A Review of King of Monster Island

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I have been highly anticipating King of Monster Island! It’s a cooperative dice game in the world of King of Tokyo (a competitive dice game). Everyone else seems to be getting advance copies: I had to order mine directly from Game Nerdz. I was so excited to get it, I even ordered without free shipping to get it shipped ASAP! So, it arrived about a week or so ago (late November 2022) and I have been playing it solo and cooperatively.

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Let’s take a look!

Rulebook

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Ha, This game has a sense of humor.  I love how the rulebook cover starts with a “Breaking News…” and looks silly!IMG_4187

Oh, and look how beautiful the rulebook is!   Stunning art and annotations abound!

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This rulebook is good: it starts with a list of components! Even better, it annotates all the components with a little description.  So, you learn the components AND the rules at the same time! Nice!  See above and below.

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The set-up is phenomenal: it’s all described with a great picture over two pages  It’s very easy to get set-up and going!

The rest of the rulebook is pretty good.  I had a few troubles finding rules a few times (maybe there should be an index or glossary?), but it general the rulebook was easy to read and grok.  Although they did commit the cardinal sin of not using the back cover for anything useful for game play.

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New Guideline for Rulebooks: The Chair Test!

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I did like the rulebook for King of Monster Island, but it did fail in one major way.  In fact, it caused me to create a new category of rulebook criteria!

Frequently, I will keep rulebooks on the chair next to me when learning a game.  It keeps the rulebook out of the main game flow, but in a place where I can glance/reach/read easily.  I call this The Chair Test: Can I put a rulebook fully open on a chair next to me for easy reading?

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Most games have no problem with The Chair Test: see the rulebook for Agents Of SMERSH: Epic Edition on the chair above. (We reviewed this game a few weeks ago).  It’s easy to read, it sits open on the chair, and it allows me to just glance at it without any effort.

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King of Monster Island fails The Chair Test!  It droops over the side of the chair, and it’s way too big to see everything! It’s a pain to look stuff up: I can’t usually just glance at it!

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In the end, you’ll notice I ended up playing with the rulebook up on the table (see above) taking up tons of space!

As good as the King of Monster Island rulebook was, it failed The Chair Test.  Caveat Emptor!

Unboxing

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King of Monster Island has a weird-sized box: see above with a Coke Can for scale (this weird shape may be why it fails The Chair Test?)

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You can see the rulebook above fitting in the weird sized box.

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There are lot of punch outs: minions (left), crystals (upper right) , and Support tiles (lower right).

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There’s a fantastic board!

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There’s a cool volcano in the box that you build: it serves as a dice tower for the Boss (the Bad Guy) dice!

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You build the volcano and put in on the board; it looks fantastic!

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There are a bunch of dials to note health and fame for the good guys and the bad guys (upper left), some Power cards (lower left) and volcano (right).

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The black dice are player dice, and the red dice are the Boss (Bad Guy) dice.

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The cards with the energy symbol on the upper left are player cards (Power cards): they can be bought with energy.

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The event cards are interspersed in the Power cards and offer some random events to keep the game “interesting”.

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There’s a bunch of Ally cards (to help players) and Bosses (Bad guys).

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The components are exceptionally well produced!  We really loved how this game looked!

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Gameplay

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At its core: King of Monster Island is a dice game with a Yahtzee re-roll mechanic. You roll once, keep what you want, then re-roll again keeping what you want, then one final re-roll.  Just like King of Tokyo.  Or Yahtzee.  Or many other games with dice.  It’s what the dice do that is interesting!

  • Heart: Gain 1 Health
  • Star: gain 1 fame (fame powers special powers)
  • Tool: gain 3 or 4 tools to buy and Support Tiles
  • Foot: either move or do 1 damage to minion or  move 1 space
  • Hand: do 2 damage to a minion or boss
  • Energy: gain 1 energy cube.  With energy, you can buy some Power cards

Already, you can see it’s much more complicated than King of Tokyo!

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Each player takes the role of a Monster: see the choices above.  Interestingly, the Monsters have no special powers: it’s the Ally you choose that has the special powers!!  (This kinda reminded us of Minecraft : Heroes of the Village from a few weeks ago when the pets had the special abilities, not the villagers … is this a new trend?)

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In a game with X players, you put out X+1 Ally cards: for my solo game, I (randomly) picked up the Ape-Monsters and the MedBots.  As soon as you get 1 fame during the game, you choose your Ally! As a player gains fame, he can power more and more abilities of his Ally!  

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To win, the players must cooperatively take out the main Boss: see above for the Boss powers and the Boss Hit Points/Fame Counter.

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You’ll notice the Boss has more powers that he gains as his fame increases!

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While the players share the pool of 10 black dice (rolling 6 dice and occasionally locking some), the Boss has his own red bad dice:

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The red Boss dice get thrown in the volcano (above) and scatter around the island (below):

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These red dice activate the “bad news” parts of the game: they summon minions, give the Boss fame, and build crystals. 

Players set-up their Monsters and the Boss to fight!

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Like most cooperative games, the game alternates between “some bad stuff happens” (from the Minions and Boss dice) and “some good stuff happens” (from the player dice,  Power cards, and Support tokens).  There is a notion of movement, as players can usually only do things if they are the zone with the thing of interest.

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Minions get placed on the board to do bad things: they come from a bag of minions!

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Gameplay alternates Boss/Player/Boss/Player, etc goes until the Monsters beat the Boss (cooperatively), the Boss defeats any Monster, 3 pylons are built, or there are no Minions in the bag!

Solo Play

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I am not sure why, but it took me three times to play this game to get the rules right.  The first time I played solo, I thought that all Minions did their thing on the Boss’s turn: Nope!  Just the Minion IN THE ZONE with the Boss!  It even says that at the start of step 4 (see below).  
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So, my first game was pretty bad: I lost horribly as every single Minion activated!!  I realized I played wrong, so then I tried again: this time, I got the rule wrong that you only activate dice in the Boss’ Zone and THEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF AND REROLL them at the start of the next turn!

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The rules even highlighted the “remove them from the board” in the rules (see above).

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So finally, on my third time through, I got the rules right and played through a game.  Please take my mistakes to heart when you play the game!  Only activate minions in the Boss Zone and Always remove Boss dice after activating them (so they can be re-rolled!)

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I’m not sure why I had so many problem my first few plays: it’s not like I haven’t played lots of co-ops or read tons of rulebooks!  I think I just expected a much simpler game?  I expected  a simple “co-op King of Tokyo” and got a much more complicated game!

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Once I got through a real game of King of Monster Island, I liked it!  It was fun, there were a lot of interesting decisions, but there were some frustrations when the dice didn’t behave.  But in general, I liked it solo and would play it solo again.  It’s not quite as complicated a co-op dice game as, say, the Reckoners (which we reviewed here and here), but it’s close.  We will mention the Reckoners again later on …

Cooperative Play

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Cooperative play went well for us.  One thing we noticed is that there wasn’t that much cooperation!  When it was your turn, you focused on rolling your dice, trying to roll the best results you can!  You tuned out everyone else on your turn!  Others could offer suggestions, but generally turns were pretty solitary and intense.  And that’s a good thing!  Each player has agency on their turn!  Each player feels like they are doing something!  It’s just … the cooperation was less pronounced than many other co-op games.  We were cooperating in the sense that we had the same goal of “take out the boss”, but we didn’t seem to consult each other nearly as much as other games (like say, The Reckoners…)

 I would maybe call this a Cartman Cooperative game: “I do what I want!” … but all players share the same goal.

King of Tokyo 

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King of Monster Island squarely lives in the King of Tokyo universe.  The production, the dice, the graphic design, the characters, all make that clear.  See King of Tokyo above and below.  They are NOT compatible … just so you know.

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I am one of the few people who doesn’t actually like King of Tokyo.  The original game is just a lightweight dice game using a Yahtzee re-roll mechanism to “beat the crap out of each other” …  and that’s all it is.  That is great for end-of-the-night games.  Ultimately, I found King of Tokyo not fun as it tended to be too random, with too much time between turns.  This was highlighted by a 6-Player game of King of Tokyo that I played where my friend John got eliminated quickly and had to watch the rest of us play. In the meantime, I’d have to wait for 4-5 people to play through their turn and you never knew what your rolls what be.  The game is just “roll and use your dice the best you can”: there’s not a lot of strategy (we’ll discuss this below more in the Dice For Actions section).

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However, in spite of not liking King of Tokyo, I did like King of Monster Island. I liked it partly because it’s a co-op (there is some cooperation), there’s much more strategy than King of Tokyo, and the production is great. But be careful: King of Monster Island is a step-up in complexity from King of Tokyo.  In fact, Andrew was thinking it’s more than just a step-up, it’s maybe 1.5 to 2 steps up!  So, if you liked the silly simplicity of dice rolling in King of Tokyo, be aware that there is a lot more going on here!  King of Monster Island is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s a much more complicated co-op in the world of King of Tokyo.  

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The game looks great, but there are so many more rules than King of Tokyo: King of Monster Island has dice locking, crystal growing, buying Support tiles, buying Power cards, cube tower rolling, activating bad guy dice, activating minions, moving the bad guy, handling the bad guys powers, handling the bad guy upgrades, worrying about moving yourself, upgrading powers, getting minions from the bag, keeping track of powers, taking extra game occasionally from a zone … need I go on?

King of Monster Island is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s much more.  Be aware.

Player Count

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Although King of Monster Island can play 1-5 players, I can’t imagine playing this with 4 or 5 players.  The game seemed to be great solo, and flowed pretty well at 2, and slightly less better at 3.  The problem was that there’s not a lot of to do when it’s not your turn!  At 4 and 5 players: the downtime between turns is much more pronounced and not fun.  Granted, players can talk and offer a little bit of advice (since it’s a co-op), but generally each player is very focused on the dice and ignoring everything else.

Basically, the problem with too many players boiled down to two things:

  1. Each player’s turn seems fairly solitary.  There really wasn’t a lot of cooperation.  Each player would really get into their turn and making their decisions (which is good!), but would tend to focus on the dice rolls to the exclusion of others.  There was a little talk, but not much.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing (some people like having their own turn and agency), but could with item #2 below, this was really a detractor.
  2. We have to wait a long time for each other’s turns.  Although each player seems to really get into their own turn (having their own thoughts and re-rolls without consulting the others too much), the others are waiting for their turn without really participating too much. It’s one of the problems I had with King of Tokyo: you just have to wait  too long for your turn. 

King of Monster Island seems best at 1-3 players.  At 4- 5 players, the game has way too much downtime between turns.   I would say the game would work better at higher player counts if the cooperation were more pronounced, but the cooperation seems pretty limited. That’s not a bad thing per se: players do have a lot of agency on their turn—It’s just that turns feel very solitary, so you don’t want too many players waiting for you.

Dice for Actions

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I generally don’t like games where the dice tell you what actions you can do.  I famously sold my Alien Uprising game for $1 back in 2017.  I should have loved Alien Uprising: cooperative, cool space theme, cool Aliens theme, and a Richard Lanius game!  Nope, it turns out I generally don’t games where you roll your dice to get your actions: I feel like it takes away player choice and forces you to do “what the dice tell you to do” rather than make your own decisions.

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King of Monster Island has enough dice mitigation (basically because you get many re-rolls and you can lock dice you don’t use for future use) that this wasn’t a problem for me.  But I did struggle a few times with the dice during my plays: I still don’t love this mechanism.

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Those of you paying attention might remember that we should have loved Shadow of the Bat (see review here) because of the Batman theme, but the “roll dice for actions” really took it down a notch so that we just liked the game.  

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In fact, the only game that I have loved that has “roll dice for actions” is the Reckoners.  We discuss why we love The Reckoners, (in spite of the “roll dice for actions” mechanic)  in our review of Batman: The Animated Dice Game to a much greater extent.  Take a look here for more discussion.  Or keep reading.

Conclusion

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I liked King of Monster Island and my friends liked it. We’d probably give it a 7/10 overall. The production is pretty great, the gameplay is pretty fun, and it flows fairly well. It works best at 1-3 players.

I did like King of Monster Island, but I think The Reckoners is a much better cooperative dice game! For a cooperative dice game, The Reckoners is much more cooperative (as you roll together and play your turns together), and the dice are less strangulating (because you can almost always do something good with your dice or help out compatriot with your dice). The Player Selected Turn Order of The Reckoners really makes it a better game. The major problem of King of Monster Island is that you may have to wait too long for your turn, which is why the game is much worse in 4-5 player games.

I will say that King of Monster Island can bring in people who may be “wary” of cooperative games: even though the Reckoners elicits more cooperation, the amount of focus and agency each player gets on their turn (in King of Monster Island) may keep “wary” cooperative players involved: maybe even opening them up to more cooperative games.

In the end, the production of King of Monster Island is great, the game looks good, and it is fun overall. If you like the world of King of Tokyo, you may very well like King of Monster Island! Just be aware that this is NOT just a “co-op King of Tokyo“: it’s a lot more complicated than you might first expect. That’s not bad, just be aware King of Monster Island isn’t the simple game that King of Tokyo is.

Appendix

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The Support tiles surprised us. See one above. Did they surprise anyone else? See more below.

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One thought on “A Review of King of Monster Island

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