Tokaido: A walk on the gentle side

3 11 2012

Tokaido
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes
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The man behind boardgaming hits such as 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories, Antoine Bauza, revealed a much more genteel game at Essen 2012: Tokaido.
This game was high on the ‘want’ list for many Essen-goers and I’m sure the gloriously beautiful artwork by French artist Naïade played a keen part in this.

The game sees 2-5 players embarking on the ancient journey to Edo and are trying to make this as pleasurable a journey as can be. They do this by virtue of making various ‘stops’ along the way. This can be to sample hot springs, to make donations at local temples, to sample the wonderful panoramic views, eat tasty meals at the many inns, buy souvenirs or simply have encounters which bring a variety of benefits. These benefits bring either VIPs, coins and/or can contribute to bonus VIPs at game end.

Beautiful board/art/pieces
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One of the game’s strengths is the turn order mechanism. There is no ‘follow clockwise around the table’ to be found. Quite simply, the player who is furthest back on the path to Edo is the player whose turn is next. This brings us to the next mechanic of how far along the road a player may move. Again, in a twist, a player can move as far along the road they want (at least until the next inn).

Rushing ahead has a variety of benefits, such as enabling players to have the best pick of the options available on that section of the road, and can guarantee a spot rather than get blocked out. Reaching the inn first also gives access to the widest choice of meals. However, the player who jumps ahead will miss out on many of the other delights to be had. Also, the mechanics mentioned previously will result in the players further behind being able to mop up everything that was left behind. If these players are quite far back then it will be quite a wait until that player gets another turn. So there’s a balance to be had. Does slow and steady win the race, or does he who snooze, lose?

Each player also has a choice of two characters at the start of the game who offer a special ability to that player only, such as discounted meals or souvenirs.

Game artist Naïade illustrating copies of the box at Essen Spiel 2012
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Player interaction isn’t high in this game. Other than blocking spaces you can see your opponents may want, or reaching spaces before they do in order to claim bonuses, there are no attacking options to harm other players. However, the game doesn’t set itself out to be that type of game. It is all about the journey.

For gamers who are after ‘meat’ they will find this game doesn’t have it. Everything is light, gentle and you won’t find yourself spending ages deliberating your next move. The game’s age range and playing time recommendations back this up (8+ and 45minutes respectively).

We have played this 4 times now: once as a 2-player, twice as a 4-player and once as a 5-player. In the 2-player game you play with an Alhambra-esque ‘Dirk’-type 3rd player who is controlled by the player farthest along the road. We didn’t find this worked badly at all.
In each of the games, one of the concerns has been that there wasn’t much of an urge to forge ahead and skip places, so most players felt that choosing the next space (or 2) ahead of them was the only viable option to take. Which in fact, felt like it amounted to a lack of choice. Many found the bonus values in each area (3pts) were not significant enough to encourage them to skip ahead to complete panoramas, etc. Out of the many players, one said that they never wanted to play again, but in contrast, there were others who were very much looking forward to doing so.

All that being said, there is no doubt to the appeal of the game. In Essen, the game had many many pre-orders and sold out during the show. We found that there was always a large gathering at the FunForge stand, and indeed, back at the hotel after the show, we had plenty of people show an interest when we were playing.

For me, it is a game I will definitely keep as I had fun playing it and I think it shows off the hobby in a good light. I believe it will be one of the gateway games I will turn to to help introduce new people to the world of non-mainstream games.

If ever the world runs out of Enigma songs, joss sticks or herbal oils, there’s always Tokaido to turn to for some gentle relaxation!

Game in play
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2 responses

4 11 2012
BoxFart

**edited the line: ‘out of the 15 players’ to ‘out of the many players’ as realised I’d counted myself multiple times!

7 11 2012
signspotter

I’ll be the one player who never wants to play this again!
It’s funny, but when I said that I also likened the scoring to 7 Wonders which I said I’d rather play over this game any day. I didn’t realise the same designer was behind it.

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