Let’s get one thing out of the way straight away. I love King Of Tokyo, in fact it’s probably the single game that convinced me to really get into board gaming. The sheer joy of the dice and the rampaging monsters smashing up each other and the city, all given extra spice by the power cards that throw in a splash more variety. It works beautifully as a competitive chaotic battle royal. King Of New York was similar but threw in the added (slight) complexity of destroying the city and encountering the army. It lacked the purity of its predecessor but was still a fun time. King Of Monster Island though, that’s an altogether different kaiju.
King Of The Monsters
So how what is this new beast? And how does it work? Well for starters, King Of Monster Island is a co-op game for 2-5 players and this time you’re all working together to battle a single huge boss monster that is intent on opening a portal on an island for its own nefarious purposes. Straight out of the gate, you can see the production values of this new iteration. Not only is the island board bigger than Tokyo by a significant margin, but there is now a 3D volcano dice tower in the centre! It’s this tower that is the most spectacular aspect of Monster Island, but also epitomises one of it’s biggest problems: randomness. Before I go further on that, let me explain how the game works.
Each turn consists of two phases, the boss phase and the monster phase. In the boss phase, the boss first activates its ability, then you roll some of the new red dice into the volcano. These dice then randomly split across the different regions of the island and the boss moves accordingly. After this the boss’s minions (yes there are minions now, no they aren’t yellow!) are activated and then its dice are resolved.
It’s in this phase that the boss will damage player monsters and generate crystals that will help it to open the portal that is its ultimate objective. The boss may be the most powerful creature on the island, but it’s the minions who cause most trouble. Whether they are damaging player monsters or blocking the players’ attacks against the boss (if you attack, minions in the boss’ region take damage first), these little creatures provide the biggest challenge. They shield, they fight, they create crystals and the Cannon minions shoot right across the map at players which can be a real problem for monsters already struggling with health.
Once the boss has finished its phase, we move on to the monster phase. Only one monster moves each turn and this can make life difficult for the players as they may be moving to one strategy, but the boss will get at least one more go before they can do anything. As with other “King Of…” games, the player rolls their dice (and these big shiny dice look and feel as good as ever), re rolling up to three times in order to get the results they want. These can range from Smash through to Support and include Fame and Energy.
Smash does exactly what you’d expect, Support gives you the chance to bring in a support ship which might give you additional energy or extra dice faces. Fame gives you power and Energy lets you purchase power cards. These cards might give your monster additional abilities, but they may also reveal events that could be positive or negative. Once these dice are set, you resolve these, with movement, attacks and other things and then have the opportunity to buy cards and play then moves on. If the boss succeeds in their objective or if one of the players is killed then the boss wins, if the boss is killed then the players win.
Of course, one of the best bits about these games is the monsters that you get. The boss monsters in particular are pretty special here, especially the biggest one, Lavalord. Of the player monsters, I do love Megamoth and Pagurah (huge cyborg moth and massive crab thing), while H.A.D.E.S is different enough to make playing it fun. That said, I’ll probably start rotating in Tokyo favourites like Gigasaur and Cyber Kitty before long.
That is one of the great advantages of these games though because each monster looks and acts the same before power cards are introduced, they are all interchangeable, so if you want Megamoth in New York or Gigasaur on Monster Island then you absolutely can. After three games and expansions though, the creatures in this box aren’t quite as iconic as Godzilla and King Kong.
Hail To The King?
So that’s the game, but is it any good? Well… this is tricky. On the one hand, the dice are so satisfying to roll and the essential mechanic hasn’t changed since King Of Tokyo. It’s also a lot of fun to work together against the boss monster and the volcano dice tower is marvellous. Unfortunately, in adding complexity there is even more randomness thrown into the mix and it too often feels like if you lost it was because of a run of negative event cards (this has happened several times) and some of the wins have felt a little bit easy just because the cards and dice ran your way.
In the quick fire competitive arena that is King Of Tokyo, this is fine as it’s so fast and someone is winning and it’s just easy to set up again. Even when my mother-in-law rolled six Smashes on Christmas Day and put half the family out of the game it was fun and simply joyous. At times though, if things aren’t rolling the right way, this game can feel like a bit of a slog, especially as you chip away at minions without so much as touching the main boss.
Is King Of Monster Island worth buying? If you have King Of Tokyo and are looking for something similar but maybe with a bit more complexity and can deal with the randomness then yes, buy it and enjoy it. Preferably with someone who is into the theme or the gameplay already. On the other hand, if you want the frantic dice rolling monster violence and don’t have Tokyo yet, buy that first. Or if you want the co-op problem solving, Pandemic is still wonderful and feels far more fair. Both of these games should be in your collection before Monster Island, but if you have them, why not treat yourself to something a little bit different?