Thursday, July 26, 2018

My first steps towards Tokaido

Tokaido has been tentatively on my radar pretty much since it came out. On the one hand, I’ve heard that it’s physically beautiful, very relaxing to play and excellent for casual players/non-gamers. On the other hand, I’ve also heard that it’s too simple, that the decision tree doesn’t branch enough for you to make real decisions.

Between the simplicity concerns and the fact that I had (and still have) plenty of casual gamer friendly games (Seriously, TransAmerica is the best) meant that I never seriously thought about getting Tokaido. And no one I played with got it either.

While on vacation, I decided to spend the two dollars on the app so I could try and learn the game and explore it a little.

Short version: pretty much everything bad and good I’ve heard about Tokaido is true. The game is thematically very rich but, at least for the base game, the decision tree seems very slender.

The theme of Tokaido, a walking tour of a famous Japanese road, isn’t one that automatically drew me in. (Agricola only got a pass because Bohnanza already taught me games about farming are awesome) However, it works really well. Every element, except maybe stopping to either do chores at a farm or levy taxes at a farm, makes sense for a vacation. And I have found the game relaxing, almost like taking a real vacation in my head.

There are many ways to get points in the game. Collecting souvenirs, painting paintings, donating at temples, buying fine meals, stopping at hot springs. And everyone gets a character with a special power. However, the road is a straight line and you can never go backwards. You can move as many spaces as you like but you can’t visit places where one or two (in higher number of players) are. And whoever is the farthest behind is whoever gets the next turn.

So, it feels like there is actually a limited number of practical choices. It does feel like specializing in one or two things will get you more points than trying to diversify. It also seems like blocking just to block costs both you and the other guy points.

From what I’ve read, the expansion increases the choices (although I’m not a fan of expansions being required to ‘fix’ games) and I’m just working with the base game. But Tokaido feels, under the variety of points and special powers, very simple. In fact, too simple for the groups I was gaming with when it came out.

I’m prepared to be convinced that Tokaido has hidden depths. However, I think its real strength is the rich, engaging theme. Tokaido tells a story. Not an exciting or thrilling story but one that I think most folks wouldn’t mind living out.

I don’t know if I’ll ever buy a physical copy of Tokaido but I am glad I got the app. And if I had the chance to play it face to face, I’d take it.

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