A Review of Tokyo Sidekick

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Tokyo Sidekick was on Kickstarter back in September 2020, promised delivery in March 2021 and delivered to me just about a week ago (mid March, 2022). It’s a year late. Let’s hope it was worth the wait. We were definitely looking forward to this: Tokyo Sidekick made the #2 position on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022!

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I went full-in on the Kickstarter, getting the deluxe edition of the game with slipcover, Kickstarter extras, decorative little pin, and the acrylic standee kit (40 characters from the game). It’s actually a lot of stuff.

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What is Tokyo Sidekick?  Take a look at the back of the box (above): Tokyo Sidekick is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, where each player plays a team consisting of a Superhero and Sidekick.  It’s a boss-battling game with deck-building, character upgrades, and some elements of Pandemic.  To my knowledge, this is a not an established Intellectual Property: I believe this is just a home-grown bunch of heroes created just for this game.  As you can see from the box, it embraces an anime vibe.

Acrylic Standees

I mean, come on, the first thing I did was assemble the standees.  You know you would too. So, that’s where I’ll start.

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I was really on the fence on whether or not I should get the Acrylic Standees for for Tokyo Sidekick: the game was already a little more expensive than I expected (Japanime Games had to re-launch their Kickstarter a second time because I believe the original game prices chased a lot of people away). In the end, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the Acrylic Standees. SPOILER ALERT: I absolutely loved them!

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This kit essentially replaces all the cardboard standees from the original game with clear Acrylic Standees.

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The packaging is a little weird: there are three trays on top of each other, haphazardly floating around. When I first got this, a few of the bases actually fell out of the box before I even opened it! If I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have lost some of the bases! Be careful!

I’m not going to mince words: getting these Acrylic Standees out of the plastic packaging was a HUGE pain. Some of them popped right out, some of them had to be coaxed, and a bunch of them I felt like I would break as I tried bend the plastic.

I might encourage you to take pictures of the trays after you take them out, because you will NEVER fit them back in.

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… but luckily, you won’t need to put them in the plastic trays. The game box (mine, which was I believe the deluxe version) has a storage solution for all those. There’s some pre-cut foam with space for the standees. See below.

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Space for the acrylic standees in the box.

You can put two standees per slot:

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In general, putting the standees together went okay, but one of the bases actually broke! See below! I broke a blue base!

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I was a little surprised by this! I have sent an email to Japanime games (go to their website: www.japanimegames.com and go to the contact area if you have this problem). What I ended up doing, in the meantime, was taping it.

It seems good enough for now, but I am curious if anyone else will have this problem. I mean it only happened once out of forty standees, so that’s not too bad? (Note: It only took a bout a week to get a new blue stand (after I sent them a picture): Thanks Japanime Games!)

Overall, these standees are pretty fantastic.

In general, the bases of the standees correspond to the outer rims of the cards: White for Villains, Black for SuperVillains and Gold for Menaces (but the Menace bases for those are black, I am guessing so you don’t confuse them with heroes?). See below.

Some of the characters will end up being Villains AND Heroes (Cool Guy ends up being a SuperHero OR SuperVillain, and Jinx Cat is either a Sidekick or a Villain), so they end up with the Villain bases (black and white, respectively).  I wasted at least 15 minutes of my life trying to figure out why I didn’t have enough SuperHero and Sidekick bases … it’s because two of the characters can also be Bad Guys!  Caveat Emptor!  See below.

In the end, this is probably my favorite expansion I have ever gotten for a game! I loved the silliness and looks of the Foil Cards for Sentinels of The Multiverse: Definitive Edition, but the Acrylic Standees looks really make the game stand out on the table: see below.

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In the end, I am so glad I got the Acrylic Standees! They are totally worth it! They pop on the table and work even better than miniatures (at least in this context, where the “color and shine” of Superheroes needs to stand out).

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Recommendation: Absolutely get the Acrylic Standees! Just be aware that they can difficult to pull out of the packaging, and they may break (during assembly) if you aren’t really careful!

Unboxing

The components are pretty first rate for this.  As you open the box, you get a comic book AND a rulebook.  We’ll discuss those further below.

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The game box is bigger than it looks: see the Coke can (below) for scale. This is a big box. (Not as big as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from last week, but still pretty big).

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The board itself s pretty huge: there are two sides!  One for a 1-Player/2-Player game and the opposite side for a 3-Player/4-Player game.

Underneath the main boards are some player boards:

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Player boards: each player gets one.

Below the boards and rulebooks are everything else: a lot of cards and punchouts.

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Note: the punchouts that have already been punched out for you!

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The cardboard standees: already punched out for you!

The rest of the content of the game is cards. 

The art is quite good and the cards looks quite good.

In general, I was very happy with the quality and look of the game.

Comic Book

The game comes with an actual comic book that gives a sense of the universe you are playing in:

The art is great and it’s just so neat that this is in here! It really gives the game more thematic gravitas since the superhero universe is home-grown.

Rulebook

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This is a really, really good rulebook. It does just about everything right.

The first page starts with a quick intro:

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The next page has great pictures with annotated count and list of components (Deep Space D6: Armada could have really used a page like this to help correlate components). I really appreciate these pictures because of the kinesthetic experience of seeing and touching the components while associating them with their names.

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Immediately after this annotated pictures of components is the set-up across two pages: it’s so important that (1) it has a picture of set-up and (2) the instructions for the set-up and still visible while the picture is visible! This is great.

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Following the set-up is an immediate description of the Sidekicks and Superheroes and which ones fit together (see below). I think this is important because it avoids “bad combos” (each player chooses one Sidekick and Superhero to play) right up front, while still having a quick thematic discussion.

The next pages talk immediately how to win and how to lose and a discussion of the rules.

These (above) are VERY GOOD discussion of rules! Any fact that is “tangential but still important” appears in red, to let you know this is an “exceptional” piece of information, but doesn’t require quite as much processing from the read just yet (it”ll be more important when you are looking up exceptions).

The next few pages then discuss combat with some VERY GOOD examples:

Then finally, after playing actions, it discusses the end phase:

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The rest of the rulebook has a FAQ for all characters … since this is a variable player power game, where each player has very different powers, it is really nice to have someplace to look up the special rules for each character!

And that’s it for the rules! The rest of the rulebook is thematic dicussion: each of the characters has a lot of “flavor text” and flavor stuff:

You’ll notice we spent a lot of time on this rulebook!  We did because it was so good!  This is one of the better rulebooks I have read in a while.  And like all good rulebooks, it ends on the back cover with a quick reference guide.

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Set-Up

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The game, with that great rulebook, was really easy to set-up!  See above.

The one thing that’s important for set-up is that you might actually need all your standees (whether they are cardboard or Acrylic) because you will be randomly drawing a Bad Guy and you could need any of the standees.  So, you’ll notice Tokyo Sidekick takes up my entire table: The left side has the box and standees “ready to go” and the right side has the game board and components.

Solo Game

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Congratulations to Tokyo Sidekick for following Saunders’ Law!  Tokyo Sidekick has a viable solo mode.  It’s essentially “play like there are two players playing, where the solo player operates two teams of Sidekick/Superheroes”!  There’s not a lot of changes: in fact, the only real change is that you have to use the 2-Player side of the main board (as notated in the lower left corner, see below).

When we reviewed Disney Sidekicks, we lamented the lack of a solo mode, but we were able to make a go at it with a “play as if 2 players” solo mode: that means operating two teams in the game.  That seemed harder in that game for some reason than here!  Even though Tokyo Sidekicks is arguably more difficult than the mass-market Disney Sidekicks, it seemed easier to play two teams!  I would argue that part of this was simply the rulebook: The Disney Sidekicks rulebook was not good, but the Tokyo Sidekicks was great.  Knowing what the rules are and how to find them makes all the difference.

In my first solo game, I played the teams on ONI/Jinx Cat and Sumauriman/Kevin Park.  See overall picture above and separate pictures below.

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Team of ONI and Jinx Cat!

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The game does take up a lot of space on the board, but it was managable.

My very first solo game of Tokyo Sidekick was absolutely fantastic! I initially raced around the board cleaning up little Incidents.. this part reminds me of Pandemic: most turns, some bad news (Incidents) comes out that pollutes a Location and players need to (eventually) deal with them. Dealing with these like the Medic in Pandemic was necessary for three reasons! One, if you don’t keep the Incidents under control, you can lose. Two, I wasn’t strong enough to take on the villain yet so I had to do something, and Three, I needed the EXP (experience points) from the Incidents to advance!

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Above, you can see one of the Incidents you have to clean up! If you go to Meguro and discard two S (speed) energy, you make that go away AND get 2 EXP!!

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The upgrade board (above) allows you to continually upgrade your character through the game.  You can get better cards, better multipliers, better team bonuses, activate specials, and all sorts of things!  

As the game progresses, you deal with 2 Villains, then 2+ SuperVillains, then finally the big boss at the end, the Menace!  In my game, the final menace was Godzilla!

I just barely won on the very last action of my last turn!  I was able to take advantage of ONI’s teleport power to get enough heroes and sidekick there.  Then, we did a final massive assault to take down Godzilla on the last turn!

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What made this so great was that the game rewards heroes teaming up in combat with Sidekick bonuses, and the Family Bonus!  The only way to stop the final menace was to throw everything at it as a team!  And there were enough rewards to working AS A TEAM to pull off the final defeat (barely)!

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play worked really well: we had to talk about when to take care of incidents, when to fight, when to team-up, when to cull, how to upgrade.  There was a lot of talk at the table: in a good way!  “How are we going to get this?  You have to take this incident or we lose!”

Advancement

I think one of the best parts of the game is the advancement or upgrade as you play.  Most things you do gives you EXP (experience points):

  1. taking care of an Incident (2 EXP)
  2. shattering defense of an enemy (3 EXP)
  3. killing enemy (3 EXP)

This EXP can be spent in some many ways to make your character better!  As you play the game, YOU get to decide how to make your character better!

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The upgrade board shows the cost of all the different upgrades on th right hand side:  Better energy cards!  Upgraded special abiltities!  Upgraded multipliers on energy cards!  Upgraded Sidekick bonus!  Upgraded Sidekick!

In general, as you are playing, you are always spending your EXP to make upgrade choices!  This is fun (and necessary) making your character(s) strongly for the final confrontation!  I just had a blast choosing how to upgrade as I played.

Deck-Building

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We alluded to this earlier in this review, but the game also has some deck-building to it.  Your player starts with mostly “single” energy cards, but can upgrade to the double or even triple energy cards during upgrades!  

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There’s also Damage cards (see above) that will go into your deck (like Wounds in Legendary or other deck-builders): all they do is clog your deck up so that you may have fewer energy cards on your turn.

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One of the fundamental actions you can do is Brush-Up (or cull) your energy deck: see above.  Basically, there is a somewhat of a notion of deck-building in this game.  What kind of deck-builder are you? A culler?  Get best cards as fast as you can?  Do you want a light/fast energy deck?  It’s just another way you can make choices in the game: How do you build your energy deck.

Little Touches

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There are just so many little touches that make this game good. Take a look at the incident card above.  One of the problems I had initially in the game was that I couldn’t find cities easily on the map (there are a lot of cities on the map and I don’t know Japan very well). But if you look closely at the Incident card, it shows a little map on the card with a red dot showing where the city is on the map!   That’s a little touch that makes the game that much easier to play! A nice touch.

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This is something I alluded to in the Rulebook section, but the rulebook with it’s “red notes” was very well done.  The Brush-Up rule is described fairly well. (See Above)  The red section describes edge conditions and clarifications:  you probably won’t need it on your first read, but when you come back through the rulebook looking for exceptions/clarifications, the red text will make a lot more sense!  As a reader of the rulebook, I realized quickly the red sections aren’t super important on the first read, but later reads/lookups were critical!  It was a way to tell the reader “hey, this is a clarification/you can skip it until you need it”.   A nice touch.

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A lot of things were labelled on the board: the “Bad News” section (in red and yellow) notates how the Bad News works with just a few icons.  A nice touch.

The tokens and cardboard standees were already punched out for us.  A nice touch.

Min-Max Rule vs. Fun Breezy Rule

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I was ready to declare Tokyo Sidekicks my game of the year after my first solo play: I had so much fun!  The game is is so well put together!  The components!  The choices! The advancement.  Then, I brought it to my friends and I realized I had been playing one rule wrong AT THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE!

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When I played my first game, I thought that the 2x multiplier for an energy type applied to ALL ENERGY TRANSACTIONS WITH THAT.  For example, ONI (above) starts with a 2X in Concentration (and can upgrade his Power to 2x, Speed to 2x, or even Concentration to 3x).  Well, it’s easier to see on the card zoomed in, but THE MULTIPLIER ONLY APPLIES TO COMBAT!  To be fair, the rules do say that too.

If you look at a player board above, they have a list of all the operations you can perform: most of them require energy.  I thought the 2x or 3x multipliers applied to any of those.  Nope, just the Combat.

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So, me and my friends ended up playing with the proper rule and got our butts handed to us: the Super Villain that came out brought 3 Red Incidents, and we already had 2 and we just lost about halfway through the game.  See above: the red Incidents were out of control!!!  With this one little rule change, our decks got clogged, we had trouble moving around the board,  we had turns where we didn’t do much, and we had very little agency to keep the incidents under control:  IT WASN’T FUN.   The ability to use the 2x/3x multipliers on movement and incidents made the game FUN, because you always felt like you were a powerful superhero who could do something.

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SO, we resolved to play cooperatively again with the simple house rule: the multipliers can be applied to any (of the appropriate) energy cards.  See us setting up above:

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.. and see us BARELY winning (above) on the very last turn.  Seriously, if we didn’t defeat Godzilla on the last turn, we were going to lose about 3 different ways: Godzilla advances too far, Damage Deck runs out, Incidents Track reached end.  This was so thematic: we saved the world at the last possible moment!!! That was fun! Heroic! So cool!  High Fives All Around!

We discussed this House Rule for quite a while after playing both ways: why does this make such a big deal? If we Min-Maxed, and watched every turn, counted every movement, preplanned for the upcoming incidents, preplanned for every combat, we might have been able to win.  My friends said straight up: “I don’t want to play this game if it’s a Min-Max game, but I liked it with our House Rule: That was much more fun!”

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I propose the following:

  • Min-Max Puzzle Game: If you want the hard-core, difficult game of Tokyo Sidekick where every single action matters: play with the rules as written.  I haven’t won yet, but could be an interesting and very thinky puzzle.
  • Fun and More Breezy Game: If you want a game where you feel like you are breezing around the board like a Superhero with a lot of agency and fun, HOUSE RULE so that the multipliers DO NOT just apply to Combat, but to all actions (of the appropriate energy type).

This one rule seemed to make all the difference to me and my group: the game seemed  too much without this one rule.

Conclusion

Tokyo Sidekick was my almost my favorite game so far this year … until I realized I had been playing it wrong.   I think the House Rule we proposed made the game more light and breezy and frankly more fun and is frankly necessary for me to recommend it.

In general, everything worked so well.  The rulebook was well-written and allowed the game to flow!  The components (especially the Acrylic Standees) just made the game pop on the table!  The gameplay was simple, but had lots of subtleties to learn over time!  The upgrade system made the game fun to play as you always felt like you were advancing your character as you played!  The teamwork bonuses were encouraging!  The battles at the end-game were Epic!  The final battle was always a  “stand-up and cheer” when you win!

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The thing is, I don’t even really like anime (I don’t dislike it, I am just not into it).  If you think I am recommending this game only because of the anime part, you are mistaken!  The game is just well-crafted (the rules, the little touches) and works so well.  If you like anime, I suspect you may even like even more.

I love this game and would give Tokyo Sidekick an 8.5 out of 10 … but only with our House Rule.  With that one rule straight up as written, this would probably be a 6.5: it was too hard and not fun.  I look forward to getting it to the table again with our House Rules.  I feel like this will be an evergreen solo game for me:  I just want to play it all the time.  There’s just so much good gameplay and variety.

Appendix 1: Putting Everything Away

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The box I had was great, because the little foam insert on the left (see above) allows the Acrylic Standees to go back into the box.  As you can, the game BARELY fits into the box: there’s only 32 spaces for the 40 Acrylic Standees, so they big ones had to be placed elsewhere in the box.

Luckily, the Kickstarter bonus stuff ALSO fits in the box.

What you have leftover is a tiny box and Arcylic Standee holder you don’t need anymore.

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Appendix 2: You Can’t Unsee This

Don’t read past this point unless you really want to …

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The slip cover of the game seems to suggest an older cartoon. The orange girl … looks like Velma. Then the purple girl looks like Daphne. The dog becomes Scooby Doo. The cute bear becomes Scrappy Doo, the serious guy with the gun becomes Fred, the mop-top guy is Shaggy, the apparition becomes the”ghost” (monster of the week), and the white-haired guy becomes the park keeper who “would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for the meddling kids”. (The fist fellow must be the guest star of the week).

Seriously: The slip cover strongly suggests Scooby-Doo. I told you not to read further, now you can’t unsee that!

2 thoughts on “A Review of Tokyo Sidekick

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