Tokaido: Strength in Simplicity

It’s 454 kilometres from Kyoto to Tokyo, which, Google maps tells me, would take me  96 hours to walk. Apparently, most of that way would be along a 4 lane motorway. In Tokaido, you can get the journey done in about 45 minutes and the whole trip will be littered with bucolic scenery, interesting encounters, collectable souvenirs and the occasional hot bath. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But does the game live up the promise?

 Before jumping headlong into the game itself, let’s first talk about the box – it is undeniable that it is lovely, and although they say never judge a book by its cover, I don’t think there is a single one of us who doesn’t. The art is beautiful and it’s on a totally different level of quality to most other games I have seen. Simplicity and artistic beauty are built right into the game when Tokaido encourages you to sit and paint one of its panoramas you feel as though it’s an integral part of the experience of the game, rather than just a one-off point scoring exercise.

20170831_123704Inside the box, you find a long board mapping your walk from Kyoto to Edo, during which you will “pass through magnificent countryside, taste delicious specialities, purchase souvenirs, benefit from the virtues of hot springs, and have unforgettable encounters” You are also greeted with more beautiful artwork and several decks of equally elaborate cards. The game’s accessories are justs a well-made and evocative as the art work. The meeples are cute, if basic, the character cards are bright and fun and the coins and tokens are heavy-duty card. More and more companies are bringing their in-game accessories up to Fantasy Flight standard. Which is great, as there is nothing worse than flimsy game pieces that give out on you after a few plays.

 

If you want something a little more stylish then there is a Collector’s Accessory Pack which includes:

  • 16 highly-detailed 30 mm (1.1”) figurines
  • 50 metal coins
  • Coin pouch
  • 5 scoring tokens
  • New Crossroads die
  • Soundtrack CD

tokaido-collectors-accessory-pack-p234046-200445_image

Set Up

Tokaido takes a little bit of reading but the game mechanics are in fact very simple and should be clear to new players by turn three of a playthrough. Straight out of the box you’ll need to punch out a load of tokens which will take a few minutes, but once that is done setting a game session is a trivial effort.

Play

The action is consistent over the whole play time though your tactics will change basedbe398f1790840c3001f3ace3be5733a2--freelance-illustrator-board-games on your opponents’ actions and your luck. Play mechanics are also very nicely contextualised and justified, you never feel like you’re just collecting points by means of an arbitrary rule but by the self-evident pleasures of a walking tour of the Tokaido road between Edo and Kyoto. Have a bath in a hot spring, some points, there’s a macaque in there with you with some snow on his stupid head, obviously more points. Points in this way represent having a better experience of the journey your character is on. Mechanically this involves moving your meeples down the central track. The only rules are that you cannot go backwards, land on the same space twice or occupy the same space as another player. Each of these spots allows you to do a few different things:

  • Earn money at a farm.
  • Bathe in a hot spring.
  • Paint a panorama.
  • Buy souvenirs at a village.
  • Donate at a Temple
  • Encounter someone on the road.

This introduces a slight element of competition, especially when there are more than 3 players, because other people may occupy a space you really wanted. Each character has a slightly different ability that affects how they score points, but it’s a very mild boost and well balanced. At its heart Tokaido is not a particularly competitive game, admittedly only one of you can win, but it’s anything but cut-throat.

Tokaido works well as an atmospheric set-collecting game for 2-5 people that can be completed in around 30-45 minutes. If it is a game you think you might be interested in and are looking for a push then go ahead a buy it. If you haven’t heard of it then also buy it.

Art

I love the art of Tokaido, it’s slightly whimsical, its evocative and light and very easy to sit with. It’s bright and stylised look helps to settle you into the game and really sets the mood, Tokaido is a game about enjoying the scenery, grimdark it is not. 

Tokaido characters

Atmosphere

Settle in. Put on some gentle Japanese music, have some sushi while you play. None of this is necessary and I’d happily play Tokaido as I play many games, with either an episode of Sharpe or Brooklyn 99 on in the background. But more than for most games establishing an atmosphere will improve your enjoyment of Tokaido. It is a very gentle game with gentle competition. You’re not rivals, not really, even your characters are having a friendly wager.

Each evening they meet in a different inn and waggle their eyebrows at each other over miso soup and pull out the objects they found or the art they completed or tell the story of the people they ran into. Then without having to say it out loud, they agree on who had the best day, but they all get to the same inn and they’ll do the same thing tomorrow. I have difficulty imaging anyone but the truly hyper-competitive flipping a Tokaido board.

Player’s Perspective

Rhiannon: When I first played, my friends had already played a couple of times. We, therefore, went for a “learn by doing” approach – not my favourite as I usually feel like I am missing something important but I was informed that it is a super simple game…well, it seems super simple. It is an enjoyable quick game and perhaps after a few plays, you will be able to get some sort of strategy going. There is also a slight element of messing up your friends’ strategies. Co-op is not for me, I love ruining my friends’ game plan and this just about satiates that desire. It would also be good for people who don’t like “big” games,  if you just want a quick game before dinner or want something really pretty.

John: Man this game is relaxing. I’m a bit of self-confessed Japanophile so Tokaido really ticks all my boxes. The artwork is just stunning, but it isn’t all about the visuals. Mechanically the game is really enjoyable, it encourages subtle competition without outright conflict and, because of the set-collecting mechanic, even if you don’t get the most points you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. For such a simple game it has a surprising amount of replayability. I think it’s got something to do with the mixture of evocative art work and genuinely satisfying mechanics. I’ve happily played game after game for hours at a time and have yet to find it boring or repetitive.

The Verdict

I love competitive games. I’m a wargamer and a fencer, so I spend most of my time trying to dominate my friend (giggdy). But Tokaido’s allure is such that it makes even a win-focused person like me just want to sit down with and enjoy the scenery with my fellow travellers. If you enjoy the satisfying gameplay, excellent art, evocative music (in the Collector’s Accessory Pack) or you just want a break from the cut throat, post-apocalyptic waste land that is the rest of your board game scene then this is definitely the road you want to be taking. (If you want to pick it up then consider clicking the picture below, it won’t cost you any extra and Amazon will give me pennies for more miniatures, yay)

Buy Tokaido From Amazon

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