two questions:

How does someone enter or leave Tokyo? If you're in Tokyo and you get attacked, you have the option of either staying in Tokyo or swapping with whomever attacked you. (They have no choice in the matter. If you opt to swap, you both swap.)

If you end up entering Tokyo and you survive an entire round that comes back to your turn and you're still in Tokyo, you gain a victory point!

What are the special cards used for? Some of them are one-time actions ("Discard") that provide instant effects. For example, gain a certain amount of points, heal up a bunch, instantly enter Tokyo, cause damage to everyone, etc.

Other cards are passive bonuses ("Keep") that you keep. For example, a card might let you deal 1 damage to your attacker whenever you leave Tokyo. Another card might let you gain an energy cube at the end of your turn if you don't have any.

And that's about it! That's the gist of how you play King of Tokyo.

Setup and Table Footprint

King of Tokyo is a simple game with a fast setup. That's honestly one of the best things about it: you can be playing in no time.

Once everyone has selected one of the six monsters to be, you just need to place the game board in the center, shuffle the card deck, and set aside the supply of energy cubes and special tokens (only used when certain cards come into play).

You can be ready to play in 2 to 3 minutes. It's that easy.

Similarly, King of Tokyo doesn't need that much table space.

The main board is adorably small—you honestly don't even need it unless you're playing with 5 or 6 players—and the card market is only three cards, which isn't large at all. Players each have a monster HP tracker, which is also small. And players may need a bit of room for their tableaus of passive special cards.

If anything, you'll just want to make sure you have enough room to roll the big, chunky dice without worry. (But if you have a dice rolling tray, that's not a problem. Just pass the tray around! It's a lot easier and what I recommend doing.)

Learning Curve

One of the reasons why King of Tokyo remains an enduring classic of modern board gaming is that it's so simple to learn. It's truly a family-friendly game, able to be played and enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

If you can play Yahtzee!, you can play King of Tokyo. You're just rolling dice, seeing which ones you want to keep, and re-rolling the ones you don't. The dice values are straightforward and simple. The concept of losing when your HP goes to zero is intuitive, as is the idea of being the last one standing.

If there's one aspect that might cause confusion for non-gamers, it'd be the special cards. Some are passive bonuses while others are active, one-time-use abilities. However, if you understand the core gameplay, you can read the cards and understand exactly what they do. Non-gamers can handle it, for sure.

I wouldn't say that King of Tokyo is a party game, but it's close! That's how effortless it is to learn and play. Kids can grasp it, no problem.

Game Experience

Decision Space

At heart, King of Tokyo is a push-your-luck game. The primary decision you make in this game is whether to keep your roll or try for a re-roll, repeated up to two times in a given turn. Are you going to play it safe and lean into whatever your first roll is? Or would you rather play the odds and try to score big moves?

Either way, it's not a huge decision, which is what makes King of Tokyo such a fast and snappy game. You aren't supposed to think hard!

That said, you do have more control when it comes to spending your energy cubes. The card market always has three card options that you'll want to strategize around. Are you going to save up for the high-cost cards with stronger effects? Or take what you can get before someone snatches it away? This, too, is push-your-luck.

Being smart about which cards you acquire can play a crucial role in victory. If you can grab cards that synergize together, or if you can grab cards that bolster your overall strategy (either killing everyone or amassing points), or if you can grab cards that neutralize what someone else is doing, then you'll be more likely to win.

There's also the choice to stay in Tokyo or swap out with your attacker. Staying in Tokyo is great because it gives you the opportunity to wreck everyone else while also gaining extra points, but it's a massive risk because you can die in the blink of an eye. Staying one turn too long can be disastrous!

In the end, though, King of Tokyo isn't a decision-heavy game. You're just doing your best to massage luck in your favor, then hoping for the best.

Luck Factor

In King of Tokyo, you have six identical dice of six different face values. Half of them require you to roll at least "a set of three" for those face values to mean anything at all; the other half are useful no matter how many of them you roll.

You get two chances to re-roll, which helps a little bit as far as the game being a total luckfest. Choosing the right dice to re-roll can make the difference between a strong turn and a weak turn, so probability management is an important skill.

But dice rolls are still dice rolls. Even if you make the "best choice" of which dice to re-roll every single time, the results of those re-rolls will always be out of your hands.

Which means you can't go into King of Tokyo expecting the best player to win every time. Yes, it's a highly luck-dependent game—an aspect that's exacerbated by the fact that players can be knocked out permanently. A few unlucky rolls (or someone in Tokyo getting lucky rolls) can hugely swing the game.

For me, that's a double-edged sword. The benefit here is that King of Tokyo is a level playing field no matter who's at the table. Everyone always has a chance to win! And that's partly why it's such a great family game.

Fun Factor

As I said above, you can't go into King of Tokyo expecting the best player to win every time. If you can set that aside, then here's what you can expect instead: lots of dice rolling with lots of surprise results!

King of Tokyo isn't a full-blown party game, but it's very much a party-style game. Some might call it a "beer and pretzels" game because you can sit back with a cold beer, munch on pretzels, and just have a good time with all the antics.

There will be lots of cheering, lots of groaning, lots of yelling. A lucky roll can simultaneously evoke a victorious cry from the roller and howls of disbelief from everyone else. It's an all-around boisterous time as your monsters brawl.

And if you happen to be the one that's drained down to your last HP and clinging on for dear life, every single roll becomes a nail-biting affair. Will you be able to roll enough Hearts to safely recover? Or will the player in Tokyo roll that final Claw that's going to punt you from the game? Ah!


One reason why King of Tokyo can be such a raucous event is that it has a fantastic game arc that steadily accelerates until you hit the climactic finish.

Everyone starts with 10 HP and zero special cards, meaning everyone starts on the same level. But from the very first attack, that level playing field is instantly disrupted—and it continues to jostle and quake with every single turn.

A single turn can cause a huge swing in standings. You can't predict what's going to happen next turn, let alone several turns from now. When it's your turn, you're trying to cause maximum mayhem; when it isn't your turn, you're still engaged because you're itching to see how the player's turn will unfold.

As everyone's HP drops, the unpredictability has that much more impact. The stakes increase and the tension stretches taut as the game reaches the point where players can die in a flash. And when it's down to the last two? Heartstopping.

To be clear, King of Tokyo is little more than mindless dice-rolling—but the weight of those dice rolls grow more important with every chuck, and that's what makes King of Tokyo exciting from start to finish.


I enjoy King of Tokyo for what it is: a lightweight dice chucker that's so simple you could play on autopilot if you really wanted to. Do I want to play it all the time? Not really. But when the situation is right, it's an absolute blast.

King of Tokyo fills a niche that's sorely lacking in high-quality options. What do you play when you're in the mood for a 15-to-30 minute game that's simple enough for kids and adults, exciting enough to inspire multiple stand-up-and-shout moments, mindless enough so you don't have to think, yet substantial enough to feel like you didn't just waste your time when it comes to an end?

For me, King of Tokyo is that game.

Be aware that King of Tokyo doesn't have that much variability from game to game, so you probably won't want to play it several times in a row. Monsters are purely cosmetic and offer no gameplay differences (unless you grab the Power Up! expansion that grants unique abilities to each monster).

The only real variation from game to game is the card market. You'll end up playing with different cards, but they aren't so impactful that they fundamentally change the experience. King of Tokyo is a dice chucker through and through.

Production Quality

Before I dive into the production, keep in mind that my version of King of Tokyo is the first edition from 2011. Starting in 2016, King of Tokyo has been produced as a second edition with a tweaked monster selection and some aesthetic changes.

The artwork is fine, but the theme is fantastic. King of Tokyo has near-universal appeal. Even if you aren't a fan of Godzilla, King Kong, etc., you still know what it means for monsters to brawl in a metropolis. It makes the game easy to learn and accessible. The artwork is forgettable, but it does evoke the theme pretty well.

The custom dice are amazing, chunky, and extremely tactile. The best thing about King of Tokyo's dice is that they're big. They're fun to handle and even more fun to roll, partly due to the satisfying clack that they make. The fact that they're completely custom with six unique faces is just icing on top.

The card quality is meh, but the graphic design is great. The card stock feels a tad thin and I'm not a fan of the glossy finish, so I worry about their durability in the long run. But the cards are clean and easy to read, with clear distinctions between cards marked "Discard" and "Keep." My only complaint is that I wish the text was larger.

The monster standees and HP trackers are nice. Big panels and thick cardboard make for a pleasant tactile experience. They definitely help lend a more substantial feel to King of Tokyo, masking the fact that it's just dice rolling.

The box insert is useful but could be better. Every component has its spot in the box, and that's great. But it's not tight or compact enough, so the pieces will come out if you travel with the box or store it vertically. There's also a lot of wasted space. I wish the overall box was smaller!

The Bottom Line

King of Tokyo

Approved Score Guide
  1. Really simple, easy to learn, for kids and adults
  2. Strong game arc that crescendos to a tense, climactic finish
  3. Plays fast and doesn't need much table space
  1. High luck factor
  2. No unique gameplay differences between the monsters
  3. Player elimination (but not a huge deal because the game isn't very long)
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