Tokaido Is Like Taco Bell Without The Indigestion.
Posted by Kisa Klein on
In Tokaido, I’m a ronin - a masterless samurai named Kinko (I already made the Kinkos joke during the game so shush.) I’m traveling from Kyoto to Edo, along the famously divine Tokaido route, where beauty is in abundance. As I’m traveling, I wander through a marketplace and pick up a few souvenirs. I continue on to a temple at which I pay my respects, meet a new friend, and do a bit of work at a local farm for some extra money. At the end of the day, I check in to an inn, treat myself to a local delicacy, and chat up the owner until my bill is marked down. Thus concludes the first leg of my journey.
Tokaido is, without a doubt, the least competitive and most relaxing non-cooperative game I’ve played to date. When we finished I felt like I’d had a nice massage or a jacuzzi dip.
The bulk of boardgames tend to default towards violence or dickery. This is a touchy subject because of the well-known and eyeroll-inducing claims from “family-oriented” groups saying that games induce violent behaviour in teens and children. We all grew up with that one friend who wasn’t allowed to watch the Simpsons or play Pokemon because of whatever parenting book-inspired or religious reason. (I’m a Christian, so I’m groaning louder than most of you here.) Remember the sleepovers where one kid either tried to go to sleep at 8 or got picked up before the pajamas went on?
The right mixture of the Bible and parenting books can create a real fun game called Children Apologizing For Their Parents’ Behavior.
But even those groups would be hard-pressed to find something aggressive about Tokaido. The premise of the game is to live out a self-fulfilled journey of personal enrichment. Your goal is to take part in the local culture by trying as many different foods, seeing as many sights, and meeting as many people as possible. You’re encouraged to take your time on the trail, and any coins (used to buy food and souvenirs) left over at the end of the game are wasted. Nothing bad can happen to your character - each action can only involve gaining points or not gaining points, with no way to actually lose them.
Let me repeat that: in Tokaido, nothing bad can happen to you, and your goal is to be as enriched by life as possible. It’s like eating a meal where everything is one of your favorite foods, and nothing weird or painful gets to come out of you an hour later.
Uuugh, dat FILO mechanic...
That said, it’s not a cooperative game. Players take turns moving down a straight trail, with the person furthest behind always going next. You can move as far or as little as you want down the trail, so long as you don’t occupy the same space as another player or journey past the next inn. To this effect, if Player 1 has claimed a spot on the trail, they’ve essentially monopoly’d that spot from all the other players because Player 1 can’t move their piece until they’re the furthest back on the trail.
This is the one way that a player can dick with the other players - the one point of stress that keeps the game relaxing without being boring or non-interactive with your friends: take a spot before they do, namely along the trail (or at the inn, where the first arrival has a better chance at getting points from their stay). Even if nothing bad can happen to you in Tokaido, it’s still fun to watch your friends squirm because they can’t do something.
Boardgamers can turn even the most peaceful games into a strategy of assholery.
Tokaido is a game for people who like getting things - points, cards, items, whatever - with minimal effort. If you like the part of a game where you draw a card or get an item or money, then you will love Tokaido, because acquiring things is the bulk of the game. It takes strategy to get certain items, sure, but getting specific items isn’t the point of Tokaido anyway - whatever strategy gets you the most cards will generally get you the most points and win you the game, so the strategy becomes an effort to drag your feet as slowly as possible down the game trail and land on as many spots as possible, with few exceptions when it comes to landing on certain spaces.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a Tokaido jacuzzi, because I can’t afford a real one.
✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
Would play again.
Tokaido is fun and relaxing, with a steady drip of satisfaction from the never-ending drawing of items and cards. It’s also relatively simple to learn, and doesn’t take too much time to play. That said, the game balance could be approved upon in terms of over-powered versus weak character abilities, and the rulebook could use some editing.
Space needed: about 3ft x 5ft for two players.
Play Time: 30-45 min
Mechanics are relatively simple to learn.
Playing a game doesn’t take forever - you can play a full game in about 25 minutes if you’re efficient.
Lots of dopamine from drawing a lot of cards.
Minimal interactivity between players.
Some character cards are clearly over-powered - Yoshiyasu is a terrible character card and I hate him.
You have to memorize a few of the point-keeping rules in order to play efficiently, namely the Achievement cards, and remember to keep points religiously. Tokaido is almost deceptive on this point because the bulk of the points can be tallied at the end, so it’s easy to become relaxed and forget to keep points. (Unlike, say, Ticket to Ride, where you can count all points at the end and it doesn’t matter.)
Suggestions for Players:
The more players you have, the more interesting the game will be - trying to plan out a jumbled path among players fumbling over each other is part of the fun of Tokaido.
Keep the rulebook open to the page detailing the Achievement cards. We forgot about them until the end of the game and had already started cleaning up some of our cards, which made it awkward to tally points based on them.
When you draw cards, place them face-up in front of you unless they’re unbought village or meal cards. The rulebook doesn’t explicitly say to do this, but the game makes more sense when you do.
Score card: ✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
Learning Curve: (Learning via supplied materials, not necessarily video tutorials)
✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
It took me about 20 minutes to figure out what the rulebook was trying to tell me. Once I realized what it was saying, the game was relatively simple, but the instructions could have been written better. A good rulebook, from what I’ve seen, will list the key points of the game logically: here is the premise; here is your objective; here’s how you start the game; here’s how you take turns; here’s how you end the game. Tokaido tells the gamer how to play, but doesn’t fill in small nuances, for instance telling the player to move their piece without explicitly stating that they can move as far or as little as they wish. Small changes to the wording could go a long way.
✩✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
While the rulebook was organized fairly well in terms of succinctness, (there wasn’t a lot of text, so it was never very hard to find anything) there was a bit left to be desired when it came to going back and looking up specific rules - namely because the various pieces and piles in the game don’t interrelate very well, so categorizing them becomes a bit of a challenge. When looking for a rule, the gamer ends up skimming through the entire rulebook from the beginning just to find the part they have a question about. Since the rulebook is light, however, this isn’t too much of an issue.
Variability of Results:
✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
I’ve only played Tokaido twice thus far, and see how the results can vary - depending on a certain player’s mood, they can skip a space or not and dramatically alter the game. However, because the game exists on a single path, it becomes a bit easy to predict where players will likely go. (i.e.: “He needs money, so he’s going to prioritize landing on a Farm over going to that Village, which means I can afford to dally on the Encounters spot even though I want to visit the Village.”) I imagine after playing Tokaido for the fifth time, the linear path becomes pretty boring. If I were to suggest an edit, it would be to alter the path to split while still going in a forward direction, with the first player down the split leading the way and barring the other players from heading down the other path(s). (i.e.: The path splits into three. After a player chooses and goes down one of the three paths, the other two paths become barred, and all players must go down the path that the first player chose. This could happen a dozen or so times throughout the players’ journey.)
✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
In the game, each player gets a character card, and each character card has a unique ability that gives the player an in-game advantage. The unfortunate part of this is that some cards are clearly worth more than others, and this translates to the character abilities; it’s worth more to a player to save money on inn meals than to have a choice between two encounter cards. The former helps guarantee the six-point cards, which can lose or win a player the game, while the latter gives the player a choice between two randomized effects that usually mean very little to said player. If you combine this with the low variability of the game, it usually means whoever has the better character card is likely going to win, which is why this gets a low two-star score.
Sense of Reward:
✩✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
I’m a greedy, greedy person, so playing a game where you get to keep drawing cards without end is gleefully fun for me. Tokaido happily provides on this front, and it makes the game one never-ending IV drip of dopamine. The only problem I have with this system is that there isn’t much work put into acquiring any of the points in Tokaido. Without a healthy dose of work for the end goal, the sense of reward isn’t quite as satisfying. That said, I know a few people who don’t mind this critique at all and would happily play this game over and over for that very reason.
✩✩✩ / ✩✩✩✩✩
There’s a balance between tiring out the players and giving them a sense of completeness at the end of the game - you want players to be satisfied at the end of the game, but not happy that it’s finally over. For my part, I found that I was eager to play Tokaido multiple times in a row, mostly because it’s a fun game, but also unfortunately because the ending didn’t feel satisfying enough, and I felt there must be more to the game - this is perhaps a side-effect of having the board be so linear and short, since it seemed only fair to randomize the results a bit more by continuing the game in playing it over. While Tokaido doesn’t exhaust its players (we nearly played it twice in a row despite all being tired from work), it also doesn’t require the amount of in-game work or provide enough variability that its players need in order to provide the sense of accomplishment that results in end-game satisfaction.