When it comes to board games and history, let’s face it, most of the games are usually themed around warfare or developing a certain region with resources. They also have varying degrees of difficulty that can either make or break the setting depending on just how difficult the game is as well. The Catan: Histories series of games have done a very sound job of maintaining simple and solid game mechanics while still giving players a feel of the era they are playing in.
But what if you wanted a different experience? You simply wanted to travel the country side, eat interesting food, visit beautiful hot springs, paint an amazing masterpiece, or simply buy a bunch of souvenirs for yourself or someone you are visiting? If these are the things you want to experience but are lacking the monetary funds to travel, then Tokaido is the game you would be looking for!
Tokaido, is set during the 11th Century in Japan. Created by Fun Forge, makers of Isla Dorada, they will take you on an adventure along Japan’s famous Tokaido (East Sea Road) during the age of the samurai. Your travels begin in the famous city of Kyoto, winding along the coast line where you visit farms, beautiful Onsen, various temples, and to several inns while on your way to Edo (modern day Tokyo) on the eastern side of Honshu. While on your travels, you are encouraged to buy souvenirs, paint the beautiful landscapes, and you may very well run into some interesting characters along the way. Every portion of the game is designed for you to experience the things you would see while traveling on the roads of feudal Japan and as compared to most travel games, where reaching the end is the biggest goal, in Tokaido its all about your adventure.
Components: Opening the box, you are instantly treated to the games minimalist beauty. The predominately white colored board gives a great contrast for the colors of the varying locations you will visit. To make set up easier, a subtle color variation for the point tracker helps out, without being distracting while players observe the rest of the board. Places to situate the various card decks are colored just as vividly as their corresponding places on the road as well, making sure players can easily see they are at along the journey. The “meeple” style playing pieces are of great quality, with colored tokens to place on the score tracker as well. Playing pieces are colored distinctly enough that you’ll rarely have trouble distinguishing between two players. The various cards have beautifully drawn art work, and with enough variation that only a handful of cards are duplicated in any way. The panorama cards are all duplicates, but with such beautiful artwork each player will be compelled to complete them. The player cards, which detail each characters special ability, are of a nice thick board stock with a punch out section to accommodate a players color token that fits perfectly within the opening. The coin tokens continue with the trend of sturdy board stock, and you can even punch out the center to give them a very aesthetically pleasing and accurate feel.
Rules: The things that can truly make or break a board game generally revolve in the rule book. Vague wording in the rule book has a tendency to cause confusion, which can alienate players who think they need to play a game several times in order to understand it. Tokaido has a rule book a full 8 pages in length, from front cover to back page. Within the pages every single rule of the game is explained in clear detail, using pictures for reference and to make understanding the already crisp and precise rules even easier to understand. The simplicity of the game means that players will easily understand it on the first play through and enjoy it as well. The rule book itself is easy to read, and helpful in case you forget a rule, or you are looking for variations to the standard gameplay.
Gameplay: So the remaining question is, ‘will the game be rearding and fun at the same time?’ Traveling along the Tokaido is a wealth of fun and adventure for all players. Every player makes the same trip, form Kyoto to Edo, stopping a inns along the way to rest and sample some of the exquisite foods native to Japan. These stops practically guarantee points to every player making sure points stay even and keep players in a tight pack for some of the game. However if players cannot afford to buy a meal at any of these stops, they may soon find themselves out of the running.
No need to fear though. There are plenty of farms, and random encounters with noblemen will make sure you have money to buy your meals. Besides, you also to have money to buy all of those wonderful souvenirs at various villages you find along the way! You can also score some quick points by donating money at any temples you stop in at. A friendly priestesses may even donate in your name for you. Visiting a refreshing hot spring to clean yourself up, or running across a samurai along the road can give you valuable points as well as a fun story to think about. By finishing your painting before another player, you can score even more points as well. When your trip is finished, you can then brag to all of your fellow players; about how many people you met, the amount of time you spent bathing, show off your fancy souvenirs, who donated the most money to the temples, or about all of the wonderful food you had on the way to Edo. All of these various achievements score you victory points that can drastically change who wins in the end!
Don’t forget about your character’s special rules as well. If you are low on money, the Orphan can take a free meal at the inns, though you must choose at random to see how good it is. If art is more of your style, then the Artist with his ability to paint from memory when resting, can continue their paintings while enjoying their meal. If acting is more your speed, then the Entertainer can perform for people that they meet earning valuable coins and points at the same time! Every character can play to particular strengths during the game, though your movement must be well timed, as the person who is furthest back on the road always moves first. Couple that with the fact that most locations can only accommodate one player, which means that you’ll want to balance moving yourself towards victory while hindering your fellow players.
Final Comments: Tokaido does a great job of mixing an interesting concept with amazingly easy gameplay. Simple rules make this game great for a fast play while entertaining guests, or waiting for people at a party. The ease of understanding makes this great for families or for people looking to enjoy a competitive game without the backstabbing inherent in most other games that require players to jockey for position. The pieces stand out beautifully and are easy to identify. The thing I found most tragic about the score counters was their size, as they could easily be mistaken for a small breath mint. This could lend itself to being easily lost or eaten by someone who doesn’t know it is part of the game.
Whether you are a seasoned board game player, or a person who picks one up on occasion, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Tokaido. Perfect to play with family, friends, or strangers at your local game store, you will not be disappointed with this game from Fun Forge.