One of the first things you will learn about me if we sit down to a play a board game is that I’m really competitive. As soon as there is a game board in front of me or a deck of cards in my hands, everything becomes about how to succeed in that particular game. I tried to stay indifferent, yet unbeknownst to me, the competitiveness reels its head no matter what. However, there is one game that makes me completely forget that at the end of the road, points will be tallied up. This game is an incredibly relaxing pleasant walk across Japan, where I stop to paint beautiful vistas, relax in hot springs, spend all my money in the tourist shops on the trinkets I don’t even need and have interesting encounters on the way. While there are competitive elements present in the game, I just don’t care about them, because the journey is more satisfying.
What I am trying to say, is that there is a game called Tokaido, and it makes me a better person.
• Designer: Antoine Bauza, Xavier Gueniffey Durin
• Publisher: Funforge
• Number of Players: 2-5 Players
• Playing Time: 45 mins
In Tokaido, every player is an adventurer taking a road from Kyoto to Edo. There are various points of interest across the road, which players can visit, but only one at the time. The reason that you want to stop at the hot spot or on the beautiful waterfront (except for the obvious enjoyment factor), is that you are trying to collect sets of cards that will generate victory points at the end of the game.
There are three different vistas you can paint. Stopping at the point corresponding to that type of vista, will generate a card, some victory points, and when completing that painting first, will also award bonus points. Also all vista cards, when completed, will arrange themselves in a beautiful painting, a pleasure to look up and satisfying to finish.
However, if painting is not your preferred pastime, there are plenty of other activities to occupy yourself with. You could donate money to the temple, relax after a long day of hiking in the hot springs, encounter some interesting travelers on the way, go shopping in the souvenir shop, and when you run out of money, visit the bank to replenish your purse. And, of course, when the day is over, you can spend the night at the inn, while eating traditional Japanese food. That is, if you haven’t spent all your money on the ornate fans and kimonos in the souvenir shop around the corner. There are various bonus point systems that correspond to each activity, and can give a victory point boost at the end of the game.
As a traveler in Tokaido, every player picks a character that gives them an advantage in the certain area. For example, a painter – surprise-surprise – is good at painting, so it only makes sense to visit as many vista stops as possible. Similarly, if the character gets a bonus from doing the encounters, it is equally sensible to have as many encounters as possible to capitalise on that ability.
Finally, I want to mention my favourite aspect of the game: its movement mechanic. There is no dice or limit to how much players should move. There is only one rule: the last player always moves first. Jump ahead? Now you will have wait until everyone else catches up with you, before you can continue traveling. Were you left behind? Well, enjoy stopping on every free spot and pocketing all the rewards, until you reach the next person in front of you. Of course, be mindful of not-as-rare-as-it-might-sound event, that you are lagging behind everyone else and have ran out money, so everyone at the inn will buy the cheapest food and leave you hungry as well as without the valuable bonus 6 victory points.
The rules of Takaido are fairly simple, and at first it might seem like there isn’t a lot to the game: it is just about walking along the same path. However, there is a plethora of strategic moves and decisions to make once the game gets going. You can hang back, hoping to maximise the number of stops you can make, but then risk on missing the more important stops as the result. You can do the opposite and rush ahead, making sure you get the stops that you want. Or, you can try blocking other opponents from the stops that they need instead. And there are so many other things to look out for, depending on your position on the board, the characters that are being played and the cards already collected. It might be the same journey every time, but the experience will be different.
With various characters and their powers available for the choosing, there are, of course, those characters that seem to have a greater advantage or at least are easier to play. Choosing a character with a bigger starting coin value has always been one of them. This is mostly because buying souvenirs accumulates victory points fairly quickly, and buying souvenirs when you have a lot of money is obviously easier. This might not be an issue when playing with a more experienced group, who know all the tricks of the game. However, it shows as a big advantage for a group of those who are new to Tokaido.
Tokiado itself is a really beautiful looking game. It has a distinct Japanese-like art style, that permeates through all game elements from the board, cards to the little tokens that you insert into character cards to distinguish which character belongs to which player. The only mis-step in the component design are the small wooden point markers that are quite small and fiddly to handle.
I’ve seen Takaido described as a very Zen experience, and while I find this choice of words cheesy, in this game’s case, they are also very true. Somehow, when playing Tokaido, points are almost the last thing on the mind. All I ever wanted to do when playing, is to enjoy my journey and each time I have. Tokaido might not satisfy hardcore board gamers, who are looking for a deep game for two hours. However, it shines in being simple, yet with enough substance to keep players excited and wanting to return to it. In my experience, Tokaido had equal success with board game newbies and with those well versed in tabletop, and it was also enthusiastically replayed afterwards on many occasions.