Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Saturday 3 October 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tokyo Sidekick

Game: Tokyo Sidekick

Designer: Yusuke Emi (江見祐介)

Publisher: Japanime Games

Year: 2018

Tokyo Sidekick had an initial small print run from Japanese publisher Little Future, and now Japanime Games have successfully funded a second edition on Kickstarter. Having won awards at Tokyo Game Market, this is one to take notice of, and for some gamers, a great opportunity to get hold of those rarer Japanese games that are sometimes rather coveted.
Tokyo Sidekick is a cooperative game for 2-4 players in which each player plays a superhero and their sidekick, to take on all manner of villains whilst trying to spin plates and take care of all of the incidents happening around town. You're very much a Spiderman-type character when it comes to handing anything from a slight misdemeanor, all the way up to a plane crash, but then you need to switch it up and become Iron Man to take on the bad guys with full force. Can you defeat your adversaries in time to save the city?


Tokyo Sidekick is a Pandemic-style cooperative game. In each round one player will perform actions to help solve the many problems around the city, then advance the timer which causes them to become wounded if any villains are still loose and a new crisis to emerge. Every couple of rounds there is a larger bad phase where a new villain emerges and unresolved crisis become worse and damage the city. Like many cooperative games there are a lot of ways to fail, if you ignore a crisis for too long you lose, if there are no wound cards left to draw from then you lose and if the city gets too damaged you lose. In order to win the game you need to successfully arrest two villains, followed by two supervillains and then finally take down the mastermind behind all this chaos.

On a players turn they can perform any number of actions, but each action requires resources. These resources come from your hand of (typically) five cards which you draw at the end of each turn. Mostly these cards are speed, concentration and power, the three main resources, but over time you'll also be forced to fill your deck with worthless wound cards that slow down your heroic activities. In order to move across the board you'll have to spend a card, turning it sideways to indicate you have used it for the turn. Similarly you can spend energy to draw extra cards (often wasteful at 2 energy per card, but sometimes you just need that one different resource), trim cards from your deck (including wounds) move your hero and sidekick together, solve crisis cards and attack villains. These last two reward you with experience, which is the currency used to upgrade your character/deck. You can spend experience to get two or even three energy cards which are far more efficient at the single energy cards you start with, or two unlock new gear or abilities for your hero and sidekick.
A large part of Tokyo Sidekick's system relies on the interplay between Hero and Sidekick. Each player gets to choose a Hero and a Sidekick at the start of the game (the manual has suggestions for good combos). These two characters largely act the same, though the hero both starts more powerful at fighting villains and can get more powerful than the sidekick ever could. In addition each hero/sidekick have unique special powers which can be extremely helpful when used right. While you can use these two separate characters to cover more ground, helping them take on the many crisis' around the city, you may also want to group up so that you can make use of the power bonus you get when fighting villains together. Don't want to team up with your sidekick? Well you can also team up with other players. If another player chips in when attacking a villain they will get experience points too, letting you both get better faster!

Amy's Final Thoughts

Tokyo Sidekick takes a traditional American Superhero and sidekick theme, complete with dynamic duos, and takes it the the world of animated Tokyo. It's a wonderful mash up of culture with some characters clearly taking inspiration from western heroes and others being far more Japanese, such as the sentient arm-stretching Mascot. While there's certainly a sense of humour in the heroes, the villains are even more wacky, did anyone spot that foul criminal using his gun to turn people into 8-bit sprites? While the characters are off the wall, the art is fantastic (especially on the acrylic standees, which have insanely crisp printing, though it's worth knowing this is a pre-release copy so quality may vary). The game is full of nice touches such as the crisis cards being printed so that when placed onto the map they seamlessly continue the routes already printed on the board along with a small map of Tokyo which is unbelievably handy. Unfortunately the villains and heroes don't have this map for their starting location, which is a little awkward for those people who aren't all that familiar with the geography of Tokyo.

Tokyo Sidekick has three distinct phases, one where you are fighting Villains, which are simple enough to beat by yourself, pretty much with your starting deck. Next up are the Supervillains - these characters are tough, but by now you should have used your exp to power up enough to take them down right? If not you may need to get your friends to pitch in. Finally the Masterminds are almost completely impossible to defeat with only one player on the job, even the easiest one (who is essentially Godzilla) is a walking tank of HP, forcing cooperation. And quick cooperation too, before the kaiju causes its own unique failure condition! This gives the game a great sense of progression, not only are you getting tougher and stronger, but your enemies are getting ever more powerful too. Is there any more classic Superhero cliche than having all the heroes work together to take out the big bad? Tokyo Sidekick essentially forces this epic moment upon you and it's fantastic.
That is if you get that far! Every one of the failure conditions in this game are easy to reach. If you get behind on villains then you'll soon start taking wounds at a ridiculous rate, which clogs up your deck making you fall even further behind in a failure spiral. So no problem? Prioritize villains and you'll be fine? Well perhaps, but those red crisis cards get a fire token if you ignore them for too long, and if any they get a second it's instant game over. So you have to run all over the map to put out these fires, but don't ignore the more minor crisis along the way because they cause damage to the city, let too many yellow crisis linger and there won't be any people left to save! You always feel like there's too much to do and not enough time to do that and I love that feeling in a co-op. This is balanced out by the sidekicks, who, when used correctly you can be in two places at once, let Robin handle the muggers while Batman goes for Joker!

The characters are the icing on the cake when it comes to replay-ability, with huge amounts of Villains and Supervillains to fight through no two games will go the same way. Similarly you'll have access to many heroes and sidekicks who each have their own special powers, the combinations are near endless making this a game that you can keep coming back to. Overall Tokyo Sidekick is a fantastic game. I love the art, I love the mechanics and I love the challenge. I don't love that the box is gigantic and the rules for the villain phases could be a little clearer, with some of the villain special abilities being easy to forget. But those are tiny nitpicks at a fantastic game that any cooperative fan should add to their collection!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Tokyo Sidekick definitely has some similarities to other cooperative games I've played. Most obvious is Pandemic because you're faced with a map with a number of problems you need to solve, and the game proceeds in the classic player phase-bad stuff phase pattern. However, one of the big things you're adding to Pandemic is a deck-building element which reminds me of the deck-building in The Big Book of Madness. The cards in your deck are basic resource cards in a few types with values 1,2 and 3, which simply let you do things in a more powerful way with fewer cards. Perhaps it's really fortunate then that I'm a big fan of both of those games - we own both, and for both of them we own expansions and/or lots of variants. In combining aspects of two games, Toyko Sidekick is more complex than either one and so it seems to be a more gamer-suited version of Pandemic, with a theme that perhaps appeals more to traditional geeks too.

While Tokyo Sidekick does layer a lot of mechanisms, and the upgrades to your personal hero and sidekick do have a few aspects to manage, it's not a hard game to play. Each round you really just need to make the best of your hand. Red events are the most demanding, so take care of those if you can. If you can deal the first hit or the final blow to a boss, then you should do that, but if you can't then it's time to communicate with everyone around the table and hatch a plan to take a boss down together. I love how much we have to communicate and plan to get things done in this game. Those final bosses are huge and you have to plan early to be prepared to take them down by the end of the game. I like how each player might choose to specialise in a certain aspect, such as speed or concentration and you'll probably want a bit of everything in your game.

Tokyo Sidekick is a difficult co-op. We lost in our early games because we failed to prepare. It's easy to let things slide - focus on one thing and forget about the others and then things can escalate rather quickly. There are ways to tweak the difficulty, but it is also a game you can beat. The combination of somewhat familiar gameplay in a new setting, with a really fresh and thematic feel to it ticked a bunch of boxes for me and Tokyo Sidekick is right up there with some of my favourite co-op games.

You Might Like...
  • Each character is unique but you also make them unique as you build your decks throughout the game.
  • You might be heroes, but there's no one hero in the game, there's really no way to win without great teamwork.
  • It's great so see a non-IP superhero game manage to create so much theme by calling on some traditional tropes and creating some really fun characters.
You Might Not Like...
  • Tokyo Sidekick is a table hog and a shelf hog!
  • The acrylic standees were a Kickstarter add-on but they really do add to the game experience and ease of play.

The Verdict 
8/10 It's starting to become common among gamers to be 'done' with Pandemic, and if you're one of those people, then Tokyo Sidekick is made for you! Not only does it have fantastic gameplay, but real consideration has been put into how the board looks, including the art on the emergency cards and the truly fantastic perspex standees. It's a huge box, but it is totally deserving of a space on our shelf!

Tokyo Sidekick was a review copy kindly provided to us by Japanime Games. A second edition recently funded on Kickstarter and pre-orders are open here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this detailed piece of information! I like this post, enjoyed this one appreciate it for putting up.