Dale Yu: Review of Tokaido Crossroads Expansion

 

Tokaido: Crossroads Expansion

  • Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Publisher: Funforge, distributed domestically by Passport Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Passport Games

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The Crossroads Expansion for Tokaido is being distributed domestically by Passport Games, and they were kind enough to send a copy of this expansion to me for review.  I have played Tokaido plenty in the past few years, and while I did not write the OG review for it – I’ll copy Ben McJunkin’s description of the base game here for anyone who is unfamiliar with the base game.

— start of copied review —

In recent years, Antoine Bauza has made a name for himself in the board game industry with clean, accessible designs that contain just enough tactical and strategic decisionmaking to hook more serious gamers.  These accomplishments should not be taken lightly: like the rare children’s movie that manages to keep paying parents legitimately entertained, there is considerable artistry in speaking to diverse audiences through a single voice.

Bauza’s latest design to attempt just that is the zen-like Tokaido, from the up-and-coming French publisher Funforge.  Tokaido attempts to send players on a journey along ancient Japan’s scenic East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo).  However, as any true fan of Emerson (or Alicia Silverstone) will tell you, life is a journey, not a destination.  Holding true to that wisdom, Tokaido eschews any sense of race-like competition to reach the capital and instead rewards the player whose travels produced the richest personal experience.  Players get points for sampling the local cuisine, purchasing souvenirs, relaxing in hot springs, and simply marveling at the beautiful countryside that extends before them.

The game’s theme is marvelously conveyed through the illustrations of Xavier Gueniffey Durin and, more generally, the detailed eyes of the entire Funforge production team.  Despite the richness and radiance of Durin’s art, the game smartly sidesteps the gaudy and overworked aesthetics too often seen in modern games.  Instead, Tokaido relies extensively on negative space, and small, clear (but did I mention small) illustrations to produce a soothing backdrop to the players’ thematic travels.  Even eschewing primary player colors, the game employs pastel tokens that smartly compliment that the art.

Lighter than Bauza’s previous offerings, Tokaido nevertheless stays true to his largely non-confrontational style.  Beginning in Edo, players take turns effectively drafting their preferred stops on the road to Kyoto.  Employing a mechanism vaguely reminiscent of 2004’s Neuland (a mechanism far-too-often credited to the much lighter and less-interesting Thebes, which was released the same year), the active player is always the player who is furthest behind on the journey.  As this generally rewards the laggard, Tokaido offers competing incentives for players to occasionally race ahead.  The game, then, exists in correctly evaluating when and how reaching a particular encounter is worth the loss of additional stops.  Though subtle, I find this evaluative process both fascinating and enjoyable, notwithstanding my well-known preference for needlessly complex, angst-inducing gamer’s games.

(On the road to Edo)

To me, the most noteworthy element of Tokaido is how Bauza manages to employ distinct, and mildly interactive subgames at each stop along the path in order to achieve his design intention: reward players for a full, rather than quick, journey without simply handing the win to the player who stops most frequently.

Aside from Farms, which simply provide a player who stops there with a small influx of cash, each of the potential stops on the road offer opportunities for both immediate and end of game points.

Villages – Villages allow players who stop there to purchase up to three randomly drawn souvenir cards.  Souvenirs come in one of four types – trinkets, clothing, art, or food and drinks -and, expectedly, the game rewards diversity handsomely.  In terms of victory points, Villages are some of the strongest spaces on the board (potentially averaging out to 12 VP per stop).  Additionally, the player with the most souvenirs at the end of the game earns an additional three points.  Each souvenir costs money, however, so players must typically spend previous actions visiting VP-barren Farms to position themselves for profitable shopping sprees.

Panoramas – The board contains three different panorama spaces which allow players to stop and admire the Seas, Mountains, or Paddies.  Each stop at a given type of panorama earns the player one more victory point than the player’s previous stop at the same type of panorama, naturally incentivizing players to repeatedly enjoy the same types of scenery over the course of their journey.  However, the game also rewards the first player to visit a given type of panorama a given number of times (3, 4, or 5, depending on type) so players would do well to commit early to a given type.

Temples – When visiting temples, players may donate money for victory points.  While the initial rewards are small, the players are rewarded at the end of the game for their relative contributions to the temples (with 10 points going to the largest donor).  As with Panoramas, a lack of competition can make Temples extremely strong, whereas a multi-player fight for those endgame points can undermine their utility.

Hot Springs – Despite (or perhaps because of) being one of the least interesting stops on the journey, hot springs are my personal favorite.  Each stop at a hot spring gives players either two or three victory points (determined randomly).  It is as simple as that.  The player who stops at the most hot springs over the course of the game is designated “the Bather” and receives an additional three points.

Encounters – As one is wont to do on any lengthy journey, players occasionally run into random passersby who, despite their outward appearance, can prove to bevery rewarding.  Encounters are just that: players reveal one random personality and take the rewards, which vaguely mirror the other spaces I’ve already described.  In additional to increasing the possibility for good fortune, the Chatterbox – the player with the most encounters – earns three victory points at the game’s end.

Inns – Inns are the only mandatory stop on the journey.  At designated intervals, all players must stop at an in and enjoy a well-earned meal.  The first player to arrive has his pick of available meal cards (each worth six VP, but of varying costs).  Later travelers are simply stuck with what is left, if they can afford a meal at all.  To further discourage dallying near Inns, the game requires that no player can purchase the exact same meal twice, so even players who are well-stocked financially can find themselves going hungry.  As with so many other spaces, the player who purchases the most expensive set of meals throughout the game earns an additional three points.

(Purple encounters a samurai)

Prior to playing, I had heard reports from players who considered Tokaido “decisionless,” as each stop results in some small purse of points (a little under 2.5, on average).  Having now played twice, I am left scratching my head at these comments.  As you can see, while each stop is beneficial in its own right, maximizing one’s relative points requires carefully balancing stop frequency and stop location.  To add to that equation, each player also begins the game with a Traveler tile, giving the player a special bonus associated with a particular type of location.  For example in one game I may be Satsuki, the orphan, who receives random meals at Inns for free.  In another, perhaps I am Umegae, the street entertainer, who earns coins and victory points for each random encounter in which she participates.

While the game is unquestionably light, Tokaido is certainly more than just a family game.  For me, it is a pleasing 45-minute “appetizer” game between three-hour-long main courses full of swearing and screwage and brain bun.  It appeals to the same members of my game group that enjoy both 7 Wonders and Kingdom Builder.  The simple rules and subtle, but present, interaction permit players to simultaneously feel comfortable with their own achievements and yet engaged with their competitors.

I have now played the game twice, once with five players and once with three.  Although the three-player game resulted in more obvious blocking opportunities (due to a well-done scaling mechanism that restricts available spaces), I preferred the five player game.  With five, I found the risk/reward considerations associated with jumping ahead to be more fascinating, since as many as eight turns could theoretically pass between your moves (the game is quick and engaging enough for that not to qualify as downtime).   Also worth noting is that the same player won both games by a healthy margin, while not obviously employing the same strategy.  It is clear that the game rewards skilled play, despite the obvious and considerable luck element.

(Having reached Edo, players receive their final awards)

While my personal preference continues to be for both complex and confrontational games, there is a place for games like Tokaido on my shelf.  Shorter than other light, social games like Bohnanza, and easier to teach (and frankly more enjoyable) than the ever-popular 7 Wonders, I’m pleased to say that my official Opinionated Gamers stance is “I like it.”

— end of copied review —

The Crossroads expansions gives the player some extra components to give a new option at every space on the board other than the Inns.  There is a little board that comes in the expansion which serves as the location to store all the extra cards.  There are also 6 new traveler tiles which players can use to choose from at the start of the game.   In general, all of the basic rules of the base game remain in effect.

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The backs of the five new cards

The backs of the five new cards

As I describe each of the new components, I’ll explain how they change the game.

Bathhouses – these cards are used at the Hot Springs spaces.  When a player stops at a Hot Spring, he can take a basic Hot Springs card or he can pay 1 coin for a Bathhouse card.  The Bathhouse card is worth 4VP at the end of the game.  The Bathhouse card is considered a Hot Spring card for the end game bonus purpose.

Cherry Trees – these are in play at the Panorama spots.  Players can either take the usual corresponding Panorama card or they can take a Cherry Tree card.  Each Cherry Tree card gives you 1 coin and 2 VP.

Bathhouse on the left, Cherry Tree on the right

Bathhouse on the left, Cherry Tree on the right

Gambling Den –  Players can choose to take the 3 coins from the supply at a farm or they can choose to gamble with 2 coins FROM THEIR OWN SUPPLY.  If they gamble, they place the 2 coins on the board.  Then they roll the special gambling die which has the following sides:

  • X – player loses all coins
  • x1 – player gets the 2 coins back
  • x2 – player gets double the bet (4 coins)
  • x3 (twice) – player gets triple the bet (6 coins)
  • x4 – player gets 4x the bet (8 coins)

 

 

Amulet Cards – these are used at the Temples.  Players can either contribute coins to the Temples or they can pay a single coin to the bank to choose any available Amulet card to add to their hand.  Each Amulet card has a one-time special action on it which can be used at the owner’s discretion.  (i.e. the Hospitality amulet allows you to buy your meal card for free at an Inn). Once used, the Amulet card is returned to the supply so that it can be chosen again.

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Legendary Object cards – these come into play at the Shops.  Players can either buy souvenirs in the usual fashion or they can use that turn to buy a single Legendary Object.  There are 3 varieties:

  • Two act as a fifth type of souvenir – thus increasing the max score for a set to 25 (1+3+5+7+9)
  • Two give you one point for every other souvenir and Legendary Object in their owner’s collection
  • Two give you a straight 8 VPs

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Calligraphy cards are used on the encounter spaces.  Players can choose to either take a regular encounter or they can pay a coin to choose any of the available Calligraphy cards.  Each of them gives the owner a different end-game bonus scoring opportunity (i.e. 2 points per coin remaining at the end of the game).

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My thoughts on the game

The added components in the Crossroads expansion definitely make Tokaido a bit more complex.  Now, you have to make a decision at every stop on your journey.  One of the complaints that many gamers had of the base set was that most actions had approximately the same expected value of VPs, and the added bits here give you a lot more variance in scoring potential – and thus, it makes the game more interesting to play in my opinion.

I like the additional options provided by the expansion.  In my first games with this, the biggest difference to my usual strategy was a result of a lucky gambling roll at the first farm.  I managed to bring 8 coins back early on, and this really changed my approach to the game as I really didn’t have any of the usual money issues that players normally have to deal with in the game.

One thing that I missed in my first play of the game, but certainly something that I won’t forget for future plays, is that you really do lose some of your opportunities to do basic actions if you choose too many of the new special actions.  i.e. the Amulets are really nice to have, but when you gain an Amulet, you then lose the chance to contribute coins at the Temple – and there really aren’t that many chances to do that in the game!

The artwork is done by Naiade, and thus, it completely integrates with the bits from the base game.  This is still one of the most beautifully illustrated games in my collection.  The expansion comes in a small box, but the box itself now hides under the insert in the main box as everything is able to fit in the big square box of the base game.

Overall, the expansion adds maybe 5-10 minutes onto the playing time of the game as the players do have a bit more to think about on each turn.  I find that the added decision making is definitely worth the added time, and I probably would not play Tokaido without the extra cards at this point – after all, even if you don’t want to use the advanced actions, you could simply choose not to take the extra actions yourself.

 

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

 

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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