Monday, December 8, 2014

The Wheaton Effect Part Eight: "Tokaido"

Another season of Tabletop, another showcase of tempting board games:


Tokaido was actually on my "must try" list l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g before Wheaton and company decided to fete this Antoine Bauza-designed set-collector with an episode of Tabletop. And for once it wasn't because of the game's theme, its elaborate toy factor or its innovative mechanics. It was simply because of its ethos.

I've always been amused when people wrack their brains over the meaning of life. Even though I've just scratched the surface of this wacky world of ours I believe that our raison d'être is downright self-evident. We're here to better ourselves and those around us by absorbing knowledge, fostering good karma and having as many cool experiences as possible during our limited time on earth.

And that's exactly what Tokaido is all about. Don't believe me? Well, here's the official overview from the well-worn travellers at Funforge Games:

"Welcome to the Tokaido, the legendary East Sea Road connecting Kyoto to Edo. Here you will begin an extraordinary journey during which you will discover a thousand marvels for the first time.

"Be sure to take the time to contemplate the sumptuous vistas before you: the majestic mountains, peaceful coastland, and vast rice paddies… Let the brushstrokes of nature be an anchor for your memories.

"Appreciate the beneficial stopovers that punctuate your path, the restorative tranquility of the hot springs, and the countless culinary delicacies that will astonish your palate.

"Bundle together with your belongings delightfully unexpected souvenirs, from the most modest to the most sophisticated, that you gather from surprising encounters that may change the course of your travels.

"Time will be your best means to remain clear-sighted, methodical, and patient so that you don’t miss anything on this unique route but instead can fully savor the experience the Tokaido has to offer!"


Looking to read the full travelogue? Then click on the following link to plan out your trip even before you set foot upon your intended the path!

***
After finishing up early with Mysterium I thought that my fellow gamers wouldn't mind test driving the latest piece of Tabletop bait. My assumption proved to be more then correct; when I went to fetch Tokaido out of the cafe's library I discovered that it had already been snapped up by someone else. In an amusing co-incidence, the person who'd picked it out was Matt, a reserve member of our gaming group who just so happened to be there that night with a completely different group of friends.

Cheatin' on us, eh? Well I gots just one thing to say to you, you Jezebel:


Sorry, I've just been informed that my comments are in direct opposition to my previously-espoused "good karma" directive. As such, I officially retract this statement and apologize sincerely to Matt, I.E. the l'il so-and-so who actually had the temerity to show up with people other then us and then bog down our game night by "yoinking" away the one and only title we really wanted to play!

Er, I mean..."Anata no yoru o tanoshimu, Matt-San!"

A-hem

On the glass-is-half-full side of things, he were in a place that had about five-hundred other games sitting on the shelf so it wasn't exactly a major chore to come up with something to do while Matt and his (real) friends finished up. More on that in a future post. Mebbe

Pretty soon Tokaido was back on the shelf. Before any other rogue members of our group appeared I snapped it up, broke 'er open and hauled out the elegant-looking components. We then spent a little while picking out our Travelers and selecting our colors, all the while indulging in some pretty dodgy Japanese accents.

And now I know why Kris squirreled us all away in the "unopened" section of the cafe. It wasn't to "christen" the place it was to make sure that the property values didn't plummet while we were there. 


COLORS AND CHARACTERS

Chad...Mitsukuni - The Old Man (Blue)
Mitsukuni earns 1 additional point for each Hot
Spring card and each achievement card.

Me...Kinko - The Ronin (Gray)
Each Meal card purchased by Kinko costs one
coin less. (Meals that cost 1 are therefore free.)

Jeremy...Hirotada - The Priest (Green)
Each time he stops at the Temple, Hirotada can
take one coin from the bank and donate it to
the Temple, scoring 1 point for this coin. This is in
addition to the 1, 2, or 3 coins he can personally
donate to the Temple.
 
Kris...Hiroshige - The Artist (Pink)
When Hiroshige arrives at each of the 3 intermediate
Inns, before the Meal he takes 1 Panorama
card of his choice, scoring the points for this card
immediately.

Mike...Yoshiyasu - The Functionary (Yellow)
During each Encounter, Yoshiyasu draws 2
Encounter cards, keeps the one he wishes, then
places the other card at the bottom of the pile
(without showing it to the other players).

THE FIRST LEG 
(KYOTO to NAGOYA)

Mike and Chad bombed into the nearest Village, snapping up all of the choice salt-and-pepper shakers and batting practice helmets. Jeremy popped into the closest Temple and made a huge tax-deductible donation. In spite of my vast wealth there was nothing I could do to oust the infestation of commoners out of that Village. What's the point of being filthy stinkin' rich if you can't gentrify someplace? With an abundance of koku burning a hole in my pocket I had an Encounter with a fellow o̶n̶e̶-̶p̶e̶r̶c̶e̶n̶t̶e̶r̶ , er...Kuge, who gave me three more Coins. Meanwhile, Kris got all artsy-fartsy, getting a jump on his hillside Panorama painting.


Chad made a l'il friend while Mike started working on his mountainside masterpiece. Captivated by the scenic coastline, fellow flaky artist types Kris and Jeremy began to work on their own Seascape Panorama. I took advantage of their distraction, shoving everyone out of the way to get to the second Village. Once there I tried to compensate for the gaping chasm in my soul by filling it up with a bunch of useless tchotchkes. Er, "Souvenirs", I meant "Souvenirs". I capped off this orgy of wanton consumerism with a gluttonous, half-digested meal at the nearby Inn, barely managing to choke down the wafer-thin mint at the end. Fetch me a bucket! 


SECOND LEG 
(NAGOYA to SHIZUOKA)

Jeremy and Kris continued to waste their time making macaroni pictures and finger-painting seascapes. Once again I ignored all of that "scenery" crap, made a bee-line for the nearest town and  upon arrival I BOUGHT ALL OF THE THINGZ. Flat-ass broke thanks to some bitchin' Black Friday deals, Chad had to shlep to the Farm and slum with the peasants for some loose change. Devoid of any viable remaining options, Mike sprinted to the Inn and arrived before anyone else, scoring a crème de la crème nosh in the process.


He was then followed by Kris, Jeremy, me and then Chad, the latter of which went hungry when he realize that he still couldn't afford any food. Get (another) job, you hippie! 


This, in turn, dictated the next turn order: Chad, Me, Jeremy, Kris and finally Mike. Which, when you think about it kinda odd. Wouldn't Mike be finishing up his pudding and calculating a 15% tip before everyone else? Oh well, whatevs

THIRD LEG 
(SHIZUOKA TO OFUNA)

A sure sign that I was completely engrossed in this game: I forget to take pictures!

I made sure to take a detour into the last town, acquiring a U-Haul to cart around all of the future landfill I was compiling. Kris joined me there but he was, like, WAY POORER then I was so he only ended up with two trinkets while I got, like, six of them. I believe the appropriate phrase here is "neener, neener, neener". Determined to get something, anything into his sad little shrunken belly this time out, Chad leapfrogged over all of us to claim the first spot at the Inn and the tastiest of victuals. He was then followed by Mike and then Jeremy. I arrived late to the party and had to keep up appearances by eating some mildly-expired Yakitori. No-one seemed to notice, that is until next morning when I nearly soiled my kimono running for the nearest ditch. 


FORTH & FINAL LEG
(OFUNA TO EDO) 

With many of the four-star destinations overcrowded with annoying plebes, I decided to dabble with painting. *Ugh*, seriously, what's the point? That's what smartphone cameras are for! Realizing that his time was almost up, Chad popped into a gift shop at the very last second, buying an "I Survived The Tokaido Death March" t-shirt before rolling into the Big City.

Here's what we'd experienced, eaten and / or collected over the course of our epic journey:

MIKE / YOSHIYASU
  • Mike did really well with food, chowing down on Shashimi and a bunch of other tasty treats for 24 points. 
  • During his travels he collected some Geta wooden sandals, a Ukiyoe woodblock print, and a Uchiwa fan for a total of 9 points. 
  • He indulged in two monkey-infested Hot-Spring dips for 6 points. 
  • He was the first person to finish his Mountain Panorama, giving him 10 points for the work and +3 points for the Panorama Achievement Card. He also started but didn't complete a Seascape and a Paddy for a total of 2 more points. 
  • For Encounters he made nice with a Annaibito Guide and a Shokunin Merchant. 
  • In a token gesture, Mike plopped one Coin into the Temple collection box. Wow, don't hurt yourself there, big spender!
 CHAD / MITSUKUMI
  • Chad scored some decent grub, noshing upon Udon, Donburi and Tofu for an in-game score of 18.
  • He also managed to collect one complete set of Souvenirs including a Haori shirt, a Gofu fan, a Netsuke sculpture and a mini Daifuku cake for a full 16 points. On top of that he picked up a Koma spin-top, some Kamaboko fish jerky and a Furoshiki wrapping cloth for 9 more points. *Humph*, tryin' to show me up as the most superficial Tokaido player, eh? Whatta jerk! 
  • Chad even had the unmitigated gall to be more artistically bankrupt then me: painting only one measly Panorama Mountain segment for 1 sad point. 
  • Unlike me, Chad went skinny dippin' in no less then four Hot Springs, some of which may or may not have involved some hot monkey action. Hey, it got him 11 in-game points so who am I to judge? 
  • Even in the midst of this he still found time to get cozy with a Shokunin Merchant.
ME / KINKO
  • I collected four pieces of choice food on my journey: Dango, Yakitori, Nigirimeshi and Sushi for a grand total of 24 points. 
  • I picked up one full set of junk...er, trinkets, including a beautiful Yunomi bowl, some Sake (*hic*), a Jubako pic-a-nic box and a sassy Yukata robe to show off my girlish figure. I also collected a few loose bits of flotsam and jetsam including a pair of Hashi chopsticks and some Manju cakes for 4 more points for a grand total of 20. 
  • By the end of the game my entourage was bigger then P-Diddy's. With a Samurai (for +3 Points), a Kuge Noble, a Miko Shinto Priest and a Annaibito Guide in tow, I was a walking Akira Kurosawa cliche. Which begs the question: did these guys really like me for me or were they just after my table scraps? *sniff* 
  • As for my artistic expressions they were perfunctory at best. I'd whipped off two (very) loose interpretations of the Mountain and Sea Panoramas for a whopping total of six points for both.
  • I didn't even bother dippin' my bitz in any Hot Springs. I mean, Jeezus, have you seen what those monkeys do?!? They fling their poo like a bunch of little G.G. Allin's! 
  • To try and atone for my overt gluttony and greed I invested in some Spiritual Indulgences by donating 3 Coins to various Temples. Hey, if you can't behave your way into heaven, then why not buy your way in? Amirite? Holla?
JEREMY / HIROTADA
  • Jeremy also ate rather well, picking up some Sushi, Tofu, Nigirimeshi and Misoshiru in his travels for a total of 24 points. 
  • He picked up two strays along the way: a Samurai (for +3 points) and an omnipresent Annaibito Guide. 
  • Jeremy also went all-in with the arts, completing a beautiful Sea Panorama for 15 points and got half-way through a Mountain for 3. 
  • He was also the most pious among us, donating a vastly-superior count of coins to the Temples en route.  Since the Bank matched every single one of his contributions he had about 10 points worth of coins on the Temples by the time the game was over. 
  KRIS / HIROSHIGE
  • Kris tea-bagged no less then three different Hot Springs for a total of 7 aqua-related points. 
  • As the resident starving artist, Kris missed one meal along the way, ending up with some Dango, Misoshiru and the ever-popular Nigirimeshi for a total of 18 points. 
  • He didn't have a lot of funds for pointless bric-à-brac, ending the game with a Shamisen gee-tar (which he learned how to play "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum on) as well as a rakishly-handsome Sandogasa lid. Even though these two items only provided 4 points, their effect on all those hawt n' willing geishas was immeasurable. As expected, his forte was in painting, completing the Sea Panaroma for 15 Victory points and the Paddy landscape for 6 more. Being the first person to lock these down he also scored the two corresponding Panorama Achievement Cards for 6 more points!

FINAL SCORES

KRIS

Food: 18
Souvenirs: 4
Encounters: 0
Art: 27 (15 for a completed Seascape and 6 for a completed Paddy plus 6 more points for the two corresponding Panorama Achievements)
Hot Springs: 7
Temples: 0

In-Game Victory Points: 56

Bonus Points: Zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada. El zippo.   

Total Points: 56


MIKE

Food: 24
Souvenirs: 9
Encounters: 0
Art: 15 (10 for a Completed Mountain, +2 for one Sea and one Paddy, and +3 for the matching Panorama Achievement)  
Hot Springs: 6
Temples: 1

 In-Game Victory Points: 55

Bonus Points: +3 for goin' all Anthony Bourdain with the Gourmet card. I was actually shooting for this one but I didn't realize that this Achievement Card is rewarded to the player who eats the most expensive meals in total. D'oh!

He also got 4 points for being the third most generous contributor to the Temple. Pretty sneaky, sis!

Total Points: 62


ME

Food:  24
Souvenirs: 20 (16 Points for a full set, +4 for half of a set)
Encounters: 3 for a Samurai
Art: 6 (2 Panorama Cards completed for both the Seascape and the Mountains)
Hot Springs: 0
Temples: 3

In-Game Victory Points: 56

Bonus Points: +3 Points for accumulating the most fairweather friends via the Chatterbox Achievement Card. I also got +7 Points for being the second-most generous Temple donator.

Total Points: 66


JEREMY

Food: 24 
Souvenirs: 0
Encounters: 3 for a Samurai
Art: 19 (15 for a completed Sea Panorama, 3 for a 2-segment Mountain, 1 for a 1-segment Paddy)
Hot Springs: 0
Temple: 10
In-Game Victory Points: 56
Bonus Points: +10 Points for donating the most money to the Temple. 

Total Points:  66


CHAD

Food: 18
Souvenirs: 25 (16 for a set and another 9 for 3/4 of a set) 
Encounters: 0
Art: 1
Hot Springs: 15 (11 and a +1 bonus for each card thanks to the Old Man's Special Ability)
Temples: 0

In-Game Victory Points: 56
Bonus Points: +3 Points for being the OCD-style Bather and +3 points for out-shopping me as the Collector!  He also received a +1 bonus point for each of these Achievement Cards due to Mitsukuni's accursed Special Ability!

Total Points: 67


CHAD WINS!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS 
  • Again, the ethos of the game is a major draw for me. It's all about personal enrichment, creativity and having unique experiences. Or if you're a rich asshole like me, you can just try and buy all of that slap-happy shit wholesale.
  • The components of the game are well in step with the theme. The kaiga-style artwork is perfectly zen and the Meal, Souvenir, Encounter and Hot Springs cards really make you feel as if you're trekking across the Japanese countryside during the Tokugawa shogunate. 
  • The board itself is a perfect example of design elegance. It's clean, bright, and cheerful. The iconography is both clear and charming.
  • I love the movement mechanic. Do you rush ahead to get the first pick of something that dove-tails with your strategy? Or do you linger, chaining several actions together in one turn and then customizing your approach to the game accordingly?
  • At the beginning I was afraid that the richest characters would automatically destroy everyone else. And, I suppose, after seeing how poor artsy Kris fared, some readers may still maintain that this is the case. Just remember: Jeremy also took a mostly-creative route and he acquitted himself rather nicely by saving up for Meals and donating to the Temples. In other words if you add some add some ying to your yang you just might do alright.
  • Although it makes sense to be somewhat flexible, the exponentially alluring points provided by completed Panorama and Souvenir sets shouldn't be ignored. It's something that you'll likely struggle with constantly throughout the game.  
  • Just like a real trip, "you can't do it all". Every turn represents a bunch of interesting possibilities and tough decisions. 
  • To quote Andrew: "I didn't really have that much interest in playing Tokaido until Tabletop showed me just how cut-throat it is." Cut-throat indeed. As much as I blather on about the pleasant ethos of the game, it's also about dropping a deuce in your opponent's Hot Springs, so to speak. When some jack-hole comes along and steals that last Sea Panorama spot, denying you a completed work of art just two spaces shy of the last Inn it might very well result in a real-life honor duel to the death. Everyone's cards are face-up during the game, so it's not hard to tell what people are shooting for. This is especially true in a five-player game.      
  • The guys at Shut Up And Sit Down have expressed concerns about the game's re-playability but I don't know if I agree with them. Yes, you pretty much get the gist of the entire game after one play but next time out you'll likely find yourself inhabiting the body of a new random Traveler, which will likely alter your strategy somewhat. Add to this the three different types of Panoramas, the Temples, all of the different Souvenirs, the Farms, the wealth of Food options, the random Encounters, and the Hot Springs and you have a pretty decent amount of variety. Trust me, when you play this thing with five people, you might as well throw all of your time-honored plans right out the shōji.
 CONS
  • I'm still a tad concerned about the influence of money in the game. I also think that some of the Traveler's Special Abilities are vastly superior to others. Hopefully future plays of the game will sway my mind on this one way or the other.
***
To be perfectly honest, Tokaido probably isn't as good as I think it it.  I just love it because of it's both pretty to look at and perfectly in step with my own romantic and likely antiquated world-view.

After all the games I've played, the quality I'm looking for the most now is originality and I think Tokaido has this in spades. I give it five pips outta six with a tilt up towards the mountain peak in my half-completed watercolor!

***

Wanna find out what happens when you combine a hot tub, some incontinent macaques and a gallon of sake? Click on the picture below to learn more about Takaido and help this blog attain financial enlightenment!

 

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