Mechanism Focus – Tokaido’s Player Movement

This isn’t going to be a long post because this mechanism is so simple there’s not too much to say about it.

If it’s so simple, why then, say anything at all?

Well, as simple as it is, it’s also the basis for the entire game. Without it, the game just wouldn’t be. Simple, yes, but highly effective and fun.

So, what’s it all about?

The traveler (In Tokaido the players take the role of travelers journeying from Kyoto to Edo) who is furthest from the destination takes their move next. When they do, they advance their pawn along the road stopping at a free location of their choice. They then take that action.

All sounds rather dull and boring so far, doesn’t it?

The clever bit is, and I’m sure you’ve spotted it already, is that you could end up taking multiple turns, one after the other, if the other players have jumped ahead to grab something they really need.

Tokaido is basically a set collecting game, with each location granting you something within a certain criteria. For example: you collect souvenirs at the village, meet someone friendly at the encounters location, Paint a picture at the panorama space, and so on. The more you collect and sets you complete, the more points you’ll gain. I’ve gone into a lot more detail in my review, should you wish to read it.

Consider the board below…

Tokaido

Bob (yellow) is behind on the road, so it’s his turn. He really wants to collect souvenirs from the Village (the location in front of Julie, the purple pawn), but he’s been given a free space to move into, and that’s the Hot Springs. So, he moves forward one location and take a dip in the springs, draws a card and adds it to his collection. Now, as he’s still last on the road it’s his turn again and he jumps forward to the Village.

Tokaido

It is now Dave’s turn – Green. He’s just picked up the first part of the mountainous panorama picture and would like to jump ahead to collect the next one, but this would leave three free locations for the other two to battle over; does he want to give away so much?

And that’s the beauty of this simple mechanism. You can run ahead and get exactly what you want, but at what cost? Leave too many free spaces and the competition will hoover up all those free points. If you’re in a position at the rear with free spaces in front of you, then it’s a no-brainer to take each one in turn.

At the start of the journey, it’s rare that anyone will jump ahead and leave more than a single free space. But, as the journey draws to a close and the players are looking to complete sets for maximum points, then things get really tactical.

Here’s the situation towards the end of the game…

Tokaido

Dave’s turn, and he’s been collecting Encounters (the location he’s currently on) and Panoramas. He could jump in the middle of the other two pawns and collect the next part of the Lake Panorama, which would give him four more points. He’d then need to grab that last Lake Panorama location to complete the set but everyone else would be aware of that and so would probably block him. He could jump ahead to the Mountainous Panorama spot, which would also earn him four points but would also get him an achievement for being the first to complete this set, and so give him an extra three points. This would leave two free locations between him and Julie and not leave him a lot of choice when it comes around to his next turn.

At this point, he’d have to consider what everyone else is collecting and how many points are on offer. Are those seven points going to put him in with a chance, or would he be better denying someone else points instead?

It opens up some meaty considerations for such a simple mechanism, especially in the end game, as you can see. It does have some flaws, though. You can’t really play to a preconceived strategy. You can’t play your first few turns with the aim of collecting certain sets because you have to play what’s available without giving others more turns than you, but this changes as the game progresses and each player naturally falls into collecting what they did well in during the opening.

It also has its sweet spot when it comes to number of players, at least in my opinion, and that’s three. Playing with four or five opens up the double spaces on the majority of the locations, and I found this made the end game a little less tactical. At two players, you have to play a neutral pawn that gets moved by the player at the front whenever it’s last on the road. This is actually a fun way of playing, but not quite as good as the three player version.

Well, that’s it for this mechanism focus and it shows that even a simple mechanism like this can form the basis of a really good game. They don’t all have to be complex or clever, hidden away in the background or slapping you around the face with too many rules to learn. No, Tokaido is a beautiful game, both in looks and simplicity, and is a great family favourite based around an intriguing player movement mechanism.

8 thoughts on “Mechanism Focus – Tokaido’s Player Movement

  1. Great review of the mechanisms Justin, sounds very tactical even with the number of players.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Dave.
      Yes, tactical, but not overly so, making it ideal for families.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting – a game with a movement track is usually a race, so it’s interesting to see something different!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It has been done before, though the mechanism usually crops up in the form of a rondel.
      It’s a really good part of the game (the only part?) and yes, it is interesting to play.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So simple it makes the game really challenging! 🙂 Good stuff!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It sounds like a really good and accessible puzzle to me. This is an interesting idea for an article. Its not something I would have thought of writing and I really enjoyed reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks mate.
      Trying to keep things from getting stale!

      Liked by 1 person

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