My knowledge of Japanese culture is inept at best, but there are certain aspects of my understanding that really pique my interest. The few things I have studied have shown me some of the more subtle beauties in Japan’s history. While I don’t see myself ever visiting Japan or delving into their history in my actual research and studies, that doesn’t mean that I can’t find ways to appreciate their culture.
That brings us to Tokaido, a beautifully artistic game that is far less about the idea of victory and more about the journey you undertake.
The Tokaido road, which dates back to the 11th century, connects the two most important cities in Japan: Edo (today called Tokyo) and Kyoto.
It is 500km long and follows the southern coast of the biggest island in the Japanese archipelago, Honshu.
Travelers in the 17th century took approximately two weeks to complete the route, usually on foot, sometimes on horseback, and more rarely in litters (for the wealthiest).
There were 53 stages to the route, and a number of inns were located along the road where travelers could rest and stock up on supplies. The road and inns inspired a number of artists, among them the famous Hiroshige, who produced a series of woodcut prints: Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi no Uchi (The fifty-three stations of the Tokaido).Tokaido Rulebook
The creators of Tokaido wanted to capture that same journey, and thus the 53 stages of travel are the main component of this game.
Tokaido is a game for 2-5 players, takes approximately 45 minutes to play, and is for people ages eight years or older. I am unsure of the type of classification for Tokaido, however, it might best be described as a family board game that is easily understood by children and greatly appreciated by adults. You acquire points throughout the game, and the person with the most points at the end wins!
You take on the role of a Japanese traveler. Each traveler has a different starting gold amount and has some kind of ability that can be used throughout the game. The players are dealt two random travelers and choose one of them to play. All of the decks go in their respective spots and the game begins.
The gameplay of Tokaido involves taking your traveler and moving down the Tokaido road, gathering supplies, tasting local food, buying souvenirs, and painting amazing murals. Everybody starts in a starting inn and then takes turn moving one at a time.
Here are the following spots on the board and what they do:
When you land at a shop, you draw three souvenir cards from the Souvenir Deck. You can purchase any of the souvenirs that you draw. You gain different points based on what you buy. There are four total souvenir types. The first souvenir you buy will always be worth 1 point. If you buy a second souvenir, and it’s a different symbol, it is worth 3 points. The third is worth 5 and the fourth is worth 7. A full set of four different symbols can equal 16 total points. You can purchase the same symbol a second time, but it starts a new set, and that second set follows the same scoring.
When traveling to visit someone in Japan, it is customary to bring a souvenir (Omiyage in JapaneseTokaido Rulebook
When you land at a Farm, you take 3 coins from the bank.
There are three different sets of paintings you can gain throughout the game. The rice paddy painting has 3 pieces, the mountains has 4 pieces, and the ocean has 5 pieces. Depending on which spot you land on, you take the appropriate panorama piece. They are ascending point values, so the first part of the painting you gather gives you 1 point. When you land on the matching panorama spot the second time, you get the next part of the painting and gain 2 points. This continues until the painting is finished in which case you can no longer land on that panorama spot throughout the game.
As a sidenote to filling up panoramas, the first person to complete a panorama of a specific kind gets an achievement card that gives them 3 extra points. For example, if there are three players, and Player A finishes the Rice Paddy panorama first, he or she gains 3 extra points. Any subsequent completions of the Rice Paddy panorama by other players does not gain 3 extra points.
Japan is three-quarters mountainous, including a number of volcanoes, some still active today. As a result, there is little arable space, which is mainly taken up by rice paddies.
The Japanese coastline is thousands of kilometers long and extremely varied, with vistas over the seas surrounding the country. This particular geography has given the sea a special place in the hearts of the inhabitants and artists.Tokaido Rulebook
When you land on a Hot Springs spot, you draw a card from the Hot Springs deck. You will either get 2 or 3 points from one of these cards.
There are many natural hot springs (Onsen in Japanese) in the country, and they are very popular. Most have been transformed into baths, both public and private, and there are sometimes used to cook eggs and vegetables!
On the island of Hokkaido (in the north of the archipelago), one often finds springs occupied by macaques, who seem to appreciate their beneficial effects in the same way humans do.Tokaido Rulebook
When you land on a Temple spot, you have the option to donate 1, 2, or 3 coins to the temple. You gain one point for each coin donated. You must donate at least 1 coin if you land on this spot, thus you cannot land on it if you are out of money.
When you land on an Encounters space, you draw the top card from the Encounter Deck. The cards in this deck provide you with an encounter that gives you some kind of applied effect. The effects of the Encounter cards are a free souvenir from the Souvenir Deck, a piece of any of the three panoramas, immediately scoring 3 points, gaining 3 coins from the bank, or 1 free coin donation to the temple.
There are four Inns throughout the game. The first player to arrive at the Inn draws a number of cards from the Meal Deck equal to the number of players plus one more. The first player there looks at the cards in secret and chooses which one he or she wants. The cost of the food at an Inn varies from 1-3 coins. Each meal, regardless of cost, is worth 6 points. You cannot purchase more than one meal at an Inn, and throughout your journey, you cannot purchase a meal that you have already purchased at a previous Inn.
Traditional Japanese cuisine consists of meat, fish, rice, noodles, vegetables, and algae.
The dish best known outside the borders is sushi (sliced raw fish on a serving of aromatic rice), but each region of Japan has varied and savory specialties. The cuisine and the meal are a powerful symbol in Japanese culture.
The most popular drinks are, of course, sake (rice alcohol, actually called nihonshu in Japanese) and tea. There is a rich variety of both, with some flavors that only connoisseurs can truly appreciate.Tokaido Rulebook
The players take turns based on whoever is the farthest back on the journey. For instance, if there are four players in the game, since the game board is horizontal, the person in “last place”, or furthest to the left in terms of location, will always be the next player to take his or her turn. No two players can occupy the same spot on the board, however, certain spots have two openings meaning that two people can visit that location.
When you reach the last Inn of the game and the final meals have been purchased, it’s time to hand out achievements. There are four total achievement cards, not counting the extra panorama points for first completions of the paintings. Those achievements are: Gourmet, Bather, Chatterbox, and Collector.
The player with the highest coin total on their meal cards from Inns gains 3 extra points.
The player with the most Hot Springs cards will gain 3 points.
The player with the most Encounter cards scores 3 points.
The player with the most Souvenir cards scores 3 points.
The final achievement isn’t a card, but involves the Temple. The player that has donated the most coins to the temple will gain 10 points. The second most donations will gain 7, the third most scores 4, and fourth and beyond scores 2 points.
Add up all the total points, and the player with the most points wins the game!
We have discovered through our few playthroughs of the game that it isn’t about being overly competitive. Instead, Tokaido is a beautiful and relaxing game that can be appreciated while also trying to win. We decided to put on some relaxing meditation music when we played, dimmed the lights, and the ambience was incredible. The artwork on the cards and the game board is astounding and really provides a beautiful take on some of the best that the history of Japanese culture has to offer.
While every board game is about trying to win by playing through careful strategy, every time we play Tokaido, our losses don’t feel as demeaning as they would during other games. Remember, sometimes it’s all about the journey and not so much the destination.