Velocity in King of Tokyo

Look, normally I’d treat this as a thing in a whole Game Pile Article, but it doesn’t seem worth it to me, not at this point, especially when the game is so similar to one I’ve already written about. The game is King of Tokyo, but the new information this time is the mechanics presented in the Dark Edition of the game.

I have played more editions of King of Tokyo than I have of most board games. Setting aside long-hauler games like Magic: The Gathering where the rules are changed every time a new card gets designed, I have played at least four versions of King of Tokyo and own one. I like this game, and as a game, the version I own has some problems.

They’re not huge problems, mind you, they just are problems. Some cards you can buy introduce powers that are a little weird, and can create odd rules interactions that don’t work. The rules stated in the version I own are a little ambiguous about timing, things like when you enter Tokyo in the turn. Those are things that can be treated as refinements of what’s already there, ways to make the system work better, but which is just the kind of things the system has right there.

There are two big problems with King of Tokyo, and those problems are tied to one larger problem: A lack of velocity.

What’s Velocity And How’s It Missing?

In this case when I refer to velocity, I mean the way that a game has an inevitable pull towards the end of the game. Not every game has it in the same way, but it’s something you should consider – how does the game draw to a conclusion. It’s not as simple as ‘this should do this,’ or ‘you should be drawing towards a conclusion with n game units of time,’ or whatever – it’s all highly variable. Charades tends to end when people get sick of it, for example, which is a kind of velocity.

In the case of King of Tokyo, the game can hit a play loop that’s a bit of a struggle: Two or three players taking turns getting into Tokyo, hitting the table for one, scrabbling out at the next opportunity, then spending remaining turns healing up. The mechanic of gaining fame every turn inside Tokyo is meant to deal with this, and it is a clock that can somewhat keep things going, but when it’s a small number of players, with no clear advantage all jumping in and out of Tokyo every chance they get and dedicating resources to recovering, that is a clock that’s like, 20 turns per player to really get you there. What’s more, there’s even cards that can come up and sap people of their fame, which become high value as people approach 20 fame, meaning that suddenly game actions that extend the game become even more valuable.

Essentially, what players are trying for here is either to push for Fame (which is a good strategy in this case) and recovery, while minimising the time they spend in Tokyo. Players struggle to keep themselves alive, while also struggling to change the state of the game. In this case, you’re also presented with two different sets of rolls that feel like they can be a waste to even try for: 1, 1, 1 and 2, 2, 2.

In The Dark

In King of Tokyo Dark Edition, there’s some refinements of the general model; the timing is nice and clear of when things happen, but more than that there’s the introduction of the – I kid you not – wickedness system.

In this system, when you roll that triple one, or triple two, you gain points of a new stat called wickedness. You can only have 10 wickedness points, but at 3 and 6 and 10 wickedness points, you get a new special ability, from a open, public set of choices. These abilities are all good – they’re in many cases based on some of the best cards you could buy in the base game. Things like an extra round of rerolling each turn, an extra dice, bonus fame for some actions as well.

The threes are very easy to get to; the sixes are really strong, and look very attainable once you hit the three point. The tens are absolutely brainbreaking – things like ‘double all your non-damage dice rolls’ and ‘all your damage is doubled.’

What these do is mean that in the late-part of the game where people are jumping in and out of Tokyo and trying to find ways to survive or recover from their last attempt at victory, now your ‘dud’ rolls, the ones that you’re often trying to avoid, are pushing you relentlessly towards some kind of extremely decisive conclusion powers that increase the tension of the game.

It’s a great addition to a game I already liked, and it also serves as a great example of how you can add a feeling of growing tension to your game. It doesn’t have to be a turn count – it really can be giving players a version of an enrage timer.

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