Buzzworthiness: Tokaido

Today’s review is for

image by BGG user Funforge
image by BGG user Funforge

Tokaido is a 2012 game designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Funforge.  The game is for 2-5 players and takes about 45 minutes to play.  You are a tourist traveling the Tokaido (East Sea Road) in Japan from Kyoto to Edo.  Your goal is to have many varied experiences, earning points as you go.

The board consists of a track showing all the possible stops between Kyoto and Edo, including four inns.  At the beginning, players are randomly placed in Kyoto.  Each player gets a character with a different special ability (you can draft from two choices), and gets money based on that character.

The player who is last on the track always goes first, and may move as far as they want on the Tokaido.  Once you have chosen your stop, you may take the action of that space.  You may not stop on a space containing another traveler, though a number of spaces have two spots (these are only used in the 4-5 player game).  Here’s a brief description of the spaces:

  • Village – Draw three souvenir cards, and buy as many as you want.  There are four types of cards, and you want to collect a set of all four different types.  The first card in the set gives you one point, the second gives you three, the third gives you five, and the fourth gives you seven.  If you collect cards of the same type, they simply go in different sets.
  • Farm – Collect three coins.
  • Panorama – There are three types of panoramas.  The first time you stop at a panorama, you collect the first card worth one point.  The second time you stop at the same type of panorama, you collect the second card worth two points.  And so on.  The panoramas have 3, 4, and 5 cards.  If you are the first to collect a complete panorama, you get a three point bonus card.
  • Hot Spring – Collect a card that will be worth two or three points.
  • Temple – Donate 1-3 coins to the temple, which earns you 1-3 points.  At the end of the game, you can get a bonus for donating the most money to the temple.
  • Encounters – Draw an encounter card and apply the effect.  This can get you a free souvenir, a free panorama card, three points, three coins, or allow you to take a coin from the bank to make a donation to the temple.
  • Inn – Everyone must stop at an inn.  The first person there draws one more meal card than there are players, and can purchase one.  They pass the remainder on the second person there, and so on.  The meal scores you six points.  The restriction is that you cannot buy a meal you have already had.  If that’s all there are, or if you can’t pay, or don’t want to pay, you go hungry.

Once all players have reached the final inn, the game is over and you do a final scoring.  The player who has the most encounters gets three points.  The player with the most Hot Spring cards gets three points.  The player with the most souvenirs gets three points.  The player with the highest sum of coins on meal cards gets three points.  The player who has donated the most to the Temple gets ten points, second gets seven, third gets four, and anyone else who donated gets two.  The player with the most points is the winner.

Components - image by BGG user Funforge
Components – image by BGG user Funforge

COMPONENTS: This game is absolutely gorgeous.  The look of the game is very distinctive.  A lot of white space is utilized on the box and the board, and the track is really fairly minimalistic – it’s essentially a line with dots representing the stops, and an icon to indicate the type of space.  The track is well laid out, and it’s pretty simple to figure out what is what.  The Hot Springs and one of the panorama look similar if you’re not paying attention, but everything else is fairly distinguishable.  The art is very evocative of the theme, and is beautifully done by Naiade.  The board has three sections, and folds into thirds – it is a long board.  The coins are cardboard with a hole in the middle, resembling actual Japanese coins.  Cards are easily sorted using their backs, and there are spaces on the board for all decks.  The score track is across the top of the board and uses small cubes.  It can get crowded, but works well enough.

The characters in the game are all represented by a character board which features a hole that you can insert a token of your color.  This is a pretty cool feature to help you and everyone else remember your color since the meeples are not tied to any particular character.

Overall, Tokaido is a beautiful game to look at and one that has some great components.  I should note that a collector’s edition was recently Kickstarted that ups the quality of components even more (metal coins, a coin purse, minis instead of meeples, etc.)  But the original is still quite nice.

THEME: Antoine Bauza really likes the Eastern theme in his games – Ghost Stories, Takenoko, Hanabi, and the upcoming Samurai Spirit all have Japanese or Chinese themes.  It’s unique, and is an attractive aspect of Tokaido.  The art in particular really brings out this aspect of the theme.  The overall story of being a tourist trying to have varied experiences also really works – anyone who has been on a vacation knows that you’re trying to pack as much as possible into a short period of time, and also knows that you’re never able to really do everything you want.  So you have to prioritize, and this game really brings that out.  The only place that the theme doesn’t really work is in that you cannot go backwards.  Mechanically, it makes sense, but thematically, you should be able to go back to a place that was too crowded the first time around.  I’m not saying I want to play like that, I’m just saying that the theme doesn’t quite fit there.  Overall, though, the theme works very well and is quite unique.

MECHANICS: The big mechanism in play in this game is the time track element.  The time track is generally used to indicate the passage of time – you can only move forward, and actions take a certain amount of time.  This means that the game simulates a certain amount of time, and players will get done at roughly the same time.  So if we are at the same time on the time track, and I do an action that takes five minutes, and you take an action that takes three minutes, you’re still two minutes behind and get another turn.  This mechanism has been used in games like Thebes, Red November, and Glen More.  Here, the time track is used as a mark of people’s travels, with the last person moving.  If you move way ahead of the pack, you’re going to have to wait for everyone else to catch up because you can’t go again until you’re in last place again.  This is not a race.

The inns are introduced on the board to slow you down.  It’s a place you must stop, and the last person there will be the first one out (though they get last choice from the available meals).  Again, it’s not a race, but sometimes it’s nice to get first choice of what’s next.  As for the other spaces, the village and panoramas offer opportunities for set collection.  The temple gives you a little bit of a bidding element as you try to not give too much, but give enough to get points.  The farm and hot springs are basically free money and points.  The encounters give you a random benefit.

The character powers all seem fairly well balanced – some do seem better than others, but they all do the job of giving you a specific goal before you start.  For example, Mitsukuni the old man gets one additional point for each hot spring and achievement card, Sasayakko the geisha can get a souvenir for free when purchasing another of equal or greater value, and Umegae the street entertainer gets a point and a coin for each encounter before resolving it.  The variable nature of these help each game to be different.

The last thing I want to talk about is scoring.  As you score, you advance your scoring marker and collect a card.  The card serves to help you track your score – if you think you made a mistake, you can always refer back to your cards.  This is a lot like the scoring in Ticket to Ride, which is easily trackable by counting your trains.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Tokaido is a fairly light game.  The only decision to be made on your turn (usually) is how far you want to move.  Once you’ve reached your location, you may have another choice to make, but the big decision is what you want to do.  Sometimes that decision goes with a greater strategy, and sometimes you’re just going to stop somewhere to keep someone else from stopping there.  That in itself is an important part of the game – you always have to keep an eye on everyone else.  Because there are so many ways to score, you have to make the decision of how to best optimize your turn.  So, despite the outwardly simple nature of the game, there are some good tactical decisions to be made.

ACCESSIBILITY: I would classify Tokaido easily as a gateway game.  It flows really well, is simple to understand, and provides a great introduction to game mechanisms like set collection and the time track.  The art will also appeal to a wide variety of people, particularly those interested in Eastern culture.

REPLAYABILITY: The board in Tokaido is static, which means that the journey is going to be the same every time.  This is where the different player powers help to make the game different, as different people will develop different goals.  Still, I think it’s a game that will start to get old as you play it again and again.  Expansions give new characters, choices for each space, and new encounters, which will certainly up the replayability.  Straight out of the box, I think it’s moderately replayable, but probably has an expiration date.

SCALABILITY: The game plays with 2-5 people.  The two-player version is a variant, and is essentially a dummy player that the first place person controls.  Honestly, I’d rather have another person playing.  The two- and three-player game only has one space per location, while the four- and five-player games sometimes have two.  I tend to like having more people in the game – AP might be a little bit of a problem, but since the player on turn has usually had some time to think about it, turns tend to be quick.

FOOTPRINT: Tokaido comes in your standard Ticket to Ride size box.  The board is 33 inches long and 11 inches wide, and each player will need some space to spread out their cards.  It’s not a small game, and you will need some table space – probably not a good travel game.

LEGACY: Of the time track games I have played (Thebes, Red November, and Glen More), I find Tokaido to be the simplest to understand.  Thebes is also fairly simple, but has a touch more complexity as you need to use knowledge in determining what you do.  Red November is cooperative with bad things happening as you cross certain points.  Glen More is probably the most complex of these as you are gaining tiles and figuring out how best to place them.  Tokaido makes a pretty good introduction to these other games.

IS IT BUZZ WORTHY? Yes.  It’s a gorgeous game, and there are a lot of good decisions to be made.  I’m primarily going to use it as a gateway game – it’s not really one I’m going to pull out often with gamers, but I think it’s a nice non-threatening game that can bring people in.  Thanks for reading!


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