Richard Garfield’s dice game has returned from the depths stronger than ever.
How do you review a game like King of Tokyo at this point? A game that’s 10 years old, has seen a ton of success, and is not-so-arguably a modern classic? Hell, it’s a game I liked so much on its release that it’s in large part responsible for me getting back into the board game scene, which in hindsight I should probably be angry about but I’m going to move on before I have time to get introspective.
The point is that King of Tokyo is a juggernaut. If you’re reading a board game review in the current year there’s a really good chance that you already know what it is, how it works, and whether you like it. If you are unfamiliar there’s an excellent review by Nate Owens here. So instead of getting into the broad strokes and writing a primer on KoT as a franchise, I’m just going to focus on what King of Tokyo: Dark Edition does differently and why I think it’s the best version of KoT yet.
First and most obviously, the presentation. Dark Edition has gone with a color palette similar to that of Sin City of all things. Each piece of art is in black and white with a single piercing color highlighting the most important bits. It’s a striking style albeit one we’ve seen used in all sorts of media at this point, though rarely done this well. Every component in DE looks lovely, from the spot UV’d box cover that refuses to cover the art with a title, to the board, to the massive frosty-looking dice, to each individual card. Iello has always had particularly sharp production and this might just be their best work yet.
Mechanically DE is closer to a second edition than a prettied-up remake. The deck has seen an overhaul albeit not a dramatic one. A handful of cards were replaced and several others were adjusted with slight tweaks to effects and name changes. Some of the new cards have become favorites, particularly the high risk high reward Natural Selection, which offers a ton of power for a measly 2 energy but will also kill you if you ever lock in a 3. The curve has become sharper and punchier overall and the game is subtly improved as a result.
By far the biggest change is the Wickedness track and everything it entails. In previous editions of KoT rolling 1s and 2s could often be disappointing when 3s were just objectively better. DE makes every side on the die valuable by having players scoot markers up the Wickedness track by rolling those sides, with 1s moving faster than 2s, and 3s not affecting the track at all. When players reach thresholds on the track they get to select Wickedness perks and let me tell you, you will want these. A few are repeats of beloved cards, or at least similar, like getting an additional die, but most of them are new and exciting stuff. They are essentially an in-box replacement for the Power Up expansion’s evolutions, which while fun in their own right often slowed the game down as players went out of their way to roll hearts early and often in order to fish out the best cards for their monster. Now between keep cards and Wickedness tiles the monsters feel more customizable and powerful than ever before.
The ripple effect this has on the game as a whole is tremendous. Every roll moves the game forward one way or another, never stalling for a moment. Dead or disappointing turns are a thing of the past unless you intentionally take a long shot on multiple incomplete numeric sets. Monsters diverge in abilities immediately and players will find themselves going for completely different strategies, and unlike the previous edition’s evolutions everything is available to everyone, so players have to compete tooth and claw for every fancy doodad they want. It doesn’t just feel like King of Tokyo always has, it feels better. More focused. As if legally-distinct-from-Godzilla was wearing a weighted training rubber suit this entire time and waited a whole decade to finally take the thing off.
Let’s do an impromptu Q&A. Is this the best version of King of Tokyo? Yes, without question. Does it handle its player counts well? Yes, better than ever thanks to an excellent 2p variant that turns it into a straight up slugfest. Does it need expansions to feel complete like the previous game did? No, this is very much self-contained. Should you try it if you haven’t played King of Tokyo already? God yes, it’s a fantastic dice game that really deserves your time. But what if you already own and like the game? Now that’s the tricky bit.
I don’t like to make purchase recommendations. Telling people a game is worth playing is one thing; pretending to know someone’s financial situation is quite another. Unfortunately Dark Edition falls into a particularly weird spot as iello has stated that this is a limited time special thing that they’re doing. All they’ve said is that it’s one print run. How big is that run? Will they do it again when another anniversary strikes? We don’t know, and we won’t know, because that’s the entire point. It’s really difficult to weigh decisions when you’re afflicted with FOMO and don’t know how much time you actually have to think things over. I want to help, not just give a nebulous answer.
Here are some actual concrete ways to find out if this thing is for you:
– There’s a full Tabletop Simulator mod, give it a play or three.
– If you own vanilla KoT, find a photo of the wickedness tiles and proxy them.
– Make paste-ups for the cards in the deck that have seen changes.
– Request a demo copy from your friendly local game store.
I think King of Tokyo: Dark Edition is the best version of a fundamental hobby game. I just hope enough folks get to play it.