Tokaido is one of the most visually appealing games I have ever played. In fact, I ranked it #2 on my Top 10 Games with Great Design list.
While the game play is pretty light, it’s still an entertaining board game experience that’s fairly unique among games I own. If you are curious about the full ins-and-outs of the game play, Walt did a review of Tokaido a while ago that you can check out.
Now five years after it’s initial release, designer Antoine Bauza’s zen like game has finally made it to our iPhones and iPads. Today we are going to take a look at the digital implementation of Tokaido and see how it compares to its cardboard cousin.
If you aren’t familiar with Tokaido, can you start by reading our full review. However if you want the quick summary, Tokaido is a game about a journey from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). However unlike in race games, the pace in Tokadio is a leisurely one. It’s about taking in the sights, sounds, and experiences of the journey.
Over the course of this four day trip, players will be stopping at inns, hot springs, temples, and other scenic locations. The goal, of course, is to earn the most victory points by the end of the trip.
Tokaido was originally published by FunForge and its digital team spearheaded the development of the app. They had an interesting choice to make with Tokaido. One look at the board will tell you that the experience is a big part of this game. So I was glad to see that the developers took that to heart and did an amazing job of capturing the essence of the board game.
Funforge Digital decided to go a route similar to that of the iOS of Sushi Go! in that they went against a literal translation of the game, forgoing a physical board with cards and tokens, and instead, presented us with a more scenic journey.
The app presents players with animated characters that walk the path from Kyoto to Edo. While I wasn’t a big fan of how this direction was implemented in Sushi Go!, I loved it in Tokaido. I feel like it fits with the presence of the game and really helps to put the player into the right mood.
To get down to more of the nuts and bolts, the app screen is expertly laid out, with the main road dominating the center of the screen. Funforge Digital also did a great job of embracing the white space from the board game, and players are presented with a clean interface that splashes color here and there at just the right time.
However all the glitter is useless if the game isn’t user friendly. On that front, things are all laid out in logical places. The user can tap a player’s portrait to bring up all the information about what they’ve collected so far and their points. Another section will bring up the achievement race, showing each player’s position. Finally, the bottom of the screen displays the travel progress with the encounter icons laid out in their progression. This makes it easier for players to plan their stops without having to pan the screen around.
As I mentioned above, the visuals and the interface go a long way into punching the theme of Tokaido home. Characters you control almost have a personality of their own as the bow, bob, and clamber across the screen as they travel. When one stops on a panorama space, the screen fills with the current progress of the panorama in all it’s visually appealing glory. Thankfully none of the beauty of Tokaido was lost when it made the jump to digital.
However one of the big problems with the Tokaido app was the AI speed. Solo games would take much longer than desired as you had to wait for the AI characters to walk across the road at their casual pace. Thankfully, a quick patch addressed this issue and players can now tick a box for a faster AI. This speeds up the game greatly and you can now play a solo game in less than 15 minutes. Ironically, I do think the game almost loses something at this pace, as the slow, zen-like speed felt much more fitting to the game’s presence. That being said, I’m still glad it’s there.
The app offers two play modes, offline and online. Offline can be played solo vs an AI, or in standard pass-and-play mode. Unfortunately, pass-and-play can’t be combined with an AI if you want more players. A recent update did add the ability for an AI to be added to a 2 player game, allowing players to play with someone like their spouse.
For online play, there is a match making lobby to start games. Yet despite trying at multiple times during the day, I was never able to get a game in. There also wasn’t any option for asynchronous online play. Players are required to keep their devices dedicated to the app for the duration of the play. I would have preferred the ability to request to join a game and be notified when it was ready to play (or that it was my turn). The other glaring omission from multiplayer is the ability to challenge a friend. Right now, online games can only be played with random strangers.
For those that haven’t played the board game, the Tokaido app does offer a guided tutorial to teach you the basics of the game. I always prefer digital games do this, as it’s easily the best way to learn a game. There is also an option to replay the tutorial should you need it again later, which is doubtful due to the simple nature of Tokaido’s rules, but it’s still nice to have.
Finally, the one other big miss with the app was the lack of any kind of save feature. Once you start a game, you have to finish it. If your device is new enough, it can usually handle you swapping to an app quickly to answer a text or email, but anything memory intensive is going to shut the app down. Once that happens, the game is lost with no way to pick it back up. In an age where our attention is alway being distracted, this would have been nice to have.
Despite it’s extremely casual nature, I’ve always been a fan of the Tokaido board game. Yes, its game play is simple and not very deep (although the expansions do help address that last point a lot), but I still find it an incredibly enjoyable game to play. There is something so serene about a casual walk through Japan, collecting the sights and experiences. The bottom line is that the Tokaido app does a great job of reproducing the game play on our digital devices – which is the most important thing.
It’s just those few other quirks which are holding the app back from being a truly great one. Thankfully, the Tokaido app has a solid core and the game play both looks and feels great. I’m confident that the developers can iron out some of aforementioned wrinkles and once they do, I think this can be a great app. For now, it’s simply a good reproduction of the board game.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of the Tokiado app, you can get it for about $7.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Faithfully and beautifully reproduces the Tokaido board game, yet still needs a bit of development to iron out some wrinkles.
• Wasn’t able to play multiplayer
• Limited AI in pass-and-play
• No way to save a game in progress