On The Road Again – Tokaido review

Tokaido Cover

In the words of noted twentieth century thinker Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. Sometimes it pays to take a moment, relax and take stock of things, and gaming offers people a true opportunity to do this. After all, isn’t sitting down to play a game the ultimate thumbed nose to a busy world? No work, just play, surrounded by friends and indulging yourselves. Of course, travel is another way to get yourself out of the loop, but why not combine the two by setting up a copy of Tokaido next time you’re playing? Prepare yourself for a journey across Japan without leaving your seat!

Designed by Antoine Bauza, Tokaido is a beautiful and actually rather relaxing game that sees between two and five players travel the East Sea Road in Japan. Stretching from Kyoto to Edo (the old name for Tokyo), the road actually gives the game its name, and as you move along the linear board you’ll indulge in various activities that, were they to be part of a real holiday would undoubtedly leave you relaxed and ready for anything. Whether you’re taking time to paint beautiful panoramas or tucking into delicious meals at well-appointed inns that you’ll stay at along the way, this is the kind of break that you’d look to pay thousands for – sadly these are all in your head, but at least you’re in for a rather chilled out experience regardless.

Before play begins, a randomly selected character gives you two things; a special ability that allows a little rule-bending in your favour, and a handful of coins that you can spend on your travels. Every trip needs a little spending money, after all, and travelling the East Sea Road will give you plenty of opportunity to empty your wallet. Once everyone has their money (cute little cardboard coins, reflective of the fanastic quality you’ll find throughout the whole product) it’s time to begin your trip.

Play

The aim of Tokaido is to score the highest amount of points as you move along the road, starting off at the first inn on the left-hand side of the board and working your way along the various spaces, stopping off at attractions aplenty and eating local delicacies. If you’re the person who is furthest back on the road, you’re the one in control; any empty spots between you and the next person can be stopped at and utilised, but as only one meeple can sit on each space, eventually you’ll have to skip over them and hand over the power of movement to someone else. Slowly, you and your fellow travellers will progress across the board, until you all eventually end up at the next Inn space on the road. It’s these spaces that put the game on pause for a few moments as you all enjoy a slap-up meal that will fuel you for the next stage of the trip – and we’ll touch more on those shortly.

Pretty much everything you do brings in points that are totalled on the score track that runs along the top of the board, and as you’d expect there are many things you can get up to on your journey. Perhaps you like to paint? Well, some spots offer the chance to get out your canvas and work on three different panoramas – in other words, should you stop at these places, you get to take a card showing your artistic skills (and granting you some points). Should you be the first person to complete each of these three glorious vistas, you’ll also score bonus points, so racing to finish these can be lucrative. If you’re a social type, you may encounter other people walking the road who will grant you a buff of some kind. Temples can also be visited along the way but you must donate some of your money to fund their upkeep; each coin gives you a point, and the more you’ve put into the box, the more likely you are to receive a hefty bonus when the game is done.

Should your funds run low, you may help out at a local farm that will pay you for your work; very useful when you want to go shopping! This is a major part of Tokaido, as purchasing sets of items will give you a big boost along the score track. Four different types of item exist, so while picking up multiples of each type is a good idea you should really be aiming to pick up groups of four separate things – that way you’ll be pulling in big points as you look over the souvenirs you’ve collected on your journey.

Play 2

Now to the previously-mentioned Inns. When players reach them, the game takes a turn for the culinary. The first player there takes cards from the food deck (the amount of players plus one) and then may buy one single meal for between one and three coins. Each Inn you stop at gives you the chance to eat something, but you must always try something different – after all, there’s no better time to experiment with your food preferences than when you’re on vacation! The next player then gets to choose their meal from the cards that you didn’t like the look of, and so it goes until the final player reaches the Inn and is left with only two options. This presents a great opportunity for screwing over players who are dawdling a little, because if they’ve already eaten the options that are available, they can’t buy anything – and if you can’t buy anything, you’re losing ground on the other travellers.

One good thing about being last at the Inn – you’re the first person to leave the next day. Getting the first pick at the upcoming locations can be very valuable, and it’s a great little catch-up mechanism that keeps things relatively even as the game progresses. In games with more players, some locations have multiple spots which mean more than one player can visit there at a time; the game rules that when two players are at the back of the line, the one furthest from the road must be the first to move. These multi-spot locations add a level of strategy to the game, but far from complicate matters – if anything, having more options that don’t put you at the front of the queue is way better than just constantly racing to be the first at the inn. Tokaido encourages you to do as much as possible on your journey through the game, performing as many activities as possible in that hour or so that you’re sat at the table, and the more you do, the better your likelihood of victory.

Tokaido is a gentle affair, and honestly, that’s probably why I hold it in such high regard. It’s a great game to break out with people who aren’t au fait with the hobby – with such straightforward rules (take your meeple, move it along the road as far as you like, stop at the Inns) Tokaido is accessible and easy to understand, and the relatively short playtime won’t terrify new gamers. On the flipside, it’s also an ideal title to bring to the table for experienced folks who are looking for something gentle, either as a palate cleanser after a day of gaming or simply something different when you’re looking for a bit of a change of pace. A friend of mine has described Tokaido as the simplest Worker Placement game ever, and I find that’s a perfect description – with your sole “worker” progressing slowly across the board, you score points performing your actions until you reach the end of the game. Bauza’s simple yet pleasing design coupled with the beautiful work of Naiade make Tokaido a near-essential addition to your collection. Take some time to relax next time you hit the game table and enjoy spending some time on the East Sea Road!

Tokaido was designed by Antoine Bauza with illustrations throughout done by Naiade. Originally released through Funforge in 2012, between two and five people can enjoy a leisurely hour travelling the East Sea Road. The game can be bought for around £30, and should you wish to expand your Tokaido experience, two expansions are now available! Enjoy your trip!

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