I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary at my new job, and I’ve been told by several people that I should probably start considering a vacation to celebrate. Rather than listen to them and actually take a break, I decided to focus on my favorite vacation game, Tokaido.
In Tokaido, you are travelers on a major highway in Japan, trying to get from one end to the other. On your way, you can do many things — eat great meals; paint pictures of the sights; stop by souvenir shops, hot springs, and temples; meet new friends; or even work at the local farms for some money, should you find that you’re running low. It’s an odd game that’s a bit more “experiential” than other games, in the sense that it’s only kind of competitive. If you lose, it’s not because you didn’t have a good vacation, but rather someone else had a slightly nicer vacation than you, probably because they had more money.
For such a large box, there’s not a whole lot going on here. There’s the board, obviously (is this the first “board game” since Betrayal or Catan? It is! Weird!), a few player tokens with corresponding scorekeeping tokens, some character cards, and some other cards. I’ll cover the types of cards in Gameplay, but let’s get the cards set aside first:
Pink cards are encounter cards. You should also shuffle these.
DO NOT shuffle the other cards.
Next, grab the character cards. They’re big tiles that look like this:
Shuffle them as best as you can, and then deal two to each player. They get to pick one and then return the other one. Each character has an ability and a certain number of coins that they start with. Honestly, each character has a different ability, but most of them are related to the different types of cards. Some let you get cards for cheaper, some for free, some give you points and coins when you get cards, others let you get coins and cards when you stop at an Inn, etc. Make sure you consult the rules; what you think the ability is and what it actually is might be different. Just giving you a heads-up. They’re not super intuitive symbols, but this is from the guy who designed 7 Wonders, so not much of a surprise there.
Once you’ve got that, determine player order. Have the player going “first” put their player at the back of the first inn, and have the other players fill in towards the road. This is important, and I’ll explain why in Gameplay.
You’ll notice that the board is a line(ish) from start to finish, like so:
So, your goal is to get from one end to the other, and you will, inevitably. That’s sort of the natural progression of things. However, each space can only be occupied by one player at a time (naturally). Basically imagine that you’re trying to go to Disneyland, but someone else beat you there and now Disneyland won’t let you in. Yup. Just one person. All of Disneyland. If you’ll notice, some stops have two spaces, and players take the closer space first and the further space second. (Do not use the second spaces with fewer than four players!) This is important, because, and I’ll take a space to emphasize this,
Whoever is furthest back gets to move next. You only move your player if you’re at the back of the line of players. If two players occupy the same stop on the road, the player further from the road moves next. You can move as far forward as you’d like during your turn, but you must stop at each inn, at minimum. This is the core gameplay mechanic of Tokaido. If you’re at the end of the line and there are two empty spaces between you and the next player, you can take two free turns, if you want. You can also go straight to the inn on your turn and skip everything, but I can guarantee you will not win. As a result, the first player should place their token furthest from the road on the first inn, and the second player should take the next closest spot and so on. Like this:
Along your journey, you will (hopefully) make many stops and draw many cards. For reference, keep all drawn cards in front of you, and put discarded cards back on the bottom of their respective decks. But where can you stop?
You can stop at the village, where you can buy souvenirs. Bear with me, this is a bit complicated. First, draw three cards. You will get cards like this:
These cards are valuable souvenirs that you can buy. You can buy any number of the three you draw, but they have types, as you can see from the symbols in the bottom right corner. There are four different types of souvenirs, and for each different type you have in a set, you gain 1, 3, 5, or 7 points. While you cannot have cards of the same type in a set, you can have multiple sets going — say I have three fan cards and one of the sushi-looking cards. I get 1 point for each fan (since each fan card is in its own set) and 3 points for the sushi-looking card, since it’s part of a set with one of the fans. If you have one of each type, you get 1+3+5+7 = 16 points, which is pretty great. But, they do cost money…
If you stop on spaces with this symbol, you immediately must donate at least one and at most three of your coins to the temple. You score one point per coin donated. Note that you CANNOT stop here if you have no coins. They’re a temple, not a charity. Also, at the end of the game, the player with the most coins donated gets 10 points, second-most gets 7, third-most gets 4, and fourth-most gets 2. You must have donated something to get any points, though. It’s pretty straightforward.
Congratulations! You met a new friend. This friend does many different things, such as:
- Immediately donate one coin from the bank to the Temple. You get one point.
- Immediately take three coins.
- Immediately score three points.
- Immediately take a souvenir card. Score it accordingly.
- Immediately take the next card in the depicted panorama sequence. If you’ve already completed that specific panorama, take the next panorama card for another panorama of your choice.
A panorama? What’s a panorama? Well, I’m glad you asked:
These are panorama cards. When you stop on a space with their symbol, you take the next one in that sequence. Each panorama is different (Rice Paddy, Mountain, Sea, respectively), but they eventually form a picture if you collect them all:
As you can see, the Sea panorama is the longest and worth the most, and the Paddy is the shortest and worth the least. You score the point value on the specific card that you take when you take it, and you take cards in increasing order. 1->2->3->4->5, for those of you keeping track at home. It’s very exciting. Even better, if you’re the first person to complete a specific panorama, you get an extra three points and an Achievement card! Add it to your pile.
Sometimes you gotta take a break on your vacation, and there’s no better place to take one than the semi-luxurious hot springs! These are pretty simple. Some cards have 2 points on them, others have 3 points (and monkeys! Lucky you!). Not much to say about that.
I’m not even going to put a picture here because of how straightforward this spot is. You land here, you take three coins. That’s it.
Let’s talk about inns now, since money is a bit important here. When the first player arrives at the inn, he or she draws N+1 meal cards, where N is the number of players. Meal cards look like this:
If you’ll notice, they have the same point value, but different costs. And if you have no money, you get no food! Not only do you not score those points, the other players laugh at you and make you sleep in the barn, depending on how into this roleplaying experience you’re willing to get. The first player picks a meal that he or she wants, then passes it to the second player who arrives. This means that the last player might be getting the most expensive meal, but they get to move first after the inn phase ends. Do with that what you will.
Also, important caveat. You’re trying to go on an exciting vacation, right? What would the fun be if you ate the same thing every time? As a result, you’ve committed yourself to never eat the same food at an inn. You just can’t. This means that if your only options are foods you’ve already tried, you have to decline food, no matter how much money you have. Sucks to suck. (This is also a great way to punish the last player at the last inn.) You will eat four times on your trip, so try to make it count.
But is there ever a benefit to buying more expensive food, you wonder? I’m super glad I have you around to ask me rhetorical questions instead of bothering to actually write in quality transitions.
Endgame: Achievement Cards
Congratulations! You’ve reached the final inn and eaten (or not). Now it’s time to tally up some endgame statistics. Hopefully you set aside these cards, Because now it’s time to score some points. Each card is pretty obvious, so I won’t delve too deeply into them. The blue-backed cards should be given out immediately, as they’re secretly Panorama achievements:The gold-backed cards, however, are given to the players who accomplished something great over the course of the game. They are all worth 3 points, and they are as follows:
- The Gourmet: This card is given to the player with the highest sum of coins on his or her meal cards (note that some abilities make you pay less for food, so you can still win this even if you aren’t paying the most!).
- The Chatterbox: Like a crappy anime hero, friendship is your most powerful emotion! This card is given to the player who has the most Encounter cards. Good work!
- The Bather: This card is given to the player who has the most Hot Spring cards.
- The Collector: This card is given to the player with the most Souvenir cards.
Note that ties are totally fine! Any players tied for an achievement all get three points.
Don’t forget to add in the final temple points! But once you’ve done that, that’s Tokaido! Most points = best vacation!
Oh, one more thing.
Two-Player Mode: It’s weird
So, you decided that you had exactly one friend and you wanted to have a competitive vacation? Go for it. Tokaido can handle it. Here’s how it works:
- Take another player token out of the box and put it in line randomly (personally, I put it first so that it goes last, but that’s a preference thing). This is the Neutral Traveler.
- While the Neutral Traveler moves normally (only moves when at the end of the line), the player at the front of the line moves the Neutral Traveler.
- The Neutral Traveler does not score points, need coins or draw cards. This causes some weirdness:
- If the Neutral Traveler stops at a Temple, donate one coin from the bank on its behalf. This can affect final Temple calculations.
- When it would be time for the Neutral Traveler to choose a meal card at the Inn, randomly discard a meal card instead. Fun!
This makes strategy pretty crazy, but I’d say go for it! Speaking of strategy:
It varies, as it does with almost every game I enjoy, but let me give you some suggestions, at least:
- Never run out of money. If you do, you’re almost completely screwed. This means other players will block you from getting to the Farm so that you can’t buy meals at the Inn or ever visit the Temple. This can just ruin you.
- Souvenirs are pretty good, if you’ve got cash to spare. You get to draw three and buy as many as you want, so if you’ve got excess coin, it’s usually worth it to go shopping.
- If everyone is going for Panoramas, they’re worthless. If you can get a Panorama early, they’re a huge boon, but otherwise everyone’s just going to end up with a 1- or 2-point card, which is hardly worth it.
- Sometimes it helps to think about things in terms of points-per-coin. If you’re paying one coin for one point, that’s usually not great and anything worse than that is terrible. Just think about it that way.
- Never be the last player at the last inn unless you’ve got three coins. Even then, it’s not a great idea — usually players will set you up with food you can’t buy at prices you can’t afford, and then you’re out 6 points.
- It’s often to your advantage to block players. I know that sounds obvious (and it kind of is), but if a player’s ability lets them get souvenirs for free, you better make sure they never get to stop at a village. Similarly, if someone’s gonna complete the Sea Panorama first and get 5+3 (achievement) points, you might want to stop by the Sea instead. In a two-player game, this is the only strategy that matters. Figure out what your opponent wants and use the Neutral Traveler to block it.
Pros, Mehs, Cons
- Honestly, kind of relaxing. This game can be played almost completely non-confrontationally. It’s kind of fun if you try to manage to do what you want without blocking anyone else, but it’s challenging.
- High replay value. There are a ton of characters and abilities and options that you can’t really develop a concrete “strategy” and always play to it. You have to be flexible and try new things each time, which can be pretty interesting.
- Thematically strong. It’s got a good theme and it really plays to it well. Meeting people on the road, painting at stops, and gathering souvenirs is fun and the board really plays to the idea of this lengthy journey with multiple stops. Of course, it’s helped by …
- Fantastic art. It’s so pretty! Honestly, it’s just a nice game to look at, especially with the panoramas. The characters are vibrant, the cards and board are super colorful, and the whole experience is really nice.
- Just a different game. It’s really not a game like any game I’ve played before, and I kind of like that. It’s more experiential than other games, and the mechanics are super unique. I think that earns it a place in almost every library.
- Super easy to keep track of score. You can, at any point, completely re-tally your score since you keep the cards in front of you and everything is in place on the board. Usually I recommend that all players sync up their scores at each Inn.
- The box insert is possibly one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen. It’s just worthless in terms of space utilization — the box is like, twice the height it needs to be:Lots of wasted space there, is all I’m saying.
- Not a whole lot of space variety. I’m complaining about this now, but I know it’s fixed pretty significantly in the expansion. In the base game, there’s only one action available at each space (Crossroads adds a second one). This can make the game feel kind of … straightforward.
- Weird inconsistencies in components. The character cards are these tome-like things, the other cards are plain cards, and the Panoramas are these flat paper-thin cardboard things. The whole thing is kind of odd–it’d’ve been nice if the Panorama cards were tiles or something.
- The score tracker tokens are way too small. They’re smaller than Advil caplets, and not nearly as delicious. Bit easily lost.
- Hard to recover from a mistake. If you run out of money or get behind the eight ball somehow, the other players can conspire to make it impossible for you to get back in front. It can be a bit frustrating.
- Not a game for everyone. Some people will be frustrated by the kind-of-slowish pace of this game, and others will claim there’s no strategy to it. I disagree, but it’s definitely a problem I’ve seen.
- Bit slow. This is a game where people will often get trapped into trying to think two, three, four moves ahead for all other players. It’s just the nature of the game.
- Scoring is confusing. Okay, so at the Temple you score 1 point now with an option to potentially get 10 points later, but at the village you can get cards that might be worth 1, 3, 5, or 7 points but if you get the same type and buy them all they might be only worth 3 points total depending on what you have and then the Panoramas are worth increasing amounts of points per card and it’s just a lot for new players. Once you get it, you get it, but there’s a lot of confusion in the first game.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
I really like this game, nonetheless. I think the art is gorgeous; I think the gameplay is fun, unique, and different; and I think the two-player mode is incredibly strategic, which is super fun. It has a weird intensity to it, given the subject matter, but that’s half the fun. I think of it as a nice game to rotate in if you find your other games are getting a bit samey, almost like a … vacation from other games okay that wasn’t funny I’m sorry.
(I’m not sorry.)