Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

Start line, finish line. Lots of common board games use this concept. Candy Land, Snakes & Ladders, Sorry! and others all utilize the idea that all the players are traveling a path and first one to finish wins.

A casual glance at Tokaido might seem like another game of the same sort. There’s a start line and a finish line all the players will travel down. But it turns the concept around entirely by focusing not on the speed of the journey, but the richness of it. And as players attempt to achieve the most fulfilling journey along the famed East Sea Road of Japan, every subsequent move becomes more and more of a strategic minefield.

Lace up your hiking shoes, it’s time to travel along the Tokaido.

Game: Tokaido
Players: 2 to 5
Gametime: 45 minutes
Designer: Antoine Bauza (France) (remember him from Takenoko?)
Key Mechanics: Set collection, point-to-point movement

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Story: You are an early 17th-century traveler along the Tokaido or East Sea Road, the longest and most important of the Five Highways of Edo-period Japan. As you journey from Kyoto to Edo (now known as Tokyo), you will stop at many of 53 stations along the way to collect items, eat food, take in spectacular views and more. Your goal is not just to get to Edo, but to have a damn good time along the way, because YOLO.

What do you do?: Well, first things first is picking a traveler. There are 10 different traveler characters to choose from in Tokaido. The characters have differing special abilities that will come in use during the game and different starting amounts of coins. Once each player picks a character, their player meeples are placed in Kyoto and the journey begins.

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Movement in Tokaido is simple: Whoever is in last gets to move forward. And that player gets to move...well, pretty much anywhere the hell they want, with only two exceptions: First, they cannot move beyond the next inn station on the board (more on the inns later), and they cannot go to a space another player is already that. Besides that, knock yourself out. Once you decide where to move to, you will undertake the action associated with that space.

What happens on the different spaces? Well, each space is color-coded based on what’s there. Let’s go through them one-by-one.

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  • Villages (black): Villages are probably the most complicated on the surface. At villages, player can buy souvenirs. This is done by taking the top three cards off the black village deck. The player then can choose how many of the cards, if any, they want to purchase. Each card will display two key things: The cost to purchase it (between 1 to 3 coins), and what item type it is (clothing, small item, art, or food). The goal is that you want to collect sets containing one of each of those item types. Each card of a set collected is worth progressively more points to the player — the first card of a set is one point, while the fourth is worth seven. Unpurchased cards are placed at the bottom of the deck.
  • Temples (red): At a temple, player can offer between one and three coins to the temple as an offering. Players receive one point for every coin offered at the temple. While that might seem not cost-effective for scoring points compared to the villages, there is the potential for big bonus points at the end of the game for being the most generous giver to the temple.
  • Hot springs (blue-gray): At a hot spring, the player takes the top card off of the hot springs deck and receives the number of points displayed on the card, which will be either two or three points. Hot springs are the safe play move of the game, it costs you nothing and offers a stable amount of points throughout the game.
  • Vistas: There are three different types of vistas that all work the same way: Valleys (green), Mountains (white) and Seas (blue). Vistas are progressive scoring spots: Each time you visit a type of vista, you receive a card, and each successive visit gets a card worth more points. The first visit is one point, the second two, and so forth. The first player to complete each vista (valleys take three, mountains four and seas five) receives three bonus points. Completing a vista can score a lot of points, but can be time-consuming.
  • Encounters (pink): At encounters, the player takes the top card from the encounter deck and receives whatever reward comes from the encounter. What sorts of folks could you meet? Maybe a merchant who will give you a free souvenir, a guide who provides a free vista card, a generous banker who gives you three coins, a loving priestess who will donate a coin at the temple on your behalf, or a noble soldier who provides three points.
  • Farms (yellow): No points available at a farm, but you do get three more coins to spend on things.

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Along with all the above are the inns. Player must stop at the inns. At the inns, players are able to purchase a meal. How this operates: The first people to the inn draws a number of meal cards equal to the number of players plus one, picks their meal out of this group, pays the cost, then puts this group aside. Each subsequent player to reach the inn then picks up this smaller group of meals and makes their choice. So, each player to reach the inn gets fewer choices for their meal, but that’s balanced by the face they leave the inn earlier and get more options for stations in the next round.

Meals costs between one and three coins, but all are worth six points. So, why not always buy the cheapest meal? There’s a bonus at the end of the game for whoever spent the most points on meals. Another risk-reward strategy.

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You continue on this way until you reach the final inn in Edo.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Once all players have reached the inn in Edo, it’s time to hand out the bonuses:

  • The temple has a progressive bonus. Whoever gave the most coins gets 10 points, second-most seven, and so on.
  • Whoever spent the most money on meals gets three points.
  • Whoever bought the most souvenirs at villages gets three points.
  • Whoever had the most encounters gets three points.
  • Whoever went to the hot springs the most gets three ponts.

After the bonuses are given out, whoever has the most points had the most fulfilling journey along the Tokaido and wins.

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So, what makes this game awesome?

  • So many different paths to victory. Depending on what other players do, you can win by temple donations, or souvenir purchases, or frequent vista visits, or a mix of different elements. I’ve literally seen games won by focusing on five or six different approaches. You’ll soon discover through this series that Antoine Bauza is one of my favorite game designers.
  • Tokaido is a game of progressive drama. Moves seem fairly arbitrary early on, but as the game progresses and players diverge on alternative strategies, each move has more and more of a direct impact on the game’s outcome. The game has this brutal balance between managing a fairly tight money pool with earning the points, plus deciding whether sacrificing a few points in order to try and stop other player from potential scores is worth it.
  • The game is just designed so out of the box. It looks different, it plays different than any other well-known game out there. It can really throw players unfamiliar with it for the first couple of games.
  • As is common with me, radical artwork can be a plus, and this game is put together beautifully. Despite the broad amount of colors and multi-strategic gameplay, the art still manages to wind up subtle.
  • As an added bonus, the rulebook includes a lot of information on the history on Tokaido and the real-world influence behind many of the game’s elements. I’m not an expert on Japanese history, so I can’t comment of true accuracy, but it’s at least cool the game is trying to teach you something.

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Other ways to play: Tokaido is available to play for free on BoardGameArena.

Watch it in action: Tokaido was featured on the well-known Watch It Played! series on YouTube. This is the rules video to give a visual explanation of what I wrote about, but there are other videos where you see a game being played through.

Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur]

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Images via BoardGameGeek