Published on November 18th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
The Stations of the Tōkaidō
Summary: An easy to learn game of set collection that is comparable to 7 Wonders in depth.
Tokaido, the Eastern Sea Road, was a historical foot path that connected the city of Edo (now called Tokyo) and the city of Kyoto, Japan. The path went along the sea and was famous during its time for the remarkable vistas and incredible natural beauty it explored. The path became so popular that stations were set up along the way to let travellers rest in comfort and safety, and a culture of trade and pilgrimage flourished along its route. Artists made tributes to all 53 stations along the path, poets wrote about aspects of its beauty and Tokaido became known as one of the most beautiful parts of Japan. Tokaido, the board game, continues in the Edo era tradition by paying tribute to this incredible journey.
I had seen Tokaido on the shelf for a long time before I got around to playing it. The packaging of the game is extremely pretty, as are all of the components. There is a very strong art style throughout the game- a minimalist graphic style that echoes traditional Japanese woodcuts without directly copying them. The character art is all very dynamic and interesting, the poses and colors are also very distinct and different from each other. There is so much going on in the card art of the game, in the souvenir fans or the ramen noodle bowl or the completed panoramas, that the art of the game is almost enough to justify the purchase of the game all by itself; it really is that wonderful.
The theme of Tokaido is one of relaxing, leisurely tourism and the game mechanics model that exceptionally well. The game is a linear path composed of a series of individual stops which are divided into four segments, each one punctuated by an Inn. There is no random movement, or even much restriction on how fast you go through the path, as the idea is that you want to see as many of the tourist spots on the trail as possible. Player turns are likewise not conventional: the player whose meeple is the furthest behind on the trail is the active player and remains the active player until they are no longer the last person on the trail. This kind of a set up is very intriguing to me as someone who is used to having pretty well defined restrictions on my actions in games, especially when it comes to movement of your game piece. This freedom of movement can be deceptive, and skipping ahead to secure a location in front of you is tempting, but if you do that then it gives the people behind you several turns to catch up, meaning that you’re losing out on gaining points in the mean time. The pace of the game breaks many molds, and is very rewarding in its tactical choices.
Overall, Tokaido is a set collection game; certain types of sets let you get ever-increasing amounts of points, while some sets are always worth the same amount. There are a surprising amount of different sets to collect in the game: everything from seeing panoramas to collecting different kinds of souvenirs to eating different kinds of food or talking with many people. The sets are all engaging thematically, and are interesting mechanically because focusing on one type of set not only nets you better outcomes (as usually set bonuses scale with the size of the set), but there are achievement cards that give you additional points at the end of the game for having invested the most into one type of set. Game play is simple and straight forward, and the set collection mechanics are somewhat similar to 7 wonders in complexity and depth. Tokaido is not an especially difficult game to understand or play, and I feel that is one of its strengths.
I usually enjoy games that are complicated and require multiple play-throughs to be able to understand how to play them the most efficiently. With Tokaido I feel that my usual tendencies towards antagonism and high-concept mechanics are turned on their head and I immerse myself in the casual, laid back world that the designers have made. I continually have fun with Tokaido and it has become a game that I am always in the mood to play.