You have before you a strategic analysis of the game King of Tokyo. This game’s simplicity makes it appeal to a casual gamer (even young ones), but the decision-making can entertain even a hardcore probability-crunching, math nerd.
One of the coolest things about this game is that it was designed by Richard Garfield, who designed the collectible card game Magic the Gathering. In many ways, this game defined my childhood, taking me on quests for the perfect combination of cards to destroy my friends in our parent’s basements. But even as I have grown up, I have found myself drawn back into the Magic universe every once to play in tournaments or check out the latest sets, and that makes me realize what an incredible game Mr. Garfield designed so long ago.
But we’re here to talk about King of Tokyo, specifically the base game. Per my usual style, I will assume you already know the rules so I don’t have to spend time explaining them and I can get right to the strategy. Note that strategies change significantly in the expansions, so I will be covering them in separate analyses. Check out the video version immediately below or continue on for the text version.
I am going to go through each strategy very concisely at first and then follow it up with a more detailed analysis.
These are the three most viable strategies you can employ in a game of King of Tokyo:
- Aggressive – Try to kill all of your opponents.
- Passive – Roll only for victory points.
- Technology – Buy upgrades that will improve your efficiency.
In general, you will do better if you choose one of these strategies and commit to it rather than bouncing around between them, but it is possible for a hybrid strategy to work. Although committing is best, it’s common for a strategy switch near the end of the game to help put you over the top, either switching into rolling exclusively for attacks to finish off your opponents or exclusively for victory points to try to win the race to 20 victory points. Now I’ll go into each of these strategies in a little more depth.
Aggressive Strategy (Attack)
The goal of this strategy is to try to kill your opponents without worrying about victory points.
When you’re rolling the dice, you’ll want to go pretty much exclusively for attack rolls except when you need to heal or there is an awesome attack upgrade that will improve your efficiency in killing your opponents.
If you can manage, you want to begin your turn inside Tokyo, not for the bonus VP you get from it, but because you are now damaging all of your non-Tokyo opponents. So being inside Tokyo is the best way to do massive damage, but you will find that you will often land your death blow when you are outside Tokyo because whoever is inside couldn’t heal and they stayed in there just a bit too long.
In some ways, this strategy is best with fewer players, because more players mean more monsters to kill and more time for one of the monsters to get 20 victory points before you can kill them. But another way to look at it is, the more players there are in the game, the more damage is being thrown around, so this can definitely work in a larger game too. More importantly, the more players there are, the longer it is between chances for each player to heal because there are more player turns in between each of their turns, which means they will be easier to kill.
A key here is not to get distracted by unnecessary item purchases, getting energy, or rolling for victory points. You should be almost completely focused on ATTACKING. The only time you should take a break from attacking is to heal up or get enough energy for an attack-boosting upgrade.
Passive Strategy (Victory Points)
Here you just roll for all victory points and don’t worry about doing damage to your opponents.
In 2, 3, and 5 player games, it’s best to be in Tokyo for this strategy since you get 2 points before even rolling anything, which is 10% of what you need to win the game. Otherwise it’s too deadly to try to say in there because the player ratios will make it too deadly, causing you to spend precious rolls on healing instead of VP once you leave. When you have the full force of 3-4 people attacking you from outside Tokyo, you probably won’t last a whole round to get your extra 2 victory points, and even if you do, you’ll spend a few turns healing up instead of going for VP dice combos. So for this strategy in games like these, if you find yourself inside Tokyo, just get out as soon as you are attacked… but I’ll talk more about differences in player numbers later.
For this strategy, ignore attacking completely with the exception of dealing a death blow to someone who stayed in Tokyo one turn too long expecting you to keep up your victory point focus. Knocking someone out of the game is almost always the right decision unless they are not challenging you for the most VP because then it’s just a waste of rolls as you might as well keep working on gathering victory points.
Technology (Buying Cards)
Here you go for energy points and buy sweet gear for your monster.
You probably won’t win the game by sticking to this for the entire game because your opponents will focus on either attacking or victory points and you won’t be able to keep up with them, however you can do well to use this in the early game. This is, however, the most fun strategy to play because some of the cards you can get really let you mess with your opponents or pull off some really good combos.
If you go for this strategy, initially, you will roll exclusively for energy. Then you buy some awesome upgrades and slowly change your strategy to either aggressive or passive based on those items’ abilities. This allows you to be more flexible as you adapt to the current game state during the mid-late game based on opponent strategies and the upgrades you acquire. You won’t want to wait too long before committing to one of the other strategies though because if you do, you’ll be so far behind your competitors that even your decked out monster won’t be able to catch up in time.
Number of Players
The number of players in the game GREATLY modifies the strategies you should be using. Here is a table of the number of players and how deadly or not-so-deadly, it is to hang out in Tokyo based on the players. The darker the red, the hotter it is in Tokyo and the less appealing it is to try to last a whole turn in it.
In a 2-player game, you might as well stay in Tokyo as long as you can to keep grabbing those free victory points. You’ll want to be more aggressive outside of Tokyo to get your opponent to yield it to you because it’s often the player who can stay in the longest in a 2-player game that will win.
In a 3-player game, you have 1 monster against 2 monsters, which isn’t great for someone in Tokyo, but is often worth it to get an extra 2 points if they can last until their next turn. It’s usually not too hard to stand up to two attacks in a row and should be worth it to get 2 victory points.
When you go up to a 4-player game, you now have 3 players attacking the one player in Tokyo. If you last the whole round in Tokyo with 3 players attacking you, your life will be hanging on by a thread when you are next able to escape and you’ll have to spend a few turns healing, so this is not a good player ratio to try to stay in Tokyo.
In a 5-player game, the ratio improves for the player in Tokyo because it’s now 2 on 3. You might as well stay in Tokyo as long as you can because even outside of Tokyo, you’ll still have two players attacking you.
With 6-players, the ratio isn’t too bad in 4 on 2, but you still have FOUR PLAYERS attacking you when you’re in Tokyo, so it will be hard to tough it out until your next turn. You usually just want to focus on a more passive strategy from outside Tokyo so you can stay alive.
Just keep in mind with all of these, that these ratios change as monsters perish, so if you were playing a 4-player game and wanting to stay away from Tokyo, as soon as a monster dies, it becomes a 3-player game and much more lucrative to hang out in Tokyo.
When you roll a King of Tokyo die enough times, the probabilities will all even out so that each side will appear 16.67% of the time. The problem is, a game of King of Tokyo is so short that you don’t have time to wait for the probabilities to even out, which makes it hard to plan your strategy.
If you have a fear of math, you should probably skip this section. Otherwise, take a look at these tables.
It’s a kind of cheat sheet for the main dice-rolling probabilities you will need in this game. There are actually 2 different tables depending on your dice-rolling intentions. For both, you can look on the top to find the number of dice you’re rolling and then you can look along the left to find how many of one type you hope to roll. If the probabilities look low to you, keep in mind that this is for rolling a particular face, like the attack, not for just rolling “3 of any one kind”, for example. This is a very important distinction when you are interpreting these tables.
These probabilities were created using the Binomial Distribution, which is not a trivial concept, so to avoid spending time teaching a statistics class on this subject, just trust that they are correct or send me a message on some kind of social media or my blog and we can have a fun stats discussion. Download these tables right here in Excel format to mess around with them:
King of Tokyo Probability Tables
Of course you probably don’t want to bring this cheat sheet to a game night or you will be mocked, hated, and targeted throughout the game, so it’s more of a pre-game-night refresher of how likely the rolls will be that you may encounter.
Be very careful with your life. Try not to go below 6 life when you’re in Tokyo because it’s very hard to get that life back by getting hearts, and you’re usually not being very productive in attacking or getting victory points if you’re always worried about dying.
If you are in Tokyo and you won’t easily make it to your next turn without getting close to dying, get out ASAP because if you stay and then a couple of other monsters do damage to you forcing you out before your next turn anyway, you just took extra damage from those monsters unnecessarily.
A formula for whether to leave Tokyo that I have used successfully is:
3 * (turns left before your turn, including your turn) > (your current life)
If you get attacked and this formula is false, get out now. So basically, assume you will take 3 damage per turn. Of course there are other factors too like you know one of the other monsters is about to die and will do anything to not attack you to avoid going into Tokyo or someone is clearly going for a passive strategy and likely won’t attack you on purpose, you can assume you will only take 1 attack from them while deciding whether to stay in Tokyo. Of course this is just an estimate so you can feel free to trust your gut too!
These strategies are often starting points and will need to be modified or abandoned in the mid or late game depending on your opportunities. The strategies and tactics you use also greatly depend on those that others use. If everyone is fairly aggressive, you can still beat them with the aggressive strategy by staying 100% committed to it while they occasionally get distracted by some non-attacking upgrade purchases or going for victory points. Basically, you can do it better than them if you are more committed.
Still, there is a ton of luck in this game as the dice rolls can defy your strategies. Although the decisions you should take are very clear over thousands of games, each single game of King of Tokyo involves so few rolls for each player, that even playing perfectly will only give you a small edge.