iOS Universal, Android •
Shortly after this review was published, Funforge updated Tokaido, notably adding the previously missing two-player option. Because two-player local play was my ideal use case for the game, this pleased me greatly, and it deserved special mention. My thanks to forum-goer “Misguided” for directing my attention to the improvement.
Tokaido crystallizes thinking about the merits and challenges of digital translations of tabletop games. The cardboard version features lovely art, evocative of stylized watercolors, which sets the mood for a pleasant walk along a scenic road in ancient Japan. Not content to simply replicate these static images, developers Funforge created a 3-D, animated version which captures the artistic impact of the original–given the extent to which this is the game’s greatest asset, that’s genuinely impressive. Unfortunately, the very quality of the presentation highlights limitations of both the app and the underlying game.
The basic structure of Tokaido involves moving your pawn ahead as far as you like, stopping at various attractions each of which gains you points in different ways. The temple is effectively a game-long auction, painting panoramas are a form of linear set collection, souvenir shops approximate diverse set collection, and so forth. There are also variable player powers which can make some more attractive than others, and incline players toward a longer-term strategy. Like worker placement games, occupying a space in Tokaido reduces the ability of other players to access that same space. The more specific you want to be about exactly which points you pursue, the farther forward you generally have to move, but doing so rewards your opponents with extra turns because it’s the player who has moved the least that gets to take their turn. Thus, the game is essentially a relatively simple, low-pressure tour through various mechanics and balanced choices common in boardgaming, which nicely reflects its theme.
I would not have chosen Tokaido to play with peers, because the decisions are generally easier than I like, but it’s been my son’s favorite game for about a year. I’m indebted to it for both teaching him to enjoy the experience of playing even if he doesn’t win, and also for being pleasant enough to look at that I am still happy to play whenever the urge strikes him. We play almost exclusively using the two-player variant, which adds a dummy player and forces us to think more directly about the value of blocking; it’s been quite satisfying to see him grow as a player and begin to see how that can matter.
Sadly, that option is unsupported by the app (though you can mostly fake it in a local multiplayer game, if you have a separate randomizer), nor does it allow AI players to be added to multiplayer games, so two-player games are basically a non-starter. Online multiplayer technically exists as a feature, but it would be depressing to go through the entire list of features we’ve come to hope for in a multiplayer title, noting that none of them are available. It’s synchronous-only, and I’ve yet to succeed in starting a game because there’s never been a lobby seeking players nor other players joining my lobby when I’ve tried. There’s no friend list or private games–this is the barest-bones online multiplayer possible. In accordance with the attention-hogging tendencies of synchronous-only games, Tokaido also cannot save or multitask well. Brief interruptions are generally okay, but if the app gets moved out of memory, your game is lost.
There are two other issues worth mentioning, but these at least seem so easy to fix that it’s surprising they weren’t before the game released. First, though the game has thematic, pleasant sound design which tempts you to refrain from muting the device, the startup sound sounds like R2D2 drunkenly singing karaoke; apparently my nostalgia is broken, because loud 8-bit chirpy music is one facet of my youthful video gaming I’m happy to have left behind. Second, the animations, while nicely executed, take too long and cannot be skipped. I used a stopwatch on one turn, and made the move which would make me wait the longest, just to demonstrate how bad it gets: I sat waiting through three minutes and twenty-two seconds of animations.
Tokaido is a beautiful way to show off what a digital version of a boardgame can offer. For a brilliant gateway game, it has enough easily-forgotten rules (e.g. does Setsuki’s ability affect the number of meals available to others? What happens if you pull an Annaibito for a panorama you’ve already finished?) that it’s helpful to have them managed by the device. The AI isn’t amazing, but it’s adequate to make solo play against the AI enjoyable for those with patience, and the game is well-suited to local multiplayer, with only a minor hidden information component. On the other hand, it’s not exceptionally strategic or demanding, and the online multiplayer is virtually worthless.