Take a deep breath and imagine the beauty of a sakura blossom drifting softly on a warm spring breeze. It floats past several travelers as they wind their way along a mountain path towards the sea. They look happy and refreshed after a day of seeing sights, buying souvenirs, and relaxing at the hot springs. It is said that it is the experience, not the destination, which lends beauty to the journey. That is the essence of Tokaido.
Well, that and getting to the inn to stuff your face with the best dish before anyone else.
You’ll choose your tourist from such august personages as Sasayakko the geisha, Chuubei the messenger, Mitsukuni the old man, and Satsuki the orphan. Each one comes with their own powers that change how you earn points, such as Mitsukuni, who earns 1 additional point every time he soaks at the Hot Spring and collects an achievement card.
That said, everyone gains points by visiting tourist locales like the hot springs and temples, admiring beautiful vistas, shopping for souvenirs, or by meeting interesting people on your journey. Each of these locations represents an opportunity to earn points, often both immediately and indirectly, through the game’s simple achievement system. Did you enjoy more hot springs than any of the other travelers? Extra points for you! Of course, some places, such as shops and temples, will cost a few coins to enjoy. However, by lending a hand at a farm, one can easily replenish their finances.
The only limitation to visiting spots is that there is only enough room for a few tourists. When playing a 2-3 player game, only one person can visit a location at a time, with extra spots opened in a 4-5 player game.
There are three inns along the road and while you don’t have to visit any particular tourist spots, each player must stop at the inn. The inn has a menu of meals, all of which yield points. Whomever gets there first has their pick of the food and the last player to arrive usually ends up eating whatever is left or nothing at all if they have no money to spend.
The artwork for Tokaido is absolutely stunning. Each of the cards, locations and characters are illustrated, but the most amazing are the vista cards, which combine to form beautiful Japanese landscapes.
The theme of the game, while relaxing in nature, can actually end up a tiny bit tense. Often times you’ll be one card from finishing your souvenir set when the player ahead of you jumps into the shop, blocking you from your next purchase. The restrictions on placement, paired with the unique mechanic of ‘last player goes next’, leads to some really engaging strategy. Sure, you could skip ahead to that vista you really need, but there are so many other good options you’ll be passing up. Which is best? No matter what you choose, though, you’re bound to get something to enhance your experience (and score).
The only real negative I see is that the insert in the box is very nicely made, but does not keep the pieces together when placed vertically. I hate when I open up a game and everything is literally everywhere. We use tiny baggies to keep the meeples and score markers together, otherwise we would probably lose them right quick.
Tokaido is beautiful in every way. The art is excellent, the components are lovely, and the experience of the game can be incredibly complex. Most of the time, players will enjoy choosing between many desirable options, and the game will feel serene and beautiful. This is punctuated by moments of tense strategy, where your next movement may seem to be critical. After the final inn, points will be tallied, achievements will be doled out, and a winner chosen.
However, in the end, Tokaido is a game which feels more about the game than about the outcome. The journey instead of the destination, as it were. If you are looking for an exquisitely made game, with amazing artwork, a family friendly theme, and full of heart, then Tokaido is sure to hit the spot.
The Crossroads Expansion
There is an expansion, called Crossroads, which adds new characters, and alternate rewards for visiting old locations. For example, the temples now offer amulets that act like new one-time powers for your character. If you choose to go to the vistas you can instead take a Cherry Blossom card and gain 2 points and 1 coin, which can be a real boon if you are short on cash and don’t care about collecting the vista set. The shops now also offer ‘Legendary’ items that either add to your souvenir collections or just give you massive points. Encounters can now give you new scoring options, expanding your strategy.
The last and most interesting addition is the gambling die. Instead of working at the farms, you can gamble 2 coins. There is a 1 in 6 chance that you will lose your coins, but all of the other faces either give you back your original investment or double to quadruple your cash. The gambling die is the only element of the game that is even slightly negative as you might lose your coins, but I watched a player make some serious money on some lucky rolls.
Jess: The expansion adds a lot of choices to your trip, so if it is your first time playing the game, it is probably better to leave it out. However, once you start using it, you’ll likely never want to travel without it!
There is another expansion in the works called Matsuri, but we’ll cover that in another article as details become available.
The Crossroads expansion is available on Amazon alongside the original!