“The greatest blessing that we have
Is the dawn of each new day
A chance to finish what we started
And made a mess of yesterday
As day comes out of night
A chance to get it right
A chance to start again
A chance to get it right…
Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness IS the road
– Marillion, “Happiness is the Road” (Happiness is the Road – 2008)
The world is shrinking at an exponential rate. Thank technology for making us all feel so small. Because, while it provides the tools that keep us constantly connected, it also works to marginalize, monetize and minimize our humanity. “A pulse of dying power in a clenching plastic fist!!” (End rant).
The 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Canadian power rock trio Rush knows the score. I quote and mention Rush in a pre-game-review-intro-puff-piece because they help connect all the dots. I am a huge Rush fan. I first saw them in 1984, touring “Grace Under Pressure,” mostly because I was too young when they toured “Signals,” (mommy would not let me go). I bought their Tour Program, and devoured every page. Happening upon an interesting picture in the book, a shot of the marquee of New York’s Radio City Music Hall, which only seats about 6,000, my interest was piqued. It boasted a five night run in September 1983 with a band I had never heard before as their opening act: Marillion.
I know it is only 20 years ago, but, walk with me a while down memory lane. Living in Kansas City as a high schooler, there were scant few places to buy “records” – that’s what we called mp3s back then. So, I would frequent the local Camelot Music store at the mall – that’s what we called Amazon back then; but they did not carry Marillion. It would not be until Marillion’s 1987 wide release of Clutching at Straws that I would hear them played. Hard to believe in this world of instant downloading of everything.
In April, 2011 I travelled to Montreal to see Marillion play one of their “fan weekend” festival concerts. Three nights, three concerts, flippin’ incredible. The whole weekend wrapped with the song quoted above. As the audience chanted the refrain for at least five minutes, our encore to the band, all of us assembled sharing a mutual love affair, I was struck by the realization I was where I was because I went to a Rush concert 20 years before. The song’s deeper message was not lost on me either.
Like Marillion, for Antoine Bauza, the designer of 7 Wonders (and Takenoko and Ghost Stories and Hanabi and, and, and) the hits just keep on coming. One of his more recent offerings, Tokaido, is beautiful, brilliant and believe me, worth the buy. All about the roadtrip, Tokaido gets players to remember that the journey is sometimes more important than who arrives first. Happiness is the road in this game. I picked it up at Gencon and have been playing quite a bit ever since.
Background/Story of the Game
In Tokaido, the players take on roles of Edo Period travelers crossing the “East Sea Road,” (called: Tōkaidō), a scenic thoroughfare connecting modern-day Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto, Japan. The original Tōkaidō consisted of 53 stations between Edo and Kyoto, representative of 53 Buddhist saints that Sudhana visited to receive teachings in his quest for enlightenment. Famously depicted by Hiroshige in his work The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, the game takes its cues from this history and artistic reverence. Oh, and fancy this, there are 53 “stops” on the playing surface as well…
Object of the Game
While traveling, the players meet people, eat fine meals, collect souvenirs, paint panoramas, and visit temples. Or, earn a few bucks doing chores. All that distraction is the point; for, at the end of the day, it is not the player who crosses the finish line first but the one who discovered the most interesting and varied things who wins the day. Hmm, eating, shopping, drawing. Occasional praying and meeting strangers. Chores? Sounds a little….pedestrian. (Groan). Could not be more wrong. The simplicity of the game design leaves much room for deep thinking about how to successfully navigate the perils of the road.
In a word, this game is gorgeous. The cards, though small, are so beautifully illustrated. Soft pastels and bright colors give the game a very asian samurai era feel, yet still maintains its accessibility. All of the iconography is simple, intuitive and consistent. Game spaces on the board correspond to the cards which correspond to the action choices players have.
There is a minimal amount of information communicated on each card, which allows its true beauty to be the focus. Other than card names and art, there is generally only a cost icon and victory point icon. No other information is needed, and so none more is provided. But it really is a lot of fun to look down and see all the things you have tried, acquired and encountered along the road.
The game comes with a beautifully laid out game board, and the following components:
– 50 koku;
– 10 “traveler tiles” (character sheets – each with different, unique abilities);
– 140 cards (panoramas, encounters, hot springs, souvenirs, male and achievements);
– 5 point trackers, color tokens and traveler meeples.
The potential action spaces in Tokaido are laid out on a linear track, with players advancing along as their actions. The player who is furthest away on the track takes the first and every subsequent turn by advancing forward on the track to their desired location and doing what that location requires. Each location corresponds with a specific “action,” either painting a diorama, getting a quick hot bath, meeting a fellow traveler, praying at a shrine, and so on. But space is limited. So, players must choose whether to advance slowly in order to get more turns, or to travel more rapidly to beat other players to their desired action spaces.
However, evenly spaced along the road are 4 Inn Spots, which requires all players to gather there before further trekking down the road. In effect, it ends a “turn” and gives some benefit to the player who is hurtling down the road, by allowing them first choice of the meal they will purchase. No player can taste the same foods, and you can’t eat lest you can afford the meal, so there is strategy in when you arrive to the dinner table as well.
The action spaces allow a variety of actions which will score in different, but roughly equal, ways. Some action spaces allow players to collect money, while others offer players a way to spend that money to acquire various souvenir collections which score points for assembling those sets. Some action spaces simply award players points for stopping on them by taking a nice hot-springs bath, or introduce the player to a visitor on the path through a random encounter.
At the end of the road, there is a reckoning, and a calculation of various awards and achievements the players have earned by purchasing the most expensive food items, as an example, or having the most encounters, or purchasing the most souvenirs.
In our many games played, all of them were very close at the end. While someone would always jump out to an early points lead, the mid and late game points gains evened things up nicely. Most of all, they were all fun with very different feel given the multiple player cards, and decisions posed by every unique game. Once we caught on to the strategy of the choices, there was often much “screwing over” of our fellow travelers to get to coveted spaces on the board, or purchasing of meals at the inn that prevented others from eating.
There is much variety with 10 different “player boards” which each have unique actions and different flavors, strengths and appeal to give every game a different challenge and feel.
Any game that gets my daughter and wife playing is one I like too. The theme is very accessible to boys and girls of all ages which provides a gentle gateway to gaming. All of the cards, icons and actions interact intuitively and effortlessly. More than anything, the game is just so darn pretty. Tokaido is perfect for casual gamers for its ease of enjoyable gameplay. Get them hooked on this and you will be diving into 7 Wonders or other more complex strategy games in no time. Ok, now back to Sounds that Can’t Be Made….
[Also, my apologies for the lengthy radio silence…so much going on these last few months…but I promise more to come soon. Editors note – welcome back, buddy. – jb]