Nojira: Tokyo Clash
Whenever I see a giant monster slap one of its peers with its tail or snap a skyscraper in half like a baby carrot, the question on my mind is anabolic. In the process of undertaking that action, how much energy was metabolized? The average elephant consumes 70,000 calories per day. Even cells altered by radiation must require fuel. Godzilla is at least twenty elephants in height. My back-of-the-napkin algebra reveals something horrific:
These monsters fight because they are the only source of food bounteous enough to sustain each other.
In a rare disappointment from Prospero Hall, Godzilla: Tokyo Clash gets one thing right — the caloric requirements of its creatures would leave them shuffling around with all the haste of chilled molasses. Scientific accuracy for the win! Compelling gameplay, not so much.
At the macro level, all is well with Tokyo Clash. With a selection of four monsters, each with asymmetric abilities and washed miniatures, buildings ready to be smashed, and a respectable selection of tiny vehicles to throw around, it hits all the right notes. At least to my untrained eye, since I couldn’t tell you that Mothra is scaled inappropriately against Megalon or whether King Ghidorah’s trailing appendages are not, in fact, penises.
Even the game itself has that workmanlike confidence that marks so many of Prospero Hall’s productions. We’ve seen this stuff before, and it’s as familiar as Godzilla’s stegosaurus backside. Everyone has a hand of cards, and burns those cards to move around the city, toss vehicles or other monsters into buildings, or block attacks. Each monster even has two generic moves, one of which is literally “move one space,” that can be earned by tossing out a card rather than playing it for its printed action.
In other words, we’re in friendly territory.
And then the stomping starts.
One of the best things about Prospero Hall’s approach to design is that they begin with an ideal experience and work outward from there. As such, it’s easy to see how Tokyo Clash turned out this way. In theory, there’s something appealing about the progression it proposes. Battling monsters approach each other from the edges of the city, bust some buildings for energy and extra cards, and then alternate between laser-beams and awkward wrestling moves. Energy, like cards, is metered out for more powerful attacks. Thus spent, monsters look for new ways of charging up.
The practice doesn’t quite rise to the level of theory. For one thing, the pacing is glacial. Energy is hard to come by and is then rapidly depleted, prompting the game’s monsters to spend more time pushing each other into skyscrapers for minimal returns or go back to chucking tanks at bunkers. Cards are similarly limited, and often depleted by the simple act of trudging from one block to another. Worse, this trudging is generally undesirable, spending cards that could have otherwise been used for attacks or blocks. It’s the age-old problem of a particular brand of hex-and-counter wargames, in which the first side to march into the other army’s range places itself at a disadvantage. Better to sit back and toss some battleships into radar dishes for the tasty energy contained within.
This sluggishness is exacerbated by other factors, from the game’s elongated duration to the fuzziness of its rules. What counts as an attack — an attack card, a thrown vehicle, two monsters colliding, and/or a direct damage card effect? Mothra is immune to tanks, but do they still move in its direction? A round concludes when everybody passes, at which point the human inhabitants of Tokyo get their say with a pair of event cards. Some of these represent counterattacks, as with air strikes, alien invasions, or naval bombardments. These efforts also place new vehicles on the map, and therefore function primarily like reloading a gun that happens to nip your finger. Other events mainly present opportunities, placing trains or lightning generators to shove rival monsters into. In many cases, vehicles are required to move in the direction of the nearest monster, with ties being broken by the current “king.” But what if the king isn’t involved in the tie? What if the king is standing directly behind the tied monsters, equidistant and nullifying its tiebreaker rule? These and other questions are left unanswered, an oddity coming from Prospero Hall.
Speaking of oddities, the game’s approach to victory is perhaps its best idea. The gist is that damage draws cards from your victim’s deck. Three damage means three cards. Simple! And rather than keeping all three, you choose one card to keep for its trophy value. If none of the cards have a trophy value, you don’t get to keep any of them; your attack glanced off your target’s armor or it writhed free of your grip. Even better, hitting the current “king of monsters” steals their king token, worth extra trophies at the end of the game. The whole thing is therefore pitched as a chase to pin down and beat up the current king.
Again, that’s the theory. In practice, removing powerful cards from a monster’s deck tends to rob them of an eventual second wind — but only over a long duration. More immediately, blows tend to land with the impact of wet noodles, the direct inverse of how dramatic reversals should feel in such a game. Similarly, it’s often easier to continue whaling on a vulnerable rival who’s spent all their cards rather than chasing the king. Serves them right for spending their resources closing the gap between kaiju. In each case, Tokyo Clash feels less like dueling monsters and more like a clumsy wrestling match.
It’s easy to theorize what went wrong with Tokyo Clash. Perhaps two resource bottlenecks were one too many. Perhaps the energy system could have been completed with cards alone, as in Race for the Galaxy. Perhaps movement could have been more plentiful, or blocks, or attacks that weren’t quite so draining. Perhaps Mothra’s existence could have been summed up as anything other than “stay far away from everyone until you’re ready to jizz silk on them.”
Whatever the reason, Godzilla: Tokyo Clash struggles to stand apart from the crowd. When you’re as tall as twenty elephants, that’s saying something.
A complimentary copy was provided.