Konnochi ha, Mina-san! (Hello, everyone!)
Walk with me a bit as I travel the dusty byways of Tokaido.
Oooooh, this game!
It's such a pretty pretty thing! Unbelievably beautiful components....I hardly know where to start!
Tokaido, designed by the renowned Antoine Bauza and illustrated *beautifully* by Naiade is a strange animal : it wants to immerse you in Zen as you completely screw your friends over as you make a mad...dash...across Ja...pan....
Hardly a mad dash. More of a loooong leisurely stroll.
That screws your friends over.
Along the way you'll compete for the best food, the greatest painting, and the greatest souvenirs, amassing points for each. But it's not a race. You meander to your next destination, and if your opponent has arrived ahead of you? Well, you smile knowingly and stroll a bit farther on down the road.
You begin your Journey in Kyoto, traveling along the East Sea road - the titular Tokaido - on your way to Edo (the original name of Tokyo). Along the way you'll stop to admire - and perhaps capture in painting - the surrounding beauty of the landscape. Or perhaps you'll lose yourself in a bustling shopping district, assembling a collection of souvenirs to mark your journey. All the while donating money to various temples, and stopping at inns along the way, enjoying hot springs and the finest cuisine each region has to offer a weary traveler.
And that's the game in a nutshell.
You and your friends assume one of the many included roles, each with a special ability, and line yourselves up at Kyoto in preparation to begin your journey. In a neat twist on turn order, the person who is in last place gets to move their piece first. This might enable you to actually take two turns in a row, or get stuck in this sort of weird nether region between all the other players' turns as you curse every move each of them makes.
It's a strange, vying-for-control mechanic that drives this beast, as you attempt to arrive at certain destinations before your opponents. Once at each of the three inns you encounter along the road, you'll all stop and rest for the night. But don't be late, or you may find yourself paying exorbitant prices for whatever food is left over.
I love this game.
By now it's likely clear I write about games I have a real passion for, games that I love. It's true, but only because I find it so difficult and saddening to write about games that I ultimately don't like. And there will be some, of course, that don't really work for me, but right now I want to talk about the games that do.
See, board games are a kind of litmus test of our individual psyches, in that the old adage rings very true : one man's garbage is another man's gold. And if you're here reading this then you must have at least a passing fancy for this specific game. Hopefully this review - and my others - educates you and helps in your game purchasing decisions.
I love gaming in general - and board games in particular - so much so that I am loath to run any of them down. I just do not want to be the guy who shifts someone's game-buying decision to the negative. What if a game that didn't work for me would have worked *wonderfully* for that person? I shudder to think of shouldering that responsibility.
So here we are with a game I adore. Oh, that's not to say it doesn't have its issues, and I'll get to those presently, but for now let's focus on the positives, shall we?
This is one of the neatest games I've ever played.
The board is an abstraction of the journey along Japan's coast, with spaces marked out clearly via artwork appearing in measured marks along the way. Each of these stops have space for more than one character, but, other than the inns, not enough for all characters. This is the "screw your friend over" bit I spoke of earlier.
And sometimes choosing between two of the locations ahead becomes outrageously tense!
Well, as outrageously tense as a game steeped in Zen will allow.
Earlier I mentioned the gorgeous artwork. Wow!
The board isn't super detailed, but it's still mightily impressive ; It's a simple, eloquent layout of the road, the waypoints, the space for donating money to the temple, space for the food cards and the painting cards, and a points track across the top.
It really is an incredibly beautiful board.
But the role cards have it beat by miles. Naiade brings the style with artwork that isn't quite surrealist anime, isn't quite cartoony painting, but is all exquisite.
Each card lays out the starting cash you receive, your ability, and your name ; English across the bottom, Japanese down the side
A clever device for matching your role card to your traveler meeple (traveeple? Meeveler? No? FINE) is the colored chit matching the color of your meeple that plugs snugly into a hole in the role card.
The card stock is super heavy, and, unless you play with folks who constantly fiddle with their gear, will last a long time.
I mentioned meeples as counters, and these are standard fare, painted to differentiate each from the others.
The colored chits and the in-game currency boast the same hearty design, with the money evoking the Japanese 5 yen coin, only these have a square hole as opposed to the round one of their real life counterparts.
The cards representing the souvenirs, food and encounters are all standard card stock, and feature more of that stupifyingly terrific artwork.
The box carries an absolutely stunning piece of artwork that manages to capture nearly all of the activities you can perform in-game, and the insert was clearly designed in preparation for expansions. More on those in a bit ...
The rule book is concise and intuitively laid out, with an easy to understand rule set that's explainable in minutes, and is a joy to simply look at!
Oh! Felicia Day has her own promo role card! How awesome is that?!?
On top of all the other goodness, I'd like to talk about the expansions : Crossroads and Matsuri.
Crossroads, as far as the art design and layout is concerned, boasts more of the same. Just simply beautiful packaging and components. A level of sturdiness comparable to the base game is apparent as well.
Speaking of the components, this expansion includes a small board that you place near the main board that adds stacks of cards that alter how each corresponding stop works, offering up a crucial decision for you and your friends.
For instance, instead of painting, your character can simply gain a Cherry Tree. Or instead of visiting the hot springs, you might choose to spend a coin to visit the bathhouse instead, gaining you even more points. You might forego taking money from the farms in exchange for extra luck at the gaming room.
Ah, The Gaming Room.
This expansion also adds a small measure of gambling to the proceedings, in that you wager coins, and, based on the roll of a new specialty die, break even, win more coins, or lose it all.
At the Temples you can now choose to donate money or buy an amulet. These amulets contain a single-use effect, and can be mighty powerful when played at the right moment.
Lastly the shop is altered in that you now have the decision to buy souvenirs or a legendary object. The objects are big points, and can really sway the game!
Besides the new board and corresponding cards, you get 6 new traveler role cards that integrate seamlessly with the cards from the base set.
Overall a nice addition to an already near-perfect game.
Next there's Matsuri
Just as with Crossroads before it, the box, artwork, and components all maintain the high level of quality, material and art design.
And just like Crossroads, this expansion adds a new type of card : Matsuri (festival), which are triggered when the travelers arrive at any of the three intermediate inns. This is my one complaint with the expansions, but is one that's easily overcome with time : there's so many different types of Matsuri that you'll find yourself referring to the included rules addition quite often. Not a big deal, but can easily slow the game down beyond its already leisurely pace.
And holy cats ; more travelers! 16, to be exact. These ALSO integrate nicely with those of the base and expansion travelers, allowing for a huge amount of latitude when deciding just what tack you'd like to take for any individual game session.
Lastly, also included are tokens covering various effects afforded by the cards.
Finally, I want to talk about the Collector's Accessory Pack.
WOW, was this ever a great idea!
First off is the box art that's evocative of the base game cover art, and is a stunning piece in its own right.
Inside you find a bag of metal coins to upgrade from the cardboard coins in the base game along with a printed cloth drawstring bag to store them in, a new wooden Fortune Die to replace the plastic one in the Crossroads expansion, five new "Furoshigi" (wrapping cloth) counters to replace the points counters of the base game, and perhaps the best set of upgrade components ever : plastic miniatures to replace the meeples. 16 of them! Unfortunately this only covers the base game and the Crossroads expansion, so I'm holding out hope we'll get a small upgrade pack of miniatures for Matsuri as well. There's also these cool little colored bits that snap to the bottom of your chosen figure's base, color coordinating with the role inserts, making it easy to tell at a glance who's who.
These figures are so damned cool! Better-than-average quality plastic that holds the higher than average detail well. Going through them, I could tell - by comparing them to the character cards - who was who quite easily, despite there being some variance in pose here and there.
And in a genius stroke, also included is a soundtrack cd!
This nearly hour long cd will transform your Tokaido game session into the ultimate experience, as you enjoy Japanese-inspired music played on traditional instruments. Some of the tracks have other ambient sounds as well, such as birds, waterfalls, or the sounds of folks bustling through a crowded marketplace. It's quite magical.
Give it a listen here :
There's a Deluxe Edition that integrates both Crossroads and the Accessory Pack into the base game available as well.
I can't wait to get a game in with these new components! An already gorgeous board made even more so by the addition of these spectacular upgrade pieces!
Fans of intense interpersonal interaction might be put off by the game overall, as there's very little of it. That's not to say you're not communicating, laughing, etc. What I mean is you take your turn, then your friend takes theirs, then the next friend, and so on, each person waiting to have their go, without any way to really affect any other player's turn.
My comments earlier about "screwing them over" comes less from interaction, and more from arriving at stops before they do.
"Oh, you're working on your painting, and only need the last panel? And there's only one more stop before the end of the trip where you can gain that panel? Well, how about if I just stop there instead...?"
It's an incredibly fun thing to do, but ultimately you're doing it alone.
This isn't a deterrent for me at all, as I enjoy a wide variety of game mechanics, but some might find it off-putting. Heck, I'd recommend picking the game and it's expansions up simply as a conversation piece, it's all so beautiful.
And there you have it : Tokaido.
Thanks for reading, and if I'm not strolling down some coastal trail, I'll see you next time!