Tokaido is a beautiful walk across Japan

Tokaido is a pretty board game about taking a nice walk. That’s it. Sound dull? Well I can’t keep it off the table.

As soon as I saw Tokaido’s minimalist box and gorgeous cover illustration, I wanted to play. Designed by Antoine Bauza, Tokaido is not a race. In fact, it’s the opposite, as I’ll explain. Your job is to travel the fabled Tokaido Road from Kyoto to old Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and buy souvenirs, meet people, visit the hot springs and eat delicious food. The player who has the richest experience wins. There is some strategy, but really Tokaido is about the journey itself. And I can’t stop playing. Here’s my look at Tokaido.

Tokaido

Game overview

You start your adventure in Kyoto after selecting a character. The characters have various powers which you’ll tap into as you walk. There are hot springs to sooth your body and mind; lovely souvenir shops with all manner of items up for sale; temples that accept your generous offerings; villages brimming with charming locals and inns with the most sumptuous food any traveler could imagine. You’ll also gaze upon beautiful vistas, each more expansive than the last.

The rules are dead simple and the strategy is just deep enough to be satisfying but not so demanding that you spend your off-turn obsessing over what you’re going to do next. Let’s look at the components.

Components

Tokaido

There are a lot of pieces here and they’re all great to look at. The long board is so colorful and pretty it almost shines. You’ll also find eight decks of cards:

  • Panorama cards (three types)
  • Meal cards
  • Souvenir cards
  • Encounter cards
  • Achievement cards
  • Hot springs cards

The cards are smaller than standard playing cards and feature beautiful artwork and easily-understood iconography. Additionally, the box contains 10 character cards. These are printed on heavy cardboard and feature an image of your character as well as his/her name (three females and seven males), iconography describing their power, initial “purse” of money and a small slot that holds the color token that matches traveler piece.

Finally, there are several small coin pieces and five wooden daubers used for scoring. Again, they’re all bright and cheerful. I want to walk across Japan just from looking at this game.

Gameplay

To get started, choose a character whose power you like, and then a traveler piece and matching color token to represent your character. Take the amount of money depicted on the character card.

Once the cards decks are shuffled and put in place, it’s time to determine the start player. It’s actually crucially important to be last. What? Last? Yes, last. Tokaido has no dice and no spinner. The active player is the player whose traveler piece is last on the board. To determine start order, put each player’s traveler piece into your hand, shake them up and then randomly draw them out, one at a time. The first piece is placed down first, the second second and so on. The last token to be placed on the board is the start player.

Where to? You can move to any space between your current position and the nearest inn. Every player must stop and stay at an inn until all of the players have gathered there. But more on inns in a moment.

There are six types of places to explore (not including inns):

  1. Villages: Draw the top three souvenir cards. Buy one and put the others on the bottom of the village deck.
  2. Temples: Leave a donation of up to three coins at the temple on the spot that corresponds with your character’s color.
  3. Encounters: Draw the top encounter card and apply its effects.
  4. Hot springs: Have a soothing break from the dusty road. Sit and soak for either two or three points.
  5. Farms: Add three coins to your purse.
  6. Three panoramas (white, blue and green). These cards are special. There are several of each color which, when placed next to each other in order, make a single scene. The green deck makes a three-card scene, the white deck a four-card scene and the blue panorama is five cards long. As you add each one to your collection, you receive an increasing number of points. For example, the first card of each set is worth one point, the second two and so on. I advise not looking at these ahead of time. My kids and I found that watching the scene “unfold” as it were was a lot of fun.

Tokaido

Now, your character has a power that’s triggered by one type of stop. For example, Yoshiyasu draws two encounter cards instead of one, choosing the one he wants and placing the other on the bottom of the deck. Meanwhile, when Sasayakko buys two souvenirs, the cheaper of the two is free for her. So you’re motivated to land on certain spots. But don’t jump too far ahead or you won’t get a turn for quite a while.

With me so far? Isn’t this a splendid walk? We must stop and rest sometime, and the place to do that is at an inn. When a player arrives at an inn, several things happen. First, she purchases a meal. The first player to arrive at an inn places her token in the topmost spot and draws one meal card equal to the number of players, plus one extra. She then looks at all of them, buys the meal she wants and places the rest back on the board. The second player to arrive places his token directly behind that of the first player, and chooses a meal from the cards the first player discarded. Then the third person arrives and so on, until all players are at the inn, chowing down. When dinner time is over, everyone departs the inn, starting with the player who arrived last.

Which meal should you buy? Let’s talk about achievements.

There are several achievements that earn you additional points. These are tallied at the end of the game, when everyone has arrived at the last inn. For example, the player who has purchased the most expensive meals earns the gourmet achievement, worth three points. The player with the most points from hot springs wins the bather achievement for three points. Whoever had the most encounters wins the chatterbox achievement for three points, and finally the player who is weighted down by the mightiest tower of souvenirs wins the collector achievement, again for three points.

Tokaido

But wait, there’s more! Remember those gorgeous panoramas? Be the first to complete a panorama of any color and win an extra three points for finishing off the set. Finally, the player who was the most generous in donating to the temple snaps up a whopping 10 points. The second most generous gets seven points, third gets four and the rest of you cheapskates all get two points.

The Tokaido experience

I know I’ve been shy about my opinion of Tokaido, but I LOVE IT. This is not a typical game and it’s hard to compare it to others. Yes, you can employ some strategy and try to win, but each time I’ve played, my competitors and I end up asking to see each others’ cards, ask about this and that and pick meals not because they are expensive or trigger a power, but because they look pretty or delicious. Tokaido is an experience, and a very pleasant one.

Conclusion

Why are you still reading this and not on Amazon ordering Tokaido?  It’s a great game for families, those interested in looking at what lies beyond Clue and Life, and hardcore gamers looking for something fun to do between sessions of Agricola.  I’m quite smitten with Tokaido and I’m certain you will be, too.

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