GAME REVIEW: Tokaido (Deluxe Edition!)

Tokaido was once the most important road in Japan, connecting Kyoto with Edo (now Tokyo); travelling the length of the road (on foot!) was celebrated as a spiritual journey. In modern times, a bullet train line bearing the same name and travelling the same route can cover the distance (over 450 km, or 280 miles) in as little as 2 hours and 22 minutes and speeds of up to 285 km/h (177 mph). From 1964-2012, the train line carried 5.3 billion passengers.

The game bearing the historic name isn’t nearly so break-neck paced, but Tokaido still manages that odd balance of being neck-and-neck competitive, and quietly contemplative at the same time.

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May your journey be one of a lifetime!

What is Tokaido?

Tokaido is a linear path-following, set-collecting game designed by Antoine Bauza and published originally by Asterion Press. Themed (duh) on the historical Japanese travel route and lovingly illustrated by Xavier Gueniffey Durin, the game’s core mechanic is all about how you choose to travel the titular route from one end to the other.

Players can elect to jump ahead of the pack, possibly securing opportunities that would be otherwise blocked by other players or the best pick at the end of each leg of the journey, but may suffer from missing out on valuable opportunities by not making more stops and moving more slowly down the line.

What’s in the Box?

One striking thing about Tokaido is the minimalism of its art style. Much of the board is just white space; characters and collectible cards are beautiful illustrations lavished on a neutral white background. However, when you go into the details, they’re rather stunning. The collectible paintings are a sterling example – place them in order and they actually form a beautiful art piece, rather than simply being a placeholder for “art 1 of 3” like you might see in a less thoughtful game.

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Please excuse my failure to tile them perfectly smoothly.

The contents of the deluxe edition mirror those of the standard game. However, the “quality” dial is turned all the way up to 11. Rather than simple coloured player markers, each character gets a unique high-quality plastic miniature.

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Some of miniatures that accompany each unique character.

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The hollow cardboard-material coins of the base game are characterful as is… but the Deluxe version gets real metal ones!

Playing Tokaido

Each player chooses a character from the available options; they all have unique abilities, and start with a different amount of starting coins. The ability doesn’t necessarily define you strategy, but certainly makes certainly makes some moves more beneficial than others.

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In the Deluxe version, the coloured marker for the scoring track (right) matches up with both the token inserted into the player card (top left), and a coloured disk that goes under the character model (left).

Players take turns to move their character marker along the pathway. From the first turn onwards, the player last (furthest back along the path) moves first. Usually, they will skip ahead and players resolve their turns in this back-to-front order… however, it’s common for players who start at the back to get another turn if they don’t jump ahead of the pack, or even for them to take two turns in a row if they were way behind and remain last after the first move.

The choice of what spaces to land on is critical, as there are many ways to go for victory, and only some of them allow multiple players to land on them at a time.

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Black are shops or markets, dark red are temples, pink are travellers, baby blue are hot springs, gold are farms, and blue, green and grey are scenic outlooks.

In brief,

  • Shops allow you to collect sets of items – complete sets are worth more points.
  • Temples allow you to donate money – bigger donations give bigger rewards.
  • Travelers each give a unique bonus.
  • Hot springs give a simple bonus of 2-3 points.
  • Farms allow players to work and earn more money.
  • Scenic outlooks allow players to add to their paintings.

The travelers and shop items are drawn at random, so while you’ll almost always get something useful, you’re never sure if you’ll get exactly what you wanted!

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A handful of the travelers, shopping gifts, and meals from the inns.

Each leg of the journey starts and ends at the inns; the only stops with enough spaces for each player. At the inn, meals are drawn from a deck and players pick one to buy (… and eat). Getting to the inn first gives you first pick – having more valuable, and more unique meals, are both worth bonuses at the end, but risks missing out on other stops if you just rush to the inn.

There’s no set turn limit to Tokaido; the game simply ends when the final player has arrived at the final inn on the board. After this final regular game turn, the cards, sets, donations, etc. that each player has acquired along their journey are tallied up, and bonus cards for certain achievements are distributed (their points added to the players’ total). The most points wins, simple as that!

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Some of the bonuses available – points, if you haven’t noticed already, are represented by the blue-knapsack-on-a-stick motif.

Strategy Tips

  • His: Don’t get pigeon-holed into a strategy by your characters’ special ability. There’s no point trying to stick to one play (temples, hot springs, etc.) if your opponent(s) keep blocking you effectively every time.
  • Hers: Try to make your moves work for you two ways – by benefiting your strategy and blocking your opponents at the same time.

Our Assessment

Tokaido is a both relaxing and exciting game; it has neat unique rules for two-player games, amazing artwork, and some unique mechanics that are pretty quick to pick up, but tricky to master as other players’ moves shift the situation.

Using different characters, and trying different strategies, makes for good replay value. The only thing that feels limiting is the inherently linear structure of the game – it can also be frustrating if other players keep blocking your plays.

We give it an 8/10.

Basics

  • 2-5 Players
  • 45 Minutes
  • 8+ Years Old
  • $35-50 CAD for the standard game; at least $120 for the deluxe edition.
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