A few years ago, my brother and sister-in-law gifted us with the board game Tokaido, a game based on the old “highway” that linked Kyoto and the shogun’s capital of Edo. The game sat in our cabinet for entirely too long (5 year olds don’t listen to complicated game explanations) until guilt ate away too much of my soul, and – knowing I’d be seeing my family members at the holiday – we pulled out the game to play a round so we could deliver a truthful opinion if asked.
Turns out, we LOVED it. 🙂
Tokaido involves 3-5 players attempting to make their way from Kyoto to Edo, stopping at post towns along the way. Each player assumes the identity of a type of traveler that may have actually passed along the Tokaido – a merchant, a messenger, a ronin (masterless samurai), a government functionary, a priest, etc. Depending on who you choose, you receive a certain number of coins for game play and a special benefit – for example Satsuki the orphan doesn’t have to pay for any of her meals, while Mitsukuni the old man earns an extra point for each hot spring he bathes in.
Players shop for goods, visit shrines, soak in onsen, and collect scenic ukiyo-e landscape cards. Points are accumulated for every action taken, but points are never deducted, making the game play a positive experience (especially for younger players). Point accrual is partially tied to money, but for players that run out of coins, points can be gained through other means (for example, meeting people or gathering ukiyo-e cards earns points and costs nothing). At the end of the game, bonus points are awarded to players that have collected the most of a certain item (the most food cards, the most onsen cards, the most ukiyo-e landscape cards).
While Tokaido is a solidly fun play experience, it’s also an artistically impressive game. A great deal of thought was put into the layout and the individual cards are all gorgeously illustrated. The food cards are a fun what’s what in Japanese cuisine and the shopping cards showcase an entire range of traditional Japanese products, including one or two I’d never heard of. My one slight caveat with the game is using a torii gate (a Shinto symbol) to represent a Buddhist temple but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise carefully researched and executed game.
Tokaido involves strategy but it’s strategy younger players (8+) can begin to grasp after several rounds. The game is ideal for 3-5 player (we play with three), but has an option for two players. Game play takes about 25-30 minutes with three people.