Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vacation on the East Sea Road

10 Days in Africa (and its sister "10 Days" games ranging from Europe to Asia to the Americas to the US) makes a game about a vacation fun and extremely challenging; it's competitive, but in the game, nothing dies or is otherwise defeated or conquered, which in and of itself is a vast separation from normal conduct in the Smith household.

But then along comes this beautiful game in which players are not only, like 10 Days, playing a game about taking a vacation; in this game, the point isn't even to be the first one done with the vacation or race or beat the other players. Instead, the point of this game is to have the most interesting vacation, however long it takes!

The game: Tokaido, a game about a trip along the famous East Sea Road in Japan, an historic road that connects Japan's cultural center of Kyoto with its socio-political center Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Tangentially: season 3 of Wil Wheaton's Table Top premiered the past October, and the first game he went with this season was Tokaido. I was intrigued watching his show, and took a chance and splurged on getting it.  I'm thrilled I did.

The first thing I noticed was the artwork. Beautiful, coordinated colors with characters and scenery done in a peaceful, rounded, cartoony style is done in a way that still achieves a sense of minimalism and simplicity. The colors are bright and pastel and even the gameboard itself is elegant and calm. Nothing about the artwork suggests stark competitiveness or implied violence; instead, the game pieces and elements are a pleasure to look at, art in and of themselves.

Next is the gameplay. The rules are simple: move as many spaces as you want, with one restriction: you must stop at each of the 4 Inns on the way to Edo. The order of turns is simple: which ever player is last, or, furthest from Edo is the first player to move, moving in order as to whomever is last. Thus, the order of play could change every turn, which is an interesting twist. Sometimes is pays to be slow; other times, such as making it to an Inn, it pays to be first.

Assuming the role of one of 8 "characters," each with a different nuance or focus, what does a player do during their turn? Buy souvenirs from villages. Meet interesting people along the road. Paint. Visit a temple. Soak in some of Japan's famous hot springs (maybe even sometimes with Snow Monkeys!). Eat really good gourmet food.

Yup. That's it. Have an interesting vacation.

This is a wonderful family game. I was worried, given the normal nature of competitive (or even combative!) games we tend to play at our house, that the boys would be bored by this game. Once we cracked it open and started it up, though, the boys were captivated and participated with a surprising level of sophistication and forethought.

Moreover, each of the boys grasped the nuances that their "character" brought to the game and used that strength ably. Jacob's character excelled at art, and finishing the paintings propelled his character all the way to 2nd place. Dominic's character reveled in soaking in hot springs and being accomplished. Isaac's, a diplomat, was adept at meeting interesting people along the way who could help him have a great journey. For my part, a priest (heh...), being appropriately worshipful at the temples helped me win the day.

But here it is again: winning isn't a race in this game, and isn't done on the backs of the other players. The is a game about accumulating the best and most wonderful memories. At the end of the game, as your road-weary legs carry you for your final steps in to the Inn at Edo, though you may be penniless, you can still win the game because you had and shared the greatest memories and experiences and have a deep tale to tell. What a great theme for a game! Though it's far from being cooperative, every aspect of the game focuses on a zen calm and in reveling in the surprises and accomplishments of your fellow travelers along the way.

The coolest part is that the journey - the vacation - becomes tangible in a way. I remember my journey from Kyoto to Edo last Friday evening as something fond and fun, and something that still sticks with me. Jacob still talks about how "beautiful" his paintings were, and Dominic declared from the bathtub the other night that he was soaking in a hot spring "like on my trip in Japan." That is what this game is able to invoke, why we will certainly play it again, why I can't wait to teach my friends how to play, and why this game is among my highest recommendations.

No comments:

Post a Comment