If you count this as a long weekend, then I did get some board-gaming in. The weekend proper was a busy one and I didn’t get much play time in, but after missing out on gaming entirely last weekend due to a grueling weekend shift, I knew I had to make up for it with something big. Fortunately I was more than satiated by getting to play one of my “grail games” on Thursday evening: Tokaido.

I have watched and re-watched this game played on one of my favorite episodes of TableTop. I’ve mentioned it before, praising its minimalist artwork. But this would be the first time I’d personally get to play it.

Sadly, I couldn’t get any pictures, but BoardGameGeek has plenty.

There was a chill in the air as it was unboxed. Not just because I was finally getting to play a game on my Must Play list, but also because this game comes with a certain level of reverence built in. I would call this board game a game of cultural elegance. The premise is a group of players on a literal road trip; spanning Japan’s East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Along the way, players must stop at destinations ranging from souvenir-filled villages to religious temples in need of donations. Each character has an “ability.” Some pay less for food, others get more money from farming, but each of them is unique (and represented as beautifully-drawn characters).

My friends and I played two rounds, traveling back and forth, sampling traditional cuisine and capturing the beauty of early Japan in panoramic paintings. Like any good game, Tokaido was very immersive. There were times when I could almost taste the sushi, or smell the cherry blossom trees in full bloom. For such a seemingly simple game, Tokaido was filled with equal parts strategy and subtlety. One of my gauges of a great game is whether it lends itself to inside jokes and theme-based, good-natured ribbing of other players. Tokaido had this in spades. Although, I found because of the theme, I held back some of my usually-more-colorful exclamations.

Well played, Tokaido. Well played.

I won’t go into too much depth on the game box, for a couple reasons. For one, I talked a lot about it in that other blog post and, for two, the box is very minimalist. Stark white with splashes of beautiful artwork in the style of Japanese watercolor paintings and organic brushstrokes give Tokaido’s custom game box a unique charm. The game board itself continued the tradition.

It was a die cut board, turned edges wrapped around durable chipboard. What made it unique was that it folded out the long way to emphasize the long road trip. The minimalist graphics continued within: a mainly white board with black lines and thumbnail splashes of color representing the stops along the road. It fits so well with the theme, you’d almost be disappointed if there was more imagery on the board.

The player cards are also rigid chipboard punchouts. Though they don’t benefit from turned edging, they (like everything in the game) has a beautiful glare-reducing lamination that gives a warm glow to the artwork and also making it easy to see along the way. One of the cool elements of this game is each player is represented by a colored meeple. In order to personalize each player, the character cards have a circular cutout to place a colored emblem to remember which game piece is yours. Just one of many subtle-yet-fascinating elements this game provides.

Other pieces in the game are the cards, each with delightful artwork. Especially the panorama cards that create paintings of beautiful vistas. Your currency is cool chipboard coins with the middles punched through.

As I was admiring the board, our game night host, Becca, noted how nice the board was. It didn’t “feel cheap.” Gamers pump a lot of money into their pastime, and there’s nothing worse than a great custom game that has a flimsy board. One that can pick up with a gust of wind or come undone with a bump of the table. Tokaido definitely did not suffer from that–very hearty, very stocky–and should be considered a gold standard in board game design.

All in all, this game is a must have. Very fun, I will be playing again. And if it was only in my collection for the visuals, it would be money well-spent.

What did you play this weekend? Remember to join other players at your virtual water cooler Monday morning, using the hashtag #WhatDidYouPlayMondays

WDYPM

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