Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tokaido, By Antoine Bauza

Join your friends and travel the legendary and beautiful East Sea Road in Japan. Along the way, check in for hot baths, majestic landscapes, and brilliant food. If you don’t have the scratch to schedule the trip with your travel agent, fear not! Tokaido will get you closer to your dream vacation than you’d have imagined a box full of cardboard could.


I’ll admit to trying this game out only because AntoineBauza designed it. I’m glad I did, as it’s a marvelously-produced game, with attractive bits, bright colors, quality card stock, and a beautiful board. Tokaido sets up a world in which I feel less compelled to compete with my neighbors, and more compelled to spend a few days pondering the beauty found in a Pacific sunrise.


In Tokaido, players join together for a journey down a long and winding path, stopping in all sorts of tourist-y locations to try the wares. The player who is farthest behind is the active player, and can move as far down the path as he or she would like, with the only rule being that players can’t share a space (though the number of spaces is increased in a 4-5 player game). My immediate reaction was to think about jumping all the way to the end of the path, as though I’d decided to fly instead of walking. Fortunately for me, my friends convinced me to change plans and only take a step at a time, which proved both thematically appropriate and integral in my pursuit of victory.

The Odawara Castle watches over the "Tokaido",
 or literally the
"east sea road".
As each player takes a step on the path, he or she stops in a location that provides some luxurious benefit and the victory points that go with it. Some are works of art that represent sight-seeing, from which players earn points by collecting pieces of art, then a bonus for completing the panoramic picture first. Others are types of food that players eat during nightly stops, and the combinations of foods lead to high victory point scores during and at the end of the game. In general, players will move slowly, only as far as is required, because of the missed opportunities (victory points) that come from skipping a location. It’s a great example of game mechanics matching theme – players are encouraged to take their time, stick together, and visit as many locations as possible along the way.

I'm walking the Tokaido to see the Hanabi
Players start with characters that can be wildly different and gain bonuses from different types of locations found on the path. This provides for a reasonable amount of variance from play to play, in a game that doesn’t have a ton of it.  Make no bones about it, Tokaido is definitely a Euro, in that there is very little player interaction (none, if you don’t count taking spaces away from other players. This, combined with a nightly “stay” at inns along the way – placed where players must stop and wait for the group to catch up – makes the game feel much more cooperative than most competitive games I’ve played. It’s a neat feeling, and added to the experience. It’s another nice example of mechanics intertwining with theme in a meaningful way, something not always associated with our game-designing friends from across the Atlantic. 

Panoramic art, collected at stops along the road.
As players visit locations, stop at the inns, and gather bits and pieces of local culture along the way, they inch up the victory point track a few points at a time. It’s interesting to see how the game tends to score in waves – a player will get ahead, but then others will catch up as they visit locations between the leader and the person farthest back. At the end of the game, there are some awards for players who’ve accumulated the most of the various types of cards in the game, at which point the traveler with the highest score is the winner.


Tokaido is beautiful and beautifully-designed, with mechanics that strongly support the game’s theme. I recommend it for any play group of 3-5 (I haven’t played a two-player game yet) that enjoys light competition and typical “Euro” mechanics, and wants to share a journey of discovery. As with almost all of Antoine’s games, there is a ton of iconography involved, which means there’s a bit of a learning curve as players figure out what the symbols mean. It also means there’s very little reading involved, which makes the game much easier for kids to pick up, and for new game players (provided they’re ok with being led by the hand a bit in the first game). This one is an obvious addition to my game library, and I’m very much looking forward to “Tokaido: Crossroads”, the upcoming expansion. 

JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.