Tokaido is a digital version of the original board game by Antoine Bauze. The game is named after, and recreates the famous East Sea Road of Japan, the most important of the five routes of the edo period. Tokaido has a very unique set up for a board game. There are no branches. The board is a single linear pathway, with a clear beginning and end. There are many stops along the way and each contributes to the game and keeps things moving along. Matches are fast-paced and only last between 15-20 minutes (with 4 players).
The main goal of Tokaido is to collect the most Victory Points by the end of 4 “days”. Each day starts and ends at an inn. The original Tokaido famously had 53 stations from Edo to Kyoto. The digital version only has 9, but each place you visit contributes towards your Victory Points in some way. The souvenir shop lets you buy items in exchange for coins. Buying a souvenir earns Victory Points and the player with the most souvenirs at the end of the game receives extra points. The farm gives you three coins, but no points that turn.
There are other types of challenges such as collecting panorama cards. You can collect these by stopping at either the rice paddy, mountain or sea. The first player to collect a certain number of these cards receives bonus Victory Points. Even though the board is linear, every move matters. Also, turns pass by quickly, so no one has to wait long to move again. I never felt bored with the pace.
Movement is another interesting aspect of Tokaido. You don’t roll dice or pick cards. Instead, you move to any spot on the map with some limitations. You cannot move backwards. If you skip over a farm, you’ll have to wait until the next round to get more coins.
The turn order is decided by the position of the player. The player who is closest to the start always acts first. This is a great mechanic which forces you to think about your move. The last person to reach an inn is also the first person to move on the following day. This is always an important factor to keep in mind as moving first is advantageous.
The inns are an excellent way to reset each round. Once you enter the inn, you have the option of purchasing a meal for six Victory Points. The player who spends the most money on meals receives bonus points at the end of the game. However, you can only buy a specific meal once. Fortunately, there is enough variety to avoid this problem, unless you get unlucky.
However, there is no active method of obstructing the other players. You can try and sneak in a few extra turns with smart movement, but that’s about it. The goal isn’t to defeat other players or force them out of the game. It’s designed to be a relaxing experience for everyone, even if you come last.
More Than Just Tokens
Tokaido has several characters to play as, such as a Ronin, a merchant or an old man. These characters are more than a simple game token as they all have different traits and every character starts with a different number of coins. This may seem unfair if not for the special abilities. The merchant can buy souvenirs for a single coin no matter the price (once per shop). The child has the option of receiving a free meal from inns, which is great because she only starts with 2 coins. None of the special abilities feel overpowered so choosing based on looks is valid.
This is also a good time to discuss the AI opponents of Tokaido. There are no difficulty settings or any other customisation options beyond the number of AI opponents (2-4). I found three was the ideal number as it has the best mix of strategy and chaos. And the AI in the game is good. They actually try to use their special ability to their advantage. The child isn’t afraid to spend her money because she knows she’ll be fed for free. The merchant stops at every shop along the way to purchase cheap souvenirs.
I found it difficult to win matches and at times it felt like the AI was smarter than a human opponent. After a few matches, playing against the focused AI gets repetitive.
The tablet version has a pass and play mode for local multiplayer for 3-5 players. This is fair, since the game board is quite small and couldn’t accommodate any more. Tokaido features an online multiplayer mode. I was not able to test it out as there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the servers. Sometimes I would see another player online but there was no way to communicate with them and two people aren’t enough for a game regardless.
This also highlights another problem with the online system. To access the online mode you need to make a Funforge account. This process is quick and easy to do in-game. The issue lies with the poorly executed friends list. There’s no way of sending messages to other people and you get no confirmation that your friend request was actually sent. For some reason you can send hundreds of requests to players. Even to yourself! The online section needs a lot more polish.
Tokaido looks gorgeous. The art style reminds me a lot of Okami, another very artistic Japanese themed game. The characters are stylised and look fantastic. The set pieces on the board look great. At the start of the game they appear discoloured but light up when characters land on a piece. I wish there were more camera angles. You only get a single zoomable top down view. The text font resembles calligraphy and is easy to read. This is a beautiful rendition of the Japanese art style.
The Tokaido board is also full of small details. You can click anywhere on the board and make that area of the ground jump up. Clicking on water creates a splash. The characters perform little animations after eating at the inn. I love how the Ronin puts on a smug face and makes a waving gesture and the traveller who bows in gratitude. The attention to detail is mind-blowing. It is clear that a lot of love and care went into this project.
There are few graphic options to choose from. There is an enhanced graphics mode which adds shadows and better lighting. You can also swap between 30 and 60 frames per second. It’s a simple game and doesn’t need in-depth graphical settings and pre-sets.
Tokaido has a very relaxing atmosphere despite its strategic gameplay helped by the phenomenal job Funforge have done with the audio design. The background music draws from traditional Japanese-themed melodies and the peaceful tunes are a very important part of the whole experience. Sometimes, the characters pipe up with a random Japanese word, like “Hai” (“yes”). It was a little odd at first, but I like the extra detail.
Should You Buy It?
Tokaido is an excellent digital board game. It’s wonderful to look at but not so flashy that it detracts from the core experience. While there are some issues with the online interface the game itself is fun to play.
It is a shame that multiplayer is barren. But if you’re looking for a fun and short game for game’s night with friends and family I recommend you get Tokaido. However, if you’re on your own, then don’t expect to get too many hours out of this before growing bored with the AI.