Although Strategy games can be great competitive fun, I enjoy lighter games with strong emphasis on theme for an entertaining evening of drinking, socializing and relaxing with friends.
Tokaido means the East Sea Road in Japanese, and references the famous road that connected Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period (16-19th century). This board game brings together simple, fun game play and clean aesthetics to represent the journey travelers used to make between the two cities.
This charming game is very easy to learn, and yet has subtle complexities that make it rich enough for more experienced gamers to enjoy as well.
So, put on some thematic music and gather around a table.
Beginning the Journey
Each player plays a character (they can choose or receive randomly) making the journey from Kyoto to Edo. The characters are all eccentric stereotypes from the period with funny names that can lead to a lot of laughter when loudly pronounced with a racial accent (squint for extra effect). There’s Kinko the Ronin, Mitsukuni the Old Man, Satsuki the Orphan, and, of course, Sasayakko the Geisha.
The character you are slightly changes your strategy and game play, but not too much to over-complicate the game. Basically, each character starts with a different amount of coins, and they each grant a bonus effect on a certain location. For instance, Chuubei the Messenger, pictured above, starts off with (4) coins and his effect is that he draws an encounter at each of the intermediate inns on the journey.
Simple yet Strategic Game Play
The game play is almost embarrassingly simple. All of the characters start off on the beginning side of the board (Kyoto) and slowly travel towards Edo. On your turn you simple pick the next place you want to go to: each location has an effect, and most are very simple like purchasing an item, receiving more coins, or drawing an encounter.
Scoring is simple, with most of the actions you can take either giving you immediate points, or setting you up to gain more points later. You move your representative token on the scoring board (along the top of the game board) as you score points, so it is always apparent how each person is faring.
The main twist is that instead of game turns going clockwise or counter-clockwise, the player furthest back on the road always goes . So the main strategy on your turn relies upon balancing the gain you get by your movement, while considering blocking locations other players might need, and also simply not pushing too far ahead (else you won’t have another turn for a while).
This simple game play of slowly traversing across the board, trying to make it to the places you really want to while not going so fast as to miss other opportunities, really captures the theme of the game. The journey is also punctuated by (5) stops at inns, where the players wait for everyone to arrive, and then enjoy a meal together, just like it would have been on the old road.
Picturesque Thematic Aesthetics
On your journey, you can stop at different vistas in order to collect cards of the beautiful scenery in order to create panoramas.
These elegant pictures, as well as the art on the rest of the cards, really bring the entire experience together.
Cold Nigori (unfiltered) Sake is definitely the way to go. If you’ve never enjoyed sake, or have only tried the cheap sake that gives a quick buzz and a quicker headache, then you are in for a treat.
Nigori sake is usually cloudy/white with a slightly creamy texture. It has a sweet alcoholic flavor and goes down smooth.
Passing bottles of Nigori around, clinking glasses, and taking shots at each inn transforms the board game from a simple fun matter of traversing across a game board to a living, memorable experience.
P.S. You can purchase Tokaido straight from Amazon.