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Subject: Zen and the Art of Victory Point Maintenance rss

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Martin G
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Introduction
I was interested in checking out Tokaido for two reasons: Antoine Bauza and the colour white. I’m not a huge 7 Wonders fan and I hated Ghost Stories, but Hanabi is miraculous, so I was interested in seeing which Bauza designed this one. The unusual minimalist aesthetic and mentions of a ‘Zen board game’ were intriguing too.

On Friday at Essen I made my way through the huge pre-order pick-up line and waited a while for a table, which two of us jumped in to with three charming Belgians. The game certainly is striking to look at and a brief run through the simple rules from a demonstrator had us raring to set off from Kyoto to Tokyo. We both quite enjoyed this play, and my friend bought a copy there and then, but two subsequent plays in the hotel saw my opinion fall each time. I present this review as a warning to others who might be seduced by the good looks.

Rules summary
The premise of the game is simple. Players are travellers along the Tokaido road, represented as a wavy line across the board, punctuated by stopping places of various types. As one friend pointed out, the board looks very much like a newspaper infographic.

Like Glen More or Thebes, the player who is at the back of the pack always takes the next turn. They can move forward (only forward) to a vacant spot of their choice and execute its effect. Three times along the way, the travellers reach an inn, where everyone must stop until all players arrive there.

The different types of spaces give varying opportunities to score points, some based on set collection, some on a simple area majority (evaluated at the end of the game), some on a random card draw. There’s also a bit of money management, as there are only a few spaces that give money and several that require you to spend it. At the end of the game, there are bonus points for the player who has participated the most in each of the types of scoring.

What I thought
The first game passed quickly and quite pleasantly. The rules are very clear and we had no questions for the demonstrators. I liked that each player gets a choice of two characters at the beginning, which confer a special power. But alarm bells started to ring when the final tally had all five of us distributed within a range of something like 73 - 80 points.

The second and third games confirmed my suspicions. The way the game works practically forces a tight outcome, in which the winner will often be determined more by luck than judgment. The different scoring types are so well balanced that each space you visit will allow you to accumulate a similar number of points, usually 2 or 3. In the most absurd case, the ‘hot springs’ spaces let you draw the top card from a deck that contains only two types of cards: 2VP and 3VP. Our group at the hotel took to making an ironic drum-roll before this thrilling revelation. But given the tight margins we saw, drawing a couple of 2s instead of 3s could easily lose you the game!

The real problem is that there is no location valuable enough to justify jumping several spaces ahead on the road. If you do that, the other players simply crawl along hoovering up the points behind you while you wait for them to catch up. Glen More (though I don’t like it much) avoids this problem by having some very powerful tiles that are worth jumping ahead for, and by penalising players at the end of the game for having too many tiles. Tokaido does the exact opposite; the bonuses at the end make it even more important to visit as many spaces as possible along the way.

The net effect of all this is that there are very few meaningful choices. You almost always want to work your way along the road in micro-steps, jumping no more than one or two spaces ahead for something a little more suited to your current situation. Come the end of the game, the effect of a couple of good or bad draws from the random decks will most likely more than span the range between first and last.

Maybe this is what was meant by a ‘Zen’ game: one in which decisions don’t really matter and the journey is more important than the destination. But once you get beyond the glowing white sheen, Tokaido offers precious little in the way of tension or excitement. There’s nothing here for gamers and as a gateway I could easily suggest a hundred more interesting options. If it had been presented in shades of brown and themed around a medieval pilgrimage, I very much doubt that it would have been a sell-out Essen success story.

[This was a much better last line than my original one. In retrospect I didn't like the hint of gamer elitism - I love family games, this just isn't a good one.]
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Tom P
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I always knew I wasn't a gamer.
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Martin G
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crazylegs wrote:
I always knew I wasn't a gamer.
You'll get bored of it soon
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Tom P
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qwertymartin wrote:
crazylegs wrote:
I always knew I wasn't a gamer.
You'll get bored of it soon

Nah, I'll try going the other way

I think it will go down well at Christmas,I just won't bring it to LoB
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Bruno Valerio
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Thanks for the review Martin, this one was actually under my radar, i was hoping this was a good one to play with my 10 year old son.

Definitely not a gamers game, but i guess that was kind of obvious from the get go...

Great art nevertheless! cool
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Martin G
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Oblivion wrote:
Great art nevertheless! cool
For sure. If it had been presented in shades of brown and themed around a medieval pilgrimage, I very much doubt that it would have been a sell-out Essen success story.
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Dennis de Vries
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I love what you did with the subject header!

As for your review: well, there are 2 kinds of people...
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Rich P
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Is it a very calm and peaceful game, as advertised? If so, I can understand why it's not for you: not enough swearing at other players!
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Wyckyd
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Oh no.

I preordered Tokaido, and it's still awaiting its first play.

Kinda fearful that I will prove you right :(
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Samo Oleami
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But as a family game of Thebes type it would work, no?
(don't like that one either).

Text is great - up to the point, no fluff, good argumentation and honest.
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Martin G
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sgosaric wrote:
But as a family game of Thebes type it would work, no?
(don't like that one either).
That's a good comparison actually. I'm quite a fan of family games and am not averse to some randomness, but I tried Thebes recently and didn't like it either.
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Samo Oleami
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woodnoggin wrote:
Is it a very calm and peaceful game, as advertised?
If we hurry too much we miss the moment.
The path to enlightenment is to be travelled slowly.
As each being is important so is every victory point.

Maybe Martin you got it all wrong - you should not rate it as a game, but as an educational tool for teaching zen principles.
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jan w
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Concise and well-written. I completely agree that this game is completely devoid of any choices. A few simple tweaks could have made this a tighter game. I was thinking something along the lines of: first person to stop at the eating place causes all others to move there as well, for example. Causing more tension and consideration as to what spots you'd want to score. It's probably not the best of ideas, but I'm sure someone more creative (say, Antoine Bauza) could have come up with a variant or 2 to make the game more tight.
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Tom P
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kronik wrote:
I completely agree that this game is completely devoid of any choices.

This made me wonder. I've heard a lot of times after a new game someone comment on whether or not they are 'making decisions' as one of the first bases for judging it. It's interesting, because my equivalent question is 'did I have fun?' I know the two aren't mutually exclusive and perhaps the former = the latter in others' cases, but it's interesting to think about what drives people when they play games and what shapes their opinions of them.

None are wrong of course, I'm just fascinated by it. Probably for another list/post...
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jan w
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crazylegs wrote:

This made me wonder. I've heard a lot of times after a new game someone comment on whether or not they are 'making decisions' as one of the first bases for judging it. It's interesting, because my equivalent question is 'did I have fun?' I know the two aren't mutually exclusive and perhaps the former = the latter in others' cases, but it's interesting to think about what drives people when they play games and what shapes their opinions of them.

None are wrong of course, I'm just fascinated by it. Probably for another list/post...

I agree that both play a part. I think that maybe you can bundle them under "tension", or that tension is a part of both. I find that games like King of Tokyo have few decisions, but it's fun because of the tension created by the randomness. Other games are tense because you need to make an optimal decision.

Tokaido lacks tension, because it doesn't force you to make any hard decisions (it hardly forces you to make ANY decisions), and there's no tension in the form of randomness either, because nearly every spot will net you 2-3 points on average.

Yes, it's zen. Yes it's laid back. But I don't need a game to do that.
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J Knoerzer
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I disagree with the OP. I understand his point of view but I found this game to be a nasty little game where running people out of money so they can't afford food at the inns or preventing them from completing landscapes first is the key. I feel the choice is not where will I get the most VP but where can I screw my opponents. Watching what landscapes they are collecting, how much money they have, and which categories are they trying to win at the end and using that info to force them into sub optimal choices is improtant. The games I have played have been with 2 or 3 players where you really can look at what others are doing and make difficult for them. I have lost by 20 points and won by 15. I feel that in this game every move matters even the ones you don't make (or you force you opponents not to make.) My biggest worry is if the characters are balanced.

Edit: grammer
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Martin G
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Interesting - my games were with 4 and 5 players, and I actually made the point in another thread that blocking might become more important with fewer players. The dummy player in 2p sounds like it would be interesting too.
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Clyde W
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Intereting! My favorite games are the ones where most moves involve screwing your opponents. Martin, can you play this one more time but in a very nasty mindset and report back?
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qwertymartin wrote:
Interesting - my games were with 4 and 5 players, and I actually made the point in another thread that blocking might become more important with fewer players. The dummy player in 2p sounds like it would be interesting too.

Before I take this to my parents' to lie in wait for Christmas perhaps we should make a point of playing a 3p game focussing solely on trying to screw everyone over. After all it was most enjoyable riling you at the temple that time.
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Martin G
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clydeiii wrote:
Intereting! My favorite games are the ones where most moves involve screwing your opponents. Martin, can you play this one more time but in a very nasty mindset and report back?
This implies that I have another mindset devil
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Tim Seitz
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This was the conclusion I reached after playing Quebec last year. Nearly all the available actions returned about the same amount of points. Makes for a poor game.
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Gavan Brown
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Quote:
In the most absurd case, the ‘hot springs’ spaces let you draw the top card from a deck that contains only two types of cards: 2VP and 3VP.

In Game Artisans of Canada, we call these "Monkey Points", for obvious reasons. Monkey Points are useful in games that feature large deviations in end-game scoring to give the player the illusion that the game is a tight race (even when it's not). However, if there is no hidden/end game scoring going on, "VP all the things" can feel unrewarding.
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out4blood wrote:
This was the conclusion I reached after playing Quebec last year. Nearly all the available actions returned about the same amount of points. Makes for a poor game.

Interesting. I've only played Quebec twice and that never occurred to me. I found the blocking/longest road building made determining where to place your worker matter. Also, using the helper functions to get the cascading cube majorities seemed really important (and, obviously dependent on what locations/ special powers were available).
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Tim Seitz
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
out4blood wrote:
This was the conclusion I reached after playing Quebec last year. Nearly all the available actions returned about the same amount of points. Makes for a poor game.

Interesting. I've only played Quebec twice and that never occurred to me. I found the blocking/longest road building made determining where to place your worker matter. Also, using the helper functions to get the cascading cube majorities seemed really important (and, obviously dependent on what locations/ special powers were available).
As I was building the game, I made a spreadsheet calculating out the net point effect of all the buildings and powers. IIRC, They all ranged from like 3 to 4.5, with some small situational impacts. And since every cube in every position gets scored, even ones in your hand, it doesn't really matter what you end up doing with them, only that you take the highest value option available - because even the timing of scoring doesn't matter. Thus, scoring differentials all come down to the network, and who wants to play a 2+ hour game for that?
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Henk Rolleman
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I Post Images of the beautiful design.









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