Board Game Review: Tokaido
game #2 of Katie’s 100 board game challenge
One of the games in our closet that brings me sheer joy is Tokaido. This is a game where you essentially get to travel through Japan - buy souvenirs, taste delicious food, visit temples, and more. Of course, experiencing the real thing would be better, but I’m grateful this game allows me to relive my 2012 trip.
I had an interesting experience the other day, playing this game with my mom ...
Mom had been getting over a cold, and had expressed wanting to play a lighter game. Tokaido is probably one of our more simpler games, and happened to still be at my mom’s house (my fiance and I tend to play a lot of games with my mom, so our collection and her’s gets moved around frequently). However, we normally play with the two expansions we own as well. This time, since it was just her and I, we left out the expansions and just played the base game, for the first time in probably over a year.
There have been times we’ve played expansions for games, and they make the game overwhelming. That day, I felt like the base game was missing something - the expansions were almost necessary. My mom agreed.
This doesn’t change how I feel about the game as a whole, and I’ll try my best to discuss it without my personal biases and previous experience. That said, I do highly recommend two of the expansions: Crossroads & Matsuri.
Nice vs. Cut-Throat
My mom and I always ask each other this when we're playing just the two of us - "Are we playing nice or cut-throat today?" And our cut-throat is really just slightly more competitive than nice ... but we recognize how nice we are to each other when we play, and we can't always play like this when we play with my fiancé. But we chose to play nice that day; I stayed away from her village spaces, and she stayed away from my friends.
This is the kind of game that doesn't feel competitive though, even when we do play a little more cut-throat. You're on your own journey, experiencing Japan the way YOU want to. Do you want to collect souvenirs? Go to the village. Do you want to experience the best food? Save your coins for each end-of-round. Yes, you do have to share the board, and if someone lands on the space you were hoping for, you may have to change your strategy ... but I don't know, it still feels like a relaxing game to me.
Choice of Traveler
Before you start, you get dealt two travelers (or three, if you have all the expansions and you're me or my mom ... we house-rule a lot!). I love games with choice like this! Each traveler has a different ability, plus a different amount of coins you start with - no "First player gets one coin, and everyone else gets two coins". This goes along with what I was saying earlier about experiencing Tokaido the way you want; what's most important to you when you're playing?
The downside is, this decision is secret and revealed at the same time, meaning your opponents may have a similar ability to yours, and a similar strategy. This is one of the ways the game can turn more competitive than it needs to be.
Like Wingspan (see my first game review here), Tokaido has an element of gameplay that I have a love-hate relationship with: the Temple. Landing on the Temple allows players to donate 1, 2, or 3 coins. The player with the most coins donated by the end of the game gets 10 points + points equal to the number of coins donated. There are points for all players, as long as you've donated at least one coin ... but it's my least favourite place to stop. I don't love that making donations gets you points; donating in real life comes from the heart, right?
That being said, one of my favourite experiences in Kyoto was visiting a variety of temples and shrines - so thematically, I LOVE that they included the Temple! And really, we don't get any points at the end for leftover coins ... and you can only spend so much on food, so unless you're going for souvenirs, the coins may as well go to a good cause, right?
... like I said, love-hate.
At one point in my life, I'm sure Tokaido was a 10 out of 10 ... but today, I think I'm going to have to say 9 out of 10. It's not perfect, but it's still up there; I love introducing this game to new people!
About the Creator
* 29, she/her, Canadian
* Reader, writer, lover of language
* Board game enthusiast, and wannabe board game designer
* Fiancée currently, Wife in May 2023
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