Ok, so before we head over to Tokaido, let’s pay a visit to one of the most iconic, historic and polarizing board games: Monopoly. Don’t worry, this’ll be worth it, it’ll come back around.
Monopoly’s reputation precedes it. It’s considered a quintessential American family or childhood experience. However, most people’s memories of Monopoly are pretty negative. Monopoly stories tend to be laced with cruelty and bitterness. Indeed, even in the modern board game hobby, Monopoly is held up as an example of what *not* to do in board game design - the dreaded negative player experience seems to be interwoven into the fiber of Monopoly.
Of course, some people will say that that’s the point. We’re reminded that Lizzie Magie designed Monopoly to demonstrate how rent-seeking is inherently unfair. But - get this - they have Monopoly tournaments. Like, national and worldwide tournaments. Every year. Held around the globe. In 2015, the Italian national champ Nicolo Falcone won $20k at the Monopoly world champs in Macau, beating champions from 27 other countries. The next world champ is slated for Quarter 4 in 2021. There are still plenty of people who love Monopoly, despite its reputation for ruthlessness.
Or, maybe because of?
There’s actually a fair bit of “mean” board games out there, not just Monopoly. Hobby games like Cosmic Encounter, Munchkin, and Bang! work best when players are backstabbing jerks to each other. And, believe it or not, people love these games. Well, some do. These mean games certainly attract a certain personality. One that realizes that, if you want to backstab and be cruel, you gotta open yourself up to being backstabbed. Emotions may run high, but stakes are actually really low, leading to the refrain “it’s just a game.” It’s actually really interesting that people can get such an intense emotion rush from just some bits of cardboard and plastic.
Alright now, defending this mode of play isn’t about insisting that everyone enjoy it. Yeah, mean games can be intense, but it’s usually rooted in negativity, and that’s not for everyone. So let’s leave these salt mines and head back to less harsh country.
So, what can we take away from this? Can we have a game that has that same intensity and player interaction, without making people genuinely mad? Maybe not something as harsh as Monopoly, but something more like Sorry? A game we can share with anyone, not just mean game fans. Oh, and let’s make it super pretty, too! Yeah, you saw it coming down the trail: it’s Tokaido.
Tokaido is about travelling down the Tokaido road, from Kyoto to Tokyo (or, Edo, as it was called back in the day). The Tokaido road was known for being a beautiful journey, with mountains on one side and the Pacific coast on the other. In the board game, players are making that same journey, and trying to have the best time possible.
Just like an IRL vacation, players want to go fast and slow at the same time. You want to go slow to visit as many stops as you can, such as bathing in hot springs, visiting gift shops, or painting your triptych to capture Japan’s natural beauty. However, you want to go fast, too, because each stop along the route can only be taken once by *any* player. If someone visits that gift shop before you do, you have to skip it - you can’t go back.
And that’s where the light mean-ness of Tokaido comes in. When you consider which stop to move to next, you notice that your friend has been trying to finish their painting, and needs just one more card to complete it… but you need that stop too. Your friend will just have to wait until another vista stop comes along. Oh, there’s only vista one left? Sorry!
Tokaido is only a little mean. But it plays quickly, and players have several ways to score points. It’s not nearly as mean as Munchkin or Monopoly, but there’s still some emotional stakes involved. Tokaido is simple, but exciting, and has a clear emotional arc.
And so we’ve finally arrived, and hopefully this little journey has demonstrated a context into which Tokaido fits. It fits very well, in our opinion, and there are excellent reasons why it’s a best-selling crossover classic. Tokaido is a great recommendation for families who want to infuse their board game collection with new thrills, or for hobby fans who need something to play with their non-fan friends and family.