With a lot of boardgames you see resting on the shelf in the shop, the art jumps out to you, but then you open the box and while the contents may be like a veritable chocolate box of delights, it doesn’t necessarily live up to that “judge a book but it’s cover” first impression. Well with Tokaido, those first impressions carry all the way through the beautifully designed and printed contents.
You play the part of a traveller, walking down the old Tokaido road from Kyoto to Edo, picking up souvenirs, chatting to interesting people and stopping at taverns on your way – hopefully with enough money to pay for a meal.
It’s a competitive victory-point based game where you move along a detailed board, stopping at discreet spaces and attaining cards worth victory points or money to plan for later rounds. You take turns like in golf, where the person who is closest to the start goes next, which produces a really unique dynamic of trying to leap-frog your opponent to try and intercept what they need the most while also trying not to go too far and upset your own chance of earning those sweet meal-based points because there is only one catch – the tavern spaces, where you must stop and wait for everyone else to arrive while you buy your (daily?) meal and sit on the veranda gazing out at Fuji-san.
One person might be stopping at every vantage point along the route, to accumulate a tableau of beautiful views painted in classical Japanese style while another spends their time bartering with the locals for souvenirs. The game gets quite intense as it becomes clear what every player is working on and inevitably finds the space they desperately needed occupied by another player. Tokaido is a revenge-based experience.
You physically build tableaus and buy souvenir cards. you collect memories from the interesting people you’ve run into and even macaque-laden hotsprings ring in your mind as your point total rises and the table becomes ever more colourful. Most of the time in these types of games, where you collect pieces of cardboard to win, they sit in a stack, never to be touched again until the end of the game. In Tokaido, while your opponents are deciding where next to go, you find your eye pondering the pastoral landscapes and quaint curiosities laid out before you.
The hours pass by as each 30-45 minute game makes you hungry for another. Just to try a different play style or a different character and in the end you’ll be disappointed you put it away.
The only downsides to the game is the Meeples included as playing pieces – I never did like Meeples , the card stock while beautifully printed is a little thin, possibly it’s 2012 heritage showing through and the lightness of the rules/mechanics may put some people off, but if you are looking for something fresh, easy and fulfilling to while away an afternoon, then Tokaido fits the bill.