Writing game reviews can be challenging for all kinds of reasons, but probably the best reason is when you won’t start writing because you don’t want to stop playing. I’m thrilled to have had this experience with Tokaido. It is a beautiful turn-based game centered on traveling the famous Japanese route to collect souvenirs, create artwork, and have encounters with mysterious and generous strangers.
Players travel in groups of three, four, or five and can play against AI opponents, online, or locally on a device using a “pass-and-play” option. Unfortunately, I was never able to test out the online option because there were never any rooms available when I logged on, and no one ever joined my room. However, the AI experience is great fun on its own so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
Tokaido takes about 20 minutes to experience one journey with three AI opponents. I was surprised when I finished the first playthrough, but quickly came to appreciate how these fast sessions make the game more fun. I found three opponents to be ideal, because some of the stops are open to two travelers when there are three or more players. Four opponents, however, means a lot of downtime as you wait for the other players to make their moves.
At the outset of the game, you are offered a choice between two randomly chosen travelers, each with different strengths such as reduced costs on souvenirs or free meals. Which traveler you choose, as well as who your opponents are, will shape your strategy.
Each stop along the route can be occupied by one or sometimes two travelers and offers different things to do or collect, such as completing panels of a panorama or making offerings in a temple. Each of the individual stops is a lovely, unique experience, with beautiful visuals and a real sense of immersion. Points are accrued by visiting the most stops, but once you pass a stop, you cannot return to it. Each strength can therefore become a weakness if you are unable to capitalize on it by being blocked out from the stop you need for your bonus.
Tokaido is based on a physical board game, but no knowledge of the original is required to enjoy the mobile version. I haven’t experienced the board game myself, but I can certainly feel how the turn-based game would function on a tabletop. Indeed, the transition to mobile is executed so well that it feels completely natural on my device. I won the second time out, but lost each subsequent time. Of course, the traveller I used during my winning round became my favorite, but unfortunately she hasn’t appeared an option again for me since.
Addictive games provoke different types of needs and desires. For some it’s a high score, for some it’s acquisition, for some it’s power. Tokaido is addictive because its strategy is so engaging. With each subsequent journey, a player can improve their strategy. But with travelers constantly changing, strategies must be revised and pivoted based on the strengths and weaknesses of the party. It’s a game where you constantly get better but getting better doesn’t make it easier, only more fun. Board games are designed to maximize replayability, so it makes sense that the mobile version of Tokaido would inspire the same motivation to play again and again.
For as close to perfection as Tokaido comes, there is still room for minor improvement in a couple of areas. I want to be able to zoom in more; from the travel path to the panoramas, I want to see all of the lovely details. Of course, I do understand there is some low-poly shorthand going on here, which might be why we can’t zoom. I’d also like to see in Pass-and-Play the ability to play with two real-world travelers and one AI opponent; Pass-and-Play currently requires at least three real-world players. Finally, I want a personal high score tracker that flags when I’ve beat my previous high score; it would improve morale in the face of multiple losses and inspire more replays.
Overall, lovers of board games in general will likely adore this mobile version, as it feels like an analogous experience. Folks who like beautiful environments and a sense of journey will love the game’s graphics and charming interactions. And those who like developing competitive strategies with priority-based decision making and resource management will enjoy how many options they have to maximize their stops to ultimately claim victory. For travelers of all kinds, Tokaido is undoubtedly a journey worth taking.