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Tokaido

Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(FunForge, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 45 minutes, $39.99)

tokaidoboxAntoine Bauza shines like a new star in the Olympus of game designers. In just 3 years, he has been able to win Spiel des Jahres, Kennerspiel des Jahres, DSP, International Gamers Award and an endless amount of other awards. Of course most of his fame is due to the great success of 7 Wonders (featured in the Winter 2011 Gamers Alliance Report) as well as Hanabi (this year’s SdJ winner). But Antoine has published other good games, in part obfuscated by their titles. Tokaido is, for me, one of these games: a clever and simple family adventure.

What’s Tokaido about? It is about the “East Sea Road”, one of the most magnificent roads of Japan connecting Kioto to Edo. Unfortunately, the names of the two cities are printed on the map only with Japanese ideograms and you have to dig out the names in the rules. But this is part of the charm of this game aided by its graphic design: it looks like a modern architectural building with a lot of white, big empty spaces, pastel colors and stylish drawings. But Tokaido is not just appearance but, in my opinion, has enough substance to make it a game worthwhile to be played.

First of all, the design is built around a simple and well working mechanism: all players move along the same track – with no crossroads or shortcuts – and the player in last position decides where to go, almost anywhere on the track. Just one decision to make every time you have to play: where to move? Most of the time the “first empty space” is the best choice but sometimes it is better to skip some spaces to land in a place offering more opportunities. What makes Tokaido really challenging is the scoring system. Every space on the track offers scoring opportunities but how to best combine these opporunties is where the fun lies.

The track is divided into 4 sections of 12 spaces,13 spaces,12 spaces and 13 spaces long. At the end of each section is an Inn where players have to rest and wait for each other. Along the track, every space offer points in a different way.

Hot Springs give just 2 or 3 points, a Village offers souvenirs that can give from 1 to 7 points according to how you are able to put cards in sets. Souvenirs cost money that you can get in the Farms. In the Temple, you can get from 1 to 3 points by offering 1 to 3 money and also, in the end, some points if you are one of the greatest “supplicants”. In the Encounter spaces, you just draw an encounter card that can give you money, points or other advantages. Finally there are the 3 Panoramas. Visiting the same Panorama gives increasing points: 1, than 2, than 3 and so on. Also being the first to complete a Panorama gives a bonus of 3 points.

tokaido1At the Inns, all players with enough money can buy food for 6 points. At the end of the game, players receive additional points (3) for the one with the most Encounter cards, most Hot Springs, most Food and most Souvenirs.

The game is really simple and this can make gamers feel a lack of appreciation for Tokaido. Of course, it is not a deep “gamers game” but there is more than you can see on the surface. First of all is the management of money: the food in the 4 inns is quite valuable but you need the money to pay for it and money is also used to buy souvenirs and in temples. The one offering the most money in the temple scores 10 points: 8 more than being the 4th. How to best use your money is the first thing to take into account because getting money can be difficult since Farms (the main source of funds) are not so common and it could be more profitable to visit Panoramas or Hot Springs instead.

What also make Tokaido interesting is needing the ability to predict what other players are looking for and decide if and when it could be worthwhile to skip some spaces and rush for something really useful. Of course, systematically skipping spaces is a dumb strategy since almost every space offers some points and visiting too many fewer spaces than others can be dangerous.

All players start with a different character. Each character has special abilities and also dictates the amount of starting money. Using the best tactics according to your character’s peculiarities is a clear path to the victory.

Tokaido is a game that offers something more beneath its attractive appearance. Although not a deep gamers game, it is not as simple as it looks at first glance. Thanks to the simplicity of the rules and the nice setting, It is a really good gateway and satisfying family game. During play, you have to make little but important choices almost every turn. Not great planning, not long-time strategy, but many little pivotal decisions since victory is usually decided in a flurry of victory points at the end. Tokaido hits the target audience it was designed for and is another example of the design skill of Antoine Bauza.


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