#227 – Tokyo Highway

Box

Base price: ~$50, sometimes. I’ve seen it at ~$60.
2 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG Link
If you are a North American distributor and want to pick it up, I mean, do it.
Logged plays: 15 

Alright, so, I’ve been doing you a disservice by really only representing games with major US presences (with the exception of the Oink Games collection, Habitats, Factory Funner, and Hack Trick), and there are so many games from outside of the US. Literally so many. To that end, I’d like to start covering more, and celebrate not just the diversity of characters and identities within games, but also to focus a lens on the diversity of background of creators, as well. If you know of a way I can do better with this, let me know! I’m always on the hunt for more games.

One such game is Tokyo Highway, a game coming from itten in Japan and tasking players with a bit of un-civil engineering (hah! I made a pun) and highway construction in the Tokyo metropolitan area. You want to get cars on the road, but you need a place to put them! Will you be able to pave your own way to success?

Contents

Setup

Yeah no real setup on this one, friends. There are literally oodles of these little pillars:

Pillars

Give each player 30, including three of the gold pillars (called Junctions). Now, give each player 15 roads:

Roads

And, finally, give each player 10 cars, in either pink or blue:

Cars

You may want to give each player some tweezers; these cars are small:

Tweezers

Once you’ve done that, you’re about ready.  Place two pillars a bit less than one road apart. Place a road on each so that one edge is on the pillar and the other is on the ground. Each player places a car of theirs on the road, and you’re ready to start!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 0

So, a game of Tokyo Highway is pretty straightforward. Every turn, you must build a road connected to the last road that you placed. There are some rules to this, however:

  • Both ends of every road must sit on a pillar. This means that the road cannot extend over a pillar. You may place the road such that its edge touches the other road or its edge is on top of the other road, but essentially you need to add a set of pillars and then place a road from the most recent road to the pillars you just placed.
  • Incidentally, a road cannot cross over any other pillars. It bridges the gap between two pillars. Even if it doesn’t touch that pillar, it cannot be placed over another pillar.
  • A road also cannot touch other pillars, roads, or cars. Check it out; there needs to be a gap between roads. That’s just good civil engineering practice.
  • A pillar may only have one road going in and one road going out. Junctions are an exception to this; more on that later.
  • You must change the height of your pillars when you place them. You may place a stack of pillars either one more or one less than the stack you’re building off of. Again, Junctions can violate those rules, but more on that later. You may also build a stack of pillars of height 0, but that’s an exit ramp. More on that later, as well.
  • You cannot build off of an exit ramp. It’s called an exit ramp for a reason. If you … place exit ramps such that your roads are all terminated, uh, … don’t do that? You lose? You have to place them differently? I’ll leave it up to your opponent’s discretion, honestly. C’mon.

Gameplay 1

If you’d like to get a bit fancier, you may place a Junction, instead.

Junctions

Junctions are the gold pillars, and, well, they let you break certain rules. There is one, however, that you must follow: every Junction must have at least one grey pillar below it, when placed. This means you can’t build a height 1 Junction. Anyways, here are fun extra things that Junctions let you do:

  • You may change the height however you want (or not at all) when you place a Junction. That’s fun, right? Just kind of … don’t go overboard, for a variety of reasons.
  • You may build an extra road off of a Junction. You can branch out whenever you’d like, and on subsequent turns you may build off of either road. Lets you get a bit tricky with your opponents.

Gameplay 2

Uh, if you’re a bit clumsy and, say, knock your stuff over, you’re fine. Just replace it and try to do better next time. If you knock your opponent’s stuff over, though, well, that’s rude and you should apologize. You’re responsible for resetting it, and you must give them one of your pillars per thing you knocked over. That’s only polite, honestly, and it was your bad.

Tweezer Placement

If you manage to get through a turn without any catastrophe and you followed all the rules, you might be able to place a car! You should probably use the tweezers to do it, if you’re as klutzy as I am. Car placement rules work as follows:

  • You must have built a road going over your opponent’s road(s) in order to place a car. This one is kind of easy to forget.
  • If you placed a road going over a road with no other roads over it, you may place a car on your road.
  • If you placed a road going under a road with no other roads under it, you may place a car on your road.
  • If you placed an exit ramp this turn (a road going from a height 1 pillar to the ground), you may place a car on your road.

Gameplay 4

Note that these effects are cumulative. If you cross over two roads and neither of them have a road above them, you may place two cars. If you cross over one road with no roads above it and under a different road with no roads under it (an impressive feat, to be honest), you may place two roads. If you cross under two roads with no roads under them as part of your exit ramp, you may place three cars. That’s also nice!

Gameplay Vertical

The game continues until one of these things happens:

  • A player begins their turn with no pillars. They lose.
  • A player has placed all ten of their cars. They win.
  • A player has just, totally messed up the highway by being a clumsy ass. I lost that game, even though I had extra pillars. It seemed fair, so I’m going to just say it goes.

Yeah, that about settles it.

Variant Play

If you’re looking for a more puzzle-y experience (with less player interaction), you can just play that crossing any road (provided you meet the over / under criteria) is sufficient for placing a car. I … vaguely prefer this method (and you’ll notice that in some of the photos it’s clear that I’m playing with this variant).

Up to you, though!

Player Count Differences

So, uh, again, the game’s only two players. I definitely have reviewed some games that play more than two recently, but I can’t lie, it’s nice to be able to just kind of skip this section.

Though, word on the street is that you can get another set of this with green and orange cars to play with up to four players, which, frankly, sounds amazing.

Strategy

  • So you’re gonna have to balance offense and defense, frankly. Part of the game isn’t just being on the offensive with placement (because unwise placement can really mess you up). Part of the game is knowing when to stay away from your opponent and hope that they come to you. It’s gonna be weird thinking of like, infrastructure improvements as fundamentally a game of offense and defense, but you gotta.
  • Generally, most new players tend to play increasing. Learning when you should slope down is important. Most players just try to build above other players’ roads. You’ll end up using more pillars that way, frankly, and you’re also slightly incentivized to build exit ramps because you get that extra car. On top of that, it’s a bit more difficult to build under roads, I’m finding in games I’ve played, so your opponent will have some trouble undermining you. All I’m saying is to consider descending rather than building up.
  • Be careful. If you knock over your opponent’s stuff, you’re going to lose your pillars and edge closer to that loss. Don’t do it.
  • Central junctions are key to success. They give you a lot of avenues by which you can attempt to intercept your opponents. Sometimes, doing so will give you an opportunity to place two (or three!) cars in one turn!
  • Also, generally, limit your junction increase to two, maximum. Honestly, it’s hard to place a car if you’ve put a road up a three-pillar slope. It usually just slides off. You might be able to get it to settle at the bottom of the ramp you’ve created, but you might not be so lucky.
  • Similarly generally, don’t build more than five pillars high. That’s just, uh, well, silly and expensive. I mean, if you want to live your truth, I can’t stop you; I’m a reviewer, not a cop, but you should try not to be egregiously wasteful with your pillars.
  • One of my favorite things to do is to build directly towards the opponent’s available pillar. Since they can’t place a road over your pillar, it’s going to be impossible for them to build over the road you’re placing, and depending on how they built, they might not be able to continue along the line (which would make it such that you can’t build over their road). This might force an error from them, which is almost always to your benefit.
  • I’m generally of the opinion that building at least one early Junction isn’t a bad idea. This lets you potentially intercept your opponent before they start trying to build over your roads, which might give you an upper hand. This is a bit more player-dependent, though, so, your mileage may vary with this particular bit of advice. Is that considered a pun since this is a game about cars and that’s a common phrase? Not sure.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • It’s so tiny! It’s adorable. The tweezers are also an extremely nice touch. Just gives it a touch of whimsy.
  • One of the more strategy-focused dexterity games I’ve played. Usually I just play silly games about slapping stuff around and chucking penguins at your problems but this is a bit more intense, and that’s a nice bit of brain extension for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love dexterity games, so that also helps, but this one is a good one, strategically.
  • It’s fun and colorful. I mean, the pillars and the roads are a bit grey, but the cars and junctions are bright and whimsical. I imagine an enterprising person could paint this to be even more exciting.
  • Very portable. I imagine being tiny helps. I wouldn’t recommend playing it while traveling, but you can definitely pretty easily bring it to and from places, which is nice.
  • Awesome theme. I love the sort-of-DIY-infrastructure thing it’s got going on. Generally, urban-themed games are some of my favorites (hence my love of Sprawlopolis), and it doesn’t let me down, at all. Definitely a great game for fans of city themes.

Mehs

  • It is rather difficult to put everything back in the box. I mean, it’s a tight fit. You really need to be particular when you’re putting it back. That said, making it work is also satisfying. No extra air in this box!
  • You’re gonna need to house rule some things. Especially around placement and what’s acceptable, there. We’ve house ruled, for instance, that you cannot build a road such that a pillar would go under another road (the rules only explicitly say that you cannot place a road over a pillar).

Cons

  • It’s rather dissatisfying to have the game end by just accidentally messing up all the roads. There’s a sort of delicate intricacy to placement and building up the road network, and I messed it up once and I found it truly disappointing. Try to be careful when placing stuff.
  • Good luck purchasing it stateside. I had to have a friend bring it back for me from Japan. Hopefully more press inspires some distributors to try their luck with a larger, North American-focused run. I mean, we already have Deep Water Games bringing a bunch of the EmperorS4 games over (Herbalism and Mystery of the Temples are favorites of this blog), so maybe we’ll continue to be fortunate, or we’ll see an expansion of distributors willing to take games from Japan / Taiwan / other places and bring them over here.

Overall: 9 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I kind of love Tokyo Highway! I think it’s ambitiously designed to be simple enough that you can play it with anyone, but with a hidden layer of strategy behind the cute and enjoyable exterior. Sure, the rules can be a bit finicky, but that’s the nature of games without boards or well-defined boundaries; you’re going to have to improvise a bit to make it work, just like Mars Open: Tabletop Golf (another favorite dexterity game). That said, it’s definitely not like anything I’ve played before! The theme is super fun, it presents itself well, and as one of my friends described it, it’s fun to play, even if you end up losing. With praise like that, it’s easy to see why Tokyo Highway is one of the better games I’ve added to my collection recently, and I’d highly recommend checking it out! Hopefully it’ll eventually see a wider release in North America; I’d love to pick up another copy or the expansion to try it with an increased player count! Definitely excited about it.

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