My Wife Always Wins - An Uphill Battle in Boardgaming!
by Brian Shabbott
This Week’s Game: Tokaido
Life is a journey. I know that sounds like a lame 90s novelty tee-shirt, but I’m serious. There’s a beginning and there’s an end. There’s a destination in mind; sometimes we reach it, sometimes we get derailed and end up somewhere other than we intended. Regardless of the final resting point, there are places to go, sights to see, and people to meet all along the way. The important thing is not so much where you ended up, but that you enjoyed the ride.
And what does every traveler need on their journey? Baggage. Often, baggage can enhance the enjoyment of a journey. In the literal sense, having a suitcase with clean underwear will make a week-long vacation much more satisfying than if you’d gone without it. In the journey of life, our friends and experiences are the baggage, and they likewise can improve the mood of our trip. Unless you’re me, your journey is gaming, and your baggage is my wife, Lyndsey.
Cold, right? Yeah, well so is she.
This week we sat down to play Tokaido, which is a game about a journey. I went full circle there, didn’t I? I had my baggage with me for this trip, as always. But I was hoping this time it would end in a much happier destination than the rest of our gaming excursions. Maybe it would, if my wife didn’t intend to decimate me. Some journeys… well, we just know how they’re going to end, don’t we?
Tokaido is a set collection game where players travel along Japan’s East Sea Road (you guessed it – the “Tokaido”) from Kyoto to Edo. Along the way, players will accumulate points for taking in all the culture such as seeing the sights, encountering travelers, buying different souvenirs, and making donations at the temples. Players even increase their score by relaxing in natural hot springs and eating the best meals at each inn they visit on the Tokaido!
Character selection is semi-random. Each player randomly selects two of the ten character tiles and selects which one they wish to play. The selection isn’t only aesthetic – each character has their own strengths which will grant players specific perks during gameplay. For instance, Kinko can buy meals for one coin less than the other players:
The turn order and movement are simple. Each player has a meeple token placed on one of the inn spaces in Kyoto to start. The player who is the farthest back goes first. This player may choose to move to any space between the starting space and the first inn. Players will make specific interactions based on which space they choose. The player in the back always goes first, which can result in the same player taking multiple turns in a row if their previous turns have still left them behind.
In order to mix this up a bit (and to provide a bit of strategy beyond trading turns back and forth) there is a third, neutral meeple in play for two-player games. Whichever player is in the lead along the road controls the neutral meeple. Playing the neutral meeple strategically can undermine an opponent, so two-player games often involve contention for control of the neutral meeple.
Points are awarded during gameplay as sets are obtained and completed. There are also achievement points awarded at the endgame to those players who completed certain collection objectives.
As always, check the rules here.
Time to Play
We sat at the table, ready to begin our 500 kilometer journey through Japan. Lyndsey had selected Yoshiyashu as her character which allows her to draw two cards at every encounter, and pick between them. I chose Mitsukuni, which would grant me an additional point for every hot spring I visit and every achievement I gain.
Our trip to the first inn remained neck and neck. I started by donating a coin to the temple and visiting a hot spring (to take advantage of my ability). Along with my other collections and the meal at the inn, I gathered 12 points. Lyndsey used her encounter ability twice along the way, giving her one souvenir and one of the white panoramic cards. She picked up two more white panoramic cards along the way, and ate her meal at the inn, for a total of 13 points.
I wasn’t too concerned with being a point behind after our first inn. My ability really kicked in at the endgame. I just had to ensure that I pulled in the most achievements.
But our journey to the second inn started with a blunder on my part. At the end of our first leg of the journey, I was left with only two coins. Rather than leave myself open to grab a few coins at the first farm, I moved the neutral meeple to the farm. This blocked me from getting coins. Lyndsey used one of her moves to block the second farm, as well.
Near the end of this journey, I bought a souvenir, which cost one coin and was worth three points. I thought it was a fair trade, but I saw Lyndsey light up and feared the worst. She moved the neutral meeple to the inn and bought its meal for one coin.
Meals are an interesting dynamic because each one is worth six points, no matter the cost. If everyone buys one, nobody gains any ground. But, I seemed to have forgotten the detriments of not buying a meal.
As it turned out, Lyndsey had purchased the only one coin meal with the neutral meeple. I was unable to afford a meal, was awarded no points when everyone else got six, and pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t be in the running for that achievement. I ended the round down by seven (Lyndsey’s 29 to my 22) – so the six points made a huge difference.
Stupidly, my first move when leaving the inn was to stop at the village for a souvenir. It was nothing but a wasted turn, because I decided I didn’t want to spend my last coin. Lyndsey continued her method of staying out in front to control the neutral meeple, and blocking me from getting coins. Luckily, I was still able to buy a meal for one coin this time. I even closed the gap to four points, making victory still realistic.
On the final journey to Edo, I collected mostly springs and panoramic cards. At my first chance, I moved the neutral meeple directly to the inn so Lyndsey couldn’t use him to interfere anymore. I even was able to collect some coins for once! Lyndsey’s encounter cards helped her continue to build up points, and she collected a second and third souvenir for her set – eight more points.
I needed one more white panoramic to complete my set and get an achievement. It looked so enticing, I jumped the gun and passed by about five spaces to collect this. This gave Lyndsey four turns in a row where she collected eight points herself, and blocked me from going anywhere but the inn.
Lyndsey finished at 65 points, I finished at 59. Since I spent most of the game trying to recover from the roadblocks she placed, I never got to gather many achievements. I finished with one, she got the last three. In a game that was relatively even except for some of my blunders, Lyndsey ended up outscoring me 84 to 67.
Pro tip: Play Tokaido. Its fun gameplay is equally matched by its art. Artistically, Lyndsey and I find Tokaido to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing games we own. In our age of day-planners, cubicles, and opting for efficiency over beauty, there is something to be said for a game that allows you to take a step back and simply consume the delights of culture. Some may say it’s only a board game, but it does provide lessons for life.
I’ll say it again: Life is a journey. Take your time, enjoy the trip. Don’t race to the end, don’t feel obliged to stick to a chartered course. Wander a bit. After all, a famous line from the Lord of the Rings tells us “Not all those who wander are lost.” It couldn’t be truer in Tokaido, or in life. However, knowing I’ll have to face Lyndsey again, being lost doesn’t sound so bad.
Brian Shabbott is a 31 year old aspiring writer. Brian spends much of his time playing games with friends and family. Brian loves to compete and play games he loves - but he never wins against his wife! Brian is looking forward to introducing himself as a writer and producer for you!
Follow Brian on Twitter @heyshabbott
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