Sometimes I forget that I came to find out about Tokaido a couple of years after it was released. I’ve loved and played it so much, I feel like I’ve been playing it far longer than I have! Tokaido is one of the rare games on my shelf that I’ve played so much I can actually teach it well, and on top of that it’s got the triple whammy of: easy to learn, lovely to play and gorgeous to look at! It’s not a hard sell to those who are not yet under the spell of this game.
Set in the age of the ancient Japanese Tokugawa dynasty, Tokaido has players travel along Tōkaidō, the road that connects Kyoto to Edo. Each stretch of road has action spots for players to visit to gain points and collect sets, and the road is punctuated with stops at inns where delicious meals are eaten and rest is had. If that sounds pretty chill – it is! I don’t think I have any other game that quite fits the idea of a “comfort game” like this one.
Why do I keep coming back to Tokaido? The variable player powers (each traveler has a little something unique to help your quest) certainly mean that each game is a little different, and the player count can have an affect on the experience of play, too (not being able to double up on some spaces in a 3 player game is a challenge!). And while I don’t play with it every game, the Crossroads expansion adds extra characters and action spots that can really freshen up a game experience. On top of all of this, I think it’s the challenge of each game that keeps me coming back – how I can try and best myself from game to game by trying different strategies and seeing how I fare on my journey with different travelers. And I can’t go without mentioning the beautiful, delicate art of Naïade – it’s got this semi-traditional feel, especially with the look of the travelers, but has got its own character and tone that really elevate the game experience. The panoramas! Seriously.
Given that I’ve discussed the stops on the road between Kyoto and Edo, let me briefly go over those places and actions in the base game to give you a taste of the journey. (And there are end-game bonuses for players who have done well at one or more of these actions!)
Each traveler’s power relates somehow to one type of stop on the road – for example, meals might cost you less, you’ll always earn an extra point for stopping at a hot spring, or gain points and money for having encounters as you travel. Each player will take a look at two of these travelers (chosen randomly) at the start of the game and choose one – allowing you a little more control over the strategy you’ll be taking for the game, rather than being assigned a traveler. Then when the game starts, you’ll be working a little tactically against the other players as they – inevitably – will select the stop you want. As the player who trails behind on the road will always take the next turn, it’s good to not skip too far ahead for what you want, because you will only offer other players more opportunity (and, therefore, points).
I must finish up with a point about gameplay. I mentioned above that this is a game with quite a bit of chill. This is definitely the case in almost all of my experiences with this game, as there isn’t really direct player interaction – however, some players can be prone to blocking spots just to make sure others can’t go there (especially the farm!) and can sometimes snap up the cheaper meals at inns making it tougher for the late arrivals to afford their snack if they haven’t saved enough. (However, everything does balance out a little, as the late arrivals to the inn will always leave first and get their choice of next stop.) Overall, while blocking can happen, I do find that with movement and action selection spread out among the players, there’s no real opportunity for one person to be ganged up on and fall behind too badly.
My recommendation is to play this at 3 and above players (4 is my sweet spot though) – I don’t dig the 2 player version with the “dummy” traveler, but some of you out there might be okay with it (it wasn’t my jam in 7 Wonders, either!). Really, what I want to get across is – play Tokaido now and play it often! It’s delightful, it’s a wonderful design, and a beautiful game. Bonus points: It’s even got its own soundtrack if you grab the Deluxe Edition or deluxe upgrade. You really can’t go wrong!
Tokaido is designed by Antoine Bauza, with art from Naïade (Xavier Gueniffey Durin). Playing 2 – 5 players, it takes roughly 45 minutes. Tokaido is published by Fun Forge and Passport Game Studios.