Combat Con 2012 Brings the Fight to Las Vegas July 6-8

Sideburned Kyle Rowling poses with sword in headshot

Kyle Rowling: Dooku Body Double and General Grievous

This weekend Las Vegas will play host to the second annual Combat Con convention running from July 6-8 at the Tuscany Suites. Tickets are $80 for the three days or can be purchased individually for $55 on Saturday or $35 for Sunday only at the Combat Con website or onsite at the Tuscany Suites. The focus of the convention is Western Martial Arts (WMA), which includes fencing and other sword fighting, grappling, and wrestling. Combat Con blends Hollywood cinematic fighting with historical martial arts practiced since Roman times, plugging itself as the convention “Where History and Fantasy Meet”. Hollywood guests include martial artists and fight choreographers Anthony De Longis, Paradox Pollack, Robert Goodwin, and Luke LaFontaine and famous science fiction author Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), himself a devotee of Western Martial Arts, will be returning this year as well. One of the most popular and well-received events at last year’s Combat Con was the Star Wars Sword class taught by Kyle Rowling. Rowling will return this year and was a Jedi in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, in addition to serving as General Grievous for motion capture, and as Christopher Lee’s stunt double as the nefarious Count Dooku in both the second and third prequel films.

Combat Con was founded by Jared Kirby and John Lennox and while it is only in its second year, Kirby and Lennox are veterans at leading Western Martial Arts conferences. Combat Con is the successor to their ISMAC (International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention) show which ran on the East Coast for ten years. The first Combat Con had an attendance of roughly 500 and Kirby reports that numbers are up this year in both vendor booth sales and pre-registered attendees. For Kirby Las Vegas was a natural choice because of its destination status, worldwide renown, and ease for travelers. Attendeese will be flying in from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico with a contingent of European event guests and convention-goers as well.

Among the many activities on offer at Combat Con is the chance to learn from the best masters in the small community of Western martial artists. According to Kirby this is a large draw of Combat Con, the chance to train with “nearly 30 of the the best Western Martial Arts teachers.” Visitors can sign up for whip training class with Anthony De Longis, whom I recognized as the badass Blade from the live action Masters of the Universe. These sessions require an additional fee ($150 for Techniques of the Star Wars Sword from Kyle Rowling and $150 for Anthony De Longis’ Whip Master), but there are also dozens of seminars scheduled with evocative titles like “Everyday Items as Improvised Weapons”, “Fighting the Horde: One Against Many”, “Grappling in High Heels: Brutal Paschen”, and “Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy: Surviving a Cantina Fight”.

So What Are Western Martial Arts?

When I hear martial arts, I immediately think of dojos, karate, senseis, kung fu, black belts, and Bruce Lee. When I hear Western Martial Arts, I think of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bloodsport, Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, or even quite literally of Western dredge like the Jackie Chan-vehicle Shanghai Nights or the crossover action of the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. The Sherlock Holmes movies are not an entirely inaccurate association to make. Combat Con special guest Tony Wolf is an expert in the martial art of bartitsu seen in the recent Sherlock Holmes films, but originally developed over a century ago in London by Edward William Barton-Wright. Barton-Wright coined the portmanteau bart-itsu having lived in Japan for three years, as Wikipedia reveals. While bartitsu is a Western Martial Art, it is a more exotic one. Simply put, Western Martial Arts are the studies of the many different forms of interpersonal combat throughout Western history. Jared Kirby points out that Europeans training their sons in combat didn’t import martial artists from Japan, but rather built on existing traditions. WMA would also include jousting, wrestling, boxing, savate, grappling, and every other Western Hemisphere weapon in between whether polearm, axe, or shield, stretching from antiquity to present day. Modern firearms and their use do not seem to be included, nor any other forms of missile weapons ranging from slings to ballista, though archery is certainly a Western Martial Art. The focus seems to be on melee and close quarters combat. Even within a discipline such as classical fencing, attempts at putting a start and end date on the martial art to limit it to a set range of years is time wasted, according to Tom Rockwell. He posits that classical fencing “doesn’t have an end date any more than classical music does.”

The Origins of Combat Con and Growth in Western Martial Arts

Black and white headshot of Western Martial Artist Jared Kirby

Combat Con Co-Founder Jared Kirby

When I spoke with Jared Kirby he was taking a break from filming Kevin Keating: Vampire Hunter in New York City, where he is based. Besides training actors in martial arts, Kirby teaches combat at a martial arts academy and recently taught stage fighting for three plays in June. Reflecting on ISMAC after ten years of running it with John Lennox, Kirby thought forward to the next ten years and predicted that ISMAC wouldn’t have the same level of impact as it already had and started to rethink the conference. As he put it, he went through a number of “bad ideas” including mixing a music festival in the vein of Lollapalooza with Western Martial Arts. Instead he turned to the common background of most modern WMA practitioners: sci-fi, fantasy, and comics fandom. Whether they arrived at Western Martial Arts via Renaissance Faires, LARPing, or role-playing games, Kirby points to these activities as the entrance points for most professional teachers of WMA and also points to a shared – if subdued – love of comic books among WMA enthusiasts.

For Kirby a Renaissance Faire was the magical introduction to Western Martial Arts. Already a Dungeons & Dragons player, the Minnesota native attended a Renaissance Faire and discovered human chess, played with life-size pieces by actors who battle dramatically. He “thought it was amazing” and vowed to do it one day. He was 15. After graduating from high school, Kirby did eventually get cast for the human chess match at that Ren Faire and went on from his training to pursue it more professionally. Combat Con’s programming director Tim Ruzicki was always into stage combat and a friend of Kirby’s from his youth. When Ruzicki returned from a trip to Scotland, he brought a smallsword back for Kirby and taught him what he had learned abroad. The two had an informal group in Minneapolis, teaching others what they’d picked up, but the call to arms was strong for Kirby and he travelled to Scotland himself, studying under fencing master Paul MacDonald. While in Britain, he attended a workshop taught by Maestro Martinez on Spanish rapier. On the fence about whether to return to Minnesota, the hour and a half class changed Kirby’s life. He informed Martinez that he would be studying under him at his academy in New York. Sure enough, Kirby turned up at the maestro’s academy three months later and is still learning from Martinez, but Kirby also teaches combat there at the academy now himself.

Kirby points to the Victorian era as the start of the revival of interest in historical martial arts. He compares present-day interest in Western Martial Arts to interest in Eastern martial arts in the 1950s before Bruce Lee popularized millennia-old interest. Eastern martial arts were certainly being studied, but there wasn’t a karate or judo school in every town. “we kind of need our own Bruce Lee, which is ironic, because Bruce Lee actually studied fencing and told his protege Danny Inosanto ‘You can’t be a complete martial artist unless you’ve studied fencing.'” Combat Con was born out of this desire to spread WMA, “to create a bigger event that would expose more people to Western Martial Arts and show how many different ways it permeates in our culture, whether that’s films or games or fan-based fiction. All of these things involve some sort of violence.”

On his current project Kevin Keating: Vampire Hunter, Kirby is designing the way the hero interacts with the vampires. It’s intriguing for him because the vampire hunter doesn’t kill his prey (or other humans for that matter). He does fight with stakes though, with techniques Kirby has lifted from the combat manual Flower of Battle, published in 1409 by Italian master Fiore dei Liberi’s, or Flos Duellatorum as it was known at the time. One of Kirby’s own favorite on-screen sword fights is the cliffside battle between Wesley and Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, not for its swordplay or authenticity, but rather because of how it advances the plot and story of The Princess Bride by revealing more to the audience about each character than they knew at the start of the battle.

When asked about a possible surge in interest in Western Martial Arts from the upcoming Olympics and its broadcast of fencing events, Kirby corrected my assumption and gave the analogy that “kendo is as close to katana as Olympic fencing is to real fencing.” He explained that even the term of fencing came from the shared root of offense and defense; literally to fence is to practice the art of self-defense. Modern sport fencing focuses only on offense, but as Kirby says “in what we do, if you get hit while you’re hitting the other guy, we call that ‘two dead idiots’.”

While he will be busy behind-the-scenes managing and running Combat Con, Kirby will also be co-teaching “Rapier and Smallsword for the Screen” with Luke LaFontaine as well as co-teaching on the dusack, which is a training tool for messer combat. As into medieval weapons as I am, Kirby had to explain that the messer, German for knife, “was the most common sidearm in the Germanic areas” from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Particularly exciting though, Kirby will be co-demonstrating the instructional possibilities of the shock knife, a “training tool” that features an electrical current through the knife’s edge with four settings ranging from Low to “Insane”. According to Kirby, for one and a half seconds, you actually feel like you’ve been cut by the blade. Of course, I think I need to verify this for myself at Combat Con, but sadly shock knives are restricted, besides being expensive. No shock knife LARPing… yet.

Combat Con and Its Vendors

When not attending a workshop or seminar, attendees can browse a selection of weapons, clothing, and other props on offer from Combat Con’s vendors. Clothing companies include Dark Fire Clothing with a range of T-shirts, Bad Attitude Boutique offering corsetry, and Enchanted Eras also offering corsetry, as well as Renaissance and Victorian garb. LARPing or re-enactment garb can be accentuated with jewelry from Gryphon Song Gems or Obsidian Moon Creations who will also be selling in the Vendors’ Hall. Alexandra Wolfe, proprietor of Dark Fire Clothing, attended last year and will be selling new shirt designs as well as chainmail jewelry this year. Her shirts are mostly targeted towards gamers and WMA enthusiasts. Wolfe is no stranger to sword combat herself and enjoyed talking shop with other fighters at last year’s Combat Con, though she did find sales to be slow. Having fought for over half her life, Wolfe describes herself as a fencer, but she also likes to fight “heavy” in full armor with rattan weapons just as much and enjoys a variety of weapons.

Of course, at a convention called Combat Con though, the focus is on weapons and there will be plenty of them there, along with their makers.

David Baker’s Hollywood Combat Center

David Baker admires long sword that he forged in workshop

Sword Maker and Prop Man David Baker

David Baker from the Hollywood Combat Center will be bringing aluminum training swords, rapiers, prop swords, and small swords to Combat Con, ranging in price from $250-$500, but arguably Baker’s claim to fame at Combat Con is his three-season run on Deadliest Warrior aired on SpikeTV. All of Baker’s blades are custom-made, designed either by himself or based off a historical design. Some of his customers are historical re-enactors and Baker attempts to match the weapon created for the re-enactor with his or her real life counterpart’s weapon.

Speaking about last year’s inaugural Combat Con, Baker said that it was a lot of fun and that the theatrical “crowd” got very involved with the historical community, leading to an exchange of information. Baker is excited by the merging of the theatrical community, the entertainment industry, Renfaire fans, and classical martial artists that goes on at Combat Con. The result, in his words, is that these related groups “come together to promote the Western Martial Art as an actual martial art as opposed to what it’s been for years with guys trying to do swashbuckling.” Not that swashbuckling doesn’t have its place, but Baker and the professionals of Combat Con would like to see more reality in depictions of Western combat, which has gradually been emerging in the last few decades.

The hilts and blades of a sword and a dagger custom-made by David Baker

Examples of Baker’s Workmanship

Baker started out in Hollywood as an actor, moving behind the camera into the production-side of films after a decade pursuing roles on-screen. He now describes his primary business as being a “prop-builder and/or prop man in the entertainment industry, but I specialize in historical weapons, bladed weapons primarily. So I study them and when I’m making something, I’m making it to be used, not just for looks.” Anything else that looks good, but doesn’t have the right heft or function is a “wall hanger” in Baker’s opinion.

Baker doesn’t know of any comparable convention to Combat Con. Any similar gathering of Western martial artists usually focuses on the skill set and not on the performance aspects of the combat. “By combining the theatrical and/or entertainment industry aspects,” Combat Con “opens Western martial arts up to a much larger audience who otherwise might not see good technique,” says Baker. Baker is “always frustrated” when he sees bad sword fighting in movies, “because it just promotes more bad sword fighting and/or more myths about how ‘Oh broadswords weigh a ton!’ or ‘Oh, you can take a small sword and cut a rope with it.’ Things like that.”

Steel sword showing pommel and intricate flowing hilt designed by David Baker

Custom-Made by David Baker

One panel that Baker will be part of this year is “The Reality of Reality TV”, covering what really goes on behind the scenes on reality TV productions. He will also naturally be on a panel about the third season of Deadliest Warrior. Baker’s favorite depictions of on-screen sword fights include Tyrone Power inThe Mark of Zorro (1954) as well as Scaramouche with Stewart Granger (1952). He also enjoys the French film Le Bossu (1997) with Vincent Perez, calling the sword-fighting in it “wonderful” and “a lot of fun.”

Rockwell Classical Fencing Equipment

Two smallsword hilts for classical fencing from Rockwell Classical Fencing

Rockwell Smallsword Hilts

Tom Rockwell heads Rockwell Classical Fencing Equipment, based out of Santa Fe. His swords are for classical fencing, being essentially the same as modern sport fencing weapons except for the grips and the lack of electricity built into the blades. Rockwell calls it “Olympic fencing pre-electricity”. One thing that sets Rockwell’s blades apart is that they use Italian grips instead of the more commonplace French grip. For Rockwell, Combat Con is a chance to meet with customers face to face whom he has only dealt with via email, as well as a chance to make both new friends and customers in the small community of classical fencers. Rockwell explains that his customer base is “worldwide, but it’s a really shallow pond.”

One new category of product that Rockwell will be bringing are castings of smallswords. Rockwell is personally a fan of the saber, citing the heavy saber duel between Harvey Keitel’s character and Keith Carradine’s in the cellar in the middle of The Duellists as his favorite on-screen duel. Jared Kirby on the other hand favors the smallsword and prefers the opening fight in The Duellists, during which smallswords are used. Rockwell will be bringing Italian epees and for the first time will be offering true ricasso blades, in addition to the new smallswords.

Unsharpened edge of a ricasso weapon from Rockwell Classical Fencing

Rockwell True Ricasso Blade

Some of Rockwell’s customers are fans of steampunk or steampunkers as he refers to them, but he points to Tom Badillo and Dave Charles as classical fencers first and steampunkers secondarily. Badillo uses the walking sticks that Rockwell manufactures in his classes on Victorian Cane and 19th Century Defense Against Thugs. Famous in the steampunk community, Badillo taught and demonstrated at last year’s Combat Con and sponsored the singlestick tournament. In the world of LARPing, battle gaming, and the SCA a “stick jock” fights with a foam boffer or rattan sword and prefers combat to role-playing, but within the world of WMA, singlestick isn’t a reference to a single sword, but rather a wooden cudgel and a very historic branch of combat according to the Wikipedia entry on singlestick.

And Others: Macdonald Armouries

I did not speak to Paul Macdonald, but I definitely heard a lot about him from those I reached. Another maker of weapons, Macdonald runs Macdonald Armouries in Scotland. Tom Rockwell knows him first and foremost as a fencing master, followed by his design of weapons. Jared Kirby studied under MacDonald and speaks highly of his work in forging weapons and posseses a few MacDonald-crafted blades. Another MacDonald production was a gem-encrusted replica of the Six-Fingered Man’s sword from The Princess Bride for a fan of the film. One anecdote that Rockwell shared involved the egos that can be involved in the small world of swordplay, when I asked whether rivalries existed and if I might possibly goad sword masters into fencing one another. He related how an online exchange in the pre-Facebook era resulted in MacDonald and Rockwell’s own fencing master, John Sullins, meeting in San Francisco to settle the online dispute and crossing blades with one another.

Other Combat Con Offerings

Bald wasteland wanderer and woman on cover of Maxwell Alexander Drake's DownfallBesides best-selling author Neal Stephenson, Las Vegas’s own Maxwell Alexander Drake will be attending. Like Stephenson, Drake attended last year and sat on a panel about writing fight scenes. As an exhibitor Drake must man his booth most of the time though he did enjoy the Highlander Tournament at the 2011 Combat Con. Drake will be previewing his comic collaboration with Jason Engle, Downfall and found the relatively small size of Combat Con to be intimate, allowing for increased fan access to professionals.

On Saturday, July 7 there will also be a Time Traveller’s Ball from 9:30 PM to midnight, featuring a costume contest. On Friday night there will be a Meet and Mingle from 7:00 to 10:30 PM. Besides those social events and all the classes, panels, and demonstrations, there will also be a number of tournaments. Registration includes admission into the Unarmored Longsword Tournament, the Armored Tournament, the Rapier and Smallsword Tournament, the Stage Combat Tournament, and the Costume Contest. There will also be actual gaming of the wargaming or role-playing variety as well. Additionally, Combat Con sent out an email reminder that a weapon-check is available and SHOULD be used because the Tuscany Suites forbids carrying weapons or wearing masks on or near the casino floor, just the sort of exciting warning that hints at how serious the attending fans will be.

Stay Tuned for More Combat Con 2012 Coverage

Having never heard of Combat Con until a few weeks ago, I was somewhat skeptical about it until I spoke to Kirby, Baker, and Rockwell and discovered their wealth of knowledge and expertise. Now I can’t wait to see how they fight in person and possibly learn a thing or two to up my game in Dagorhir or NERO LARP, both of which I have been getting into in the last two months. It is thrilling to be out of my depth and exposed to new knowledge and I hope to pass along as much as I can in the coming week or two.

Las Vegas Board Games Group Meetup – June 20, 2012

Havana

Cover art for Havana from 999 Games and game components displayedI started the evening off with Havana from 999 Games. The game’s owner, Dan, had won the game in a previous Las Vegas Board Games Meetup raffle and had yet to play it. Usually I hate figuring out a new game with other beginners, but Havana proved to be fairly easy to pick up. The artwork on the cards has great visual appeal, even if I don’t care for the imperialistic era the game tries to represent. I believe we were competing plantation owners trying to develop our properties, hiring Workers and finding Building Materials to do so, paying for our efforts occasionally with Pesos. These buildings are worth varying amounts of victory points and in a three player game, the first to 20 would be the winner.

I built a cheap building initially with a cost of two Pesos and then the game was on. Turn order depends on the two cards you are playing. Each card has a number from 0 to 9 with some numbers repeating. Cards are always read as the lowest two-digit combination so 9 and 2 become 29 with 0 and 8 becoming 08. The lowest two-digit number plays first, followed by the second lowest, and so on. However the higher-numbered cards tend to have potentially greater benefits. I was fond of Grandma who is a 9. She gave me access to half of the Rubble and half of the Building Materials. The problem is that a player playing a lower number may have reduced the available materials. Each turn you select a new card in secret to play which forces one of your old cards to retire. This also means you always know 50% of what your opponents will be doing next turn or even more if you pay attention to which cards they have already retired. One of the cards does allow you to bring cards back into your hand as well. There are also offensive actions in the form of Tax Collectors and Materials Thieves. These can deprive your opponents of their resources, but each resource-stealer has a counter card that can be played to block it. These blocking cards are also number 2’s, helping to enable a better place in the turn order.

Playing cards and tokens on checkered table during Havana game play at the Juke Joint in Las Vegas

My Cards Make 28, But Opponent has 25: He Goes First

Our game turned out to be a very close one, heating up at the end when I seized victory by trying to have a low combined number and was able to get the building I needed to ensure my victory. Other than the secret choice of which card you will be bringing out each turn, Havana has no secrets. There are no game-changing cards revealed at the end of the game and you can easily tabulate your opponents’ victory point totals while you’re playing. The final building I built was worth 4 victory points bringing me from 16 to 20. One opponent was already at 19 and the second had been tied at 16 with me. 999 Games has a fast-paced, enjoyable game in Havana and I would love to play it again and possibly use some of the four or five cards I never even played. Having even more players would also add to the strategic aspect of the game without overburdening it, I think.

The Golden City

Up next was The Golden City from Kosmos, yet another game involving colonizing and trade routes. For a four player game we had 16 outpost or settlement markers and the game would end as soon as someone built all 16. Actually getting to the valuable center of the mysterious Golden City is the most rewarding with a large number of Letters of Business awarded. This also requires a special key, obtained by building an outpost on a key-rewarding point on the map of the island. Game play is based on little geographic cards that are either Ports or one of four region types, Desert, Forests, Mountains, or Plains. Each round players select a pair of cards dealt face up to bid on. You can pay an additional coin to displace someone else’s bid to get the preferred cards you want. If you want to retake the same pair of cards you were just kicked off, it would cost a further additional coin. The most common settlement areas on the map reward players with either more coins or more territory cards to use.

Perhaps two thirds of the way through the game I realized how perilous my position on the map was. I was expanding out instead of in to the Golden City and my efforts to block others’ routes really hadn’t paid off. Luckily I was able to secure a valuable post in the Golden City several turns after the others had all done so already. I was the only player to build on a settlement square that grants access to a special deck of cards. The card I chose rewarded me at the end of the game for each of my card-producing outposts, garnering me 8 points, if I recall correctly. Placing my 16th settlement ended the game and I was a bit surprised by how close it was. The winner had 56, second had 52, I had 50, and last place had 35.

The Golden City map featuring 4 types of terrain with playing settlements on it

My Red Outposts are Spread Out and Shallow. Black in the Lead.

One aspect of The Golden City that I never pursued was that each turn there is a bonus map area that is rewarded for development. The other players either developed according to the bonus area or seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. While I did manage a few Letters of Business for happening to have an outpost in the designated area one or two turns, I mostly ignored it. On the other hand, the game also has a random preferred commodity each turn such as Liquor or Fruit, rewarding 2 trading vouchers for having it, with 2 more for having the most of the commodity. These I did attempt to collect, but possibly to my detriment because I was not expanding into the heart of the Golden City, denying myself the points from those territories as well as not blocking my opponents’ access.

Revolution

Cover art for board game from Steve Jackson Games Revolution showing gold coin, blackmail envelope, and red fist for ForceI found myself playing Revolution from Steve Jackson Games with the Meetup’s founder Stephan Brissaud aka Frenchy and two fierce opponents from previous Vegas Board Game Meetups. Initially I thought I understood what I was dealing with in Revolution. Each turn you bid in secret on securing the support of allies in the Revolution with a choice of 12 on a little bidding board. The boards are revealed and the winner for each partisan is determined by the highest bid of either Force, Blackmail, or Gold, with some personalities uninfluenced by a particular currency of Revolution. The Captain (of the Garrison), for example, cannot be won over with Force. Instead he must be Blackmailed or bought with Gold. Simple enough, right?

Bidding board for board game Revolution showing rules of game and 12 possible choices

The Bidding Rules for Revolution and 12 Choices

Midway through the game I realized that both I and Frenchy were vastly outclassed and we both knew it. In Revolution it is entirely possible to have wasted your bribes or payments each turn if a superior bid has been entered against you. I know both Frenchy and I had at least one round each where our efforts were entirely wasted. In focusing on a pattern of picking the Rogue who generates Blackmail in order to Blackmail the Captain who generates Force to then Force the Rogue to my side, I had not amassed much Support, which is the measurement of victory in the game. I tried to switch tactics to capture more Support with not much success as the final scores show. I had 47 Support and Frenchy had 58. In second place David had 185 Support and Zach, the former Munchkin World Champion, had 214.

Playing board for Steve Jackson Games board game Revolution showing that red is in last place

Red Has Been Almost Wiped Off the Revolution Board

Despite the overwhelming defeat, I would like to play Revolution again. What really killed me was not paying attention to my eroding playing pieces on the board. When the game ends, after a certain amount of rounds, extra Support is awarded to whomever has the majority of pieces in each of the board’s locations such as the Tavern or Garrison. On the other hand, Revolution is not forgiving and has no recovery mechanic. I don’t see where I could have recovered after the first few rounds and botching something on a turn and getting nothing can be very devastating. Force, Blackmail, and Gold go away each round. If you happened to be outbid on everything, you still gain 5 Gold at the end of the turn for your next bid, but compared to a Force or Blackmail, Gold is useless. The lesson is that Revolution indeed does have a very slippery slope.

Would I play it again? Definitely. The next go round though I would pay a lot more attention to trying to win from the start of the game and try to read my opponents’ bidding style to get an indication of what sort of bid they might make each turn. An integral part of the game is also announcing at the end of the turn, before the next round of bidding, what sort of currency/bribes you have for that turn. I paid only slight attention to my opponents’ capabilities during this game, but I will be sure to take my opponents’ coercion methods further into account in the future.

King of Tokyo

Kaiju monsters battle over metropolitan Tokyo on the cover of King of TokyoAs the head of Iello USA, Frenchy is the distributor for Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo. Garfield may be familiar as the creator of Magic: The Gathering. King of Tokyo seems simplistic by comparison, perhaps deceptively so. You have your kaiju or monster stand-up playing piece and you roll dice, trying to either be the last surviving monster or to try to achieve 20 Victory Points, with the winner being the King of Tokyo. The monster cards have dials to keep track of those victory points. Each of the King of Tokyo dice has an Attack emblem, a Lightning symbol, a Life, and the numbers 1-3 on its faces. Players can keep dice results they like after rolling the 6 dice and get up to two re-rolls. One way to get Victory Points is to enter Tokyo, but another is by having multiples of at least three of the same value on the dice, with a 3-3-3 worth 3 points and a 3-3-3-3 worth 4 points, I believe.

One of the things I liked about King of Tokyo was the slight amount of variety in the actions you could pursue. I didn’t focus on making sets of numbers to gain victory points for example. Instead I kept Life results to go up in hit points, kept Attacks to damage my opponents, and most importantly tried to get Lightning/Energy for the coolest part of King of Tokyo: the special attacks deck. There are three random cards drawn from the deck that represent special Kaiju attacks that players can buy, with a new one being dealt to replace any card purchased. The card art is excellent and it is remarkable that players can play an entire game without ever purchasing a card to use and therefore might never see more of the beautiful card art.

Kaiju monsters from Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo game battling over its game board, giant ape versus robot with mecha-dragon in foreground

Tokyo and Tokyo Bay Occupied! My Mecha-Dragon is in Foreground

In the end my pseudo-strategy didn’t pay off. I was eliminated after a few other monsters. This is a refreshing aspect of King of Tokyo; in every other modern board game I have played in the last few months there are no eliminations. Every player is involved until the end of these other games, however painfully as Revolution showed earlier. Just like Magic: TG or Monopoly, in KoT once you are killed you are out of the game entirely. As anti-social as this might be, the game also has a powerful socializing influence. When a player’s monster enters Tokyo the game changes to an us vs. them game with those on the physical board doing damage to every monster on the outside with their attacks and vice versa. While there isn’t any collaboration possible with this mechanic, I did find myself cheering my allies’ attacks on the monsters inside Tokyo when they were able to hit. The two players on Tokyo and Tokyo Bay must likewise feel ganged up on and a sense of comraderie. In smaller games though, the second location of Tokyo Bay is not used.

More than the other games of the evening, King of Tokyo has a real beer-and-pretzels game feel to it. I couldn’t see playing it for hours on end, but it functioned well to cap off an enjoyable evening and would be great in between other board games or during an RPG break for some quick carnage.