Gaming the Globe – Tokyo, Japan

GAMES: Tokaido and King of Tokyo
LOCATION: Tokyo, Japan
ASSIGNMENT: Experience a Zen-like journey on the ancient road from Kyoto to Tokyo and be the king of all creatures in an epic clash by smashing the city and other monsters

Tokyo would probably be the foreign city if I had to eat one city’s food for the rest of my life, every day. It would have to be Tokyo, and I think the majority of chefs you ask that question would answer the same way.

Anthony Bourdain

Let’s go back. Several hundred years ago. Japan. Imagine and immerse yourself. Waves lap rhythmically on the black sand beach. The outline of Mount Fuji, enveloped in mist, looms beyond the nearby foothills. At the last few breaths of dusk, you approach the inn. The hearth’s light welcomes you in the warmest way, and you anticipate the rest you will enjoy after a long day on the road. You are a traveler on the Tōkaidō Road between Kyoto and Edo, and over the course of the next couple weeks, you will experience the beautiful scenery, meet eccentric characters, eat gourmet foods, meditate in the temple, relax in natural hot springs, and find well-crafted items that will become longtime mementos of your travels. This is Tōkaidō.

Tokaido is a game for 2-5 players who are traveling on the legendary eastern sea route in Japan from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Along the road, there were 53 stations of rest and supply and these are approximated on the panoramic board. These locations include Farms, Temples, Hot Springs, Villages, and Inns. These provide things like coins or points in different ways. There are also Panoramas where players will try to collect sets of cards that form one long picture, and there are Encounters where players will run into different characters who provide aid in some way. Player movement is unique. The board is laid out in a linear fashion, like the road, and the player who is in last always goes next. On your turn, you can travel further down the road if you want, but that just means it may take a while before it’s your turn again. Each time you get to an inn, everyone must stop and you may choose to purchase a meal that will give you 6 points. In addition to scoring points as you travel, there are endgame achievements for whoever eats the best food, visits the Hot Springs the most, encounters the most characters, and collects the most souvenirs. Also, players are awarded for how much they donated to the Temples as well. Whoever has the most points is the winner…but everyone wins in some way…

This was my journey…

I am Yoshiyasu, a charismatic functionary who has a gift for making friends. He also starts out with a good deal of coins, most likely a per diem of sorts received from his governmental employer. My wife is playing as Kinko, a lone ronin (masterless samurai) who is able to purchase meals for 1 coin less than normal price. I like to think that this is due to the intimidation factor or a silver tongue. After breaking our fast, other travelers and I set out from the inn at Edo, and make our way toward the first few stations.

I begin by stopping at a shop on the outskirts of Edo, where I pick up a couple really neat items: Konpeito, a type of colorful hard candy to munch on the road, and a decorative piece of Shikki. It will do me well to have a few gifts prepared for my political contacts I am meeting in Kyoto.

One aspect of Tokaido that I love are the panoramas, where you can collect parts of a large picture. I pick up my first of the farmland and mountain panoramas (below).

Further down the road, I meet a Shinto priest named Miko, who kindly agrees to donate 1 coin to the Temple for me.


Though it became prominent in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), the Tōkaidō Road was actually in use as early as the 11th century. Covering about 514 kilometers (319 miles), the road became well-worn by people of many different stations of life. Speaking of stations, the 53 stations of rest and supply developed almost into a pilgrimage of sorts. In 1601 the shogun, Ieyasu, had these stations established shortly after he began his rule, and he declared it the official route leading to his new capital city of Edo.

The great 19th century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige created a series of prints after he traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832. They are a beautiful glimpse into the culture and scenery of the time. I welcome you to check out the complete gallery below and imagine the pleasure of being able to walk this road as it used to be. A common form of travel, if you could afford it, was the “palanquin”, which was a cart that was carried on the shoulders of a couple bearers. Any kind of wheeled transport was very uncommon. Today, there is plenty of wheeled transport though, as the old road has all but been replaced with a large busy highway connecting Kyoto to Tokyo. There are still remnants of the old road however, and it is popular with hikers and cyclists.

Here is the exquisite series from Utagawa Hiroshige, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (Note: there may be issues viewing on mobile version):

Speaking of art, I picked up another piece of the mountainous panorama, depicting the beautiful view of Mt. Fuji, and also started a large panorama view of the sea…

We all arrive at an inn and must rest for the night. Each player is presented with meal options, and may purchase one if they wish (each worth 6 points). I choose the Misoshiru or Miso Soup (which I happen love in real life).

Check out how to make this simple but delicious dish.

After picking up a few more pieces, I finish the mountain panorama and receive the 3-point reward for it.

At the second inn, we rest and I choose a steamy Udon dish. A bit more expensive, but very nourishing and delicious.

Here are some highlights of the next few turns…

After we all reach Kyoto, the rewards are handed out. I receive the Gourmet award for eating the most expensive food overall on my journey. Also, I am given the Collector award for nabbing the most souvenirs as well. My wife wins the Bather award for frequenting the Hot Springs, and she also wins the Chatterbox award for being such a people person along the trail and having the most encounters. After the points are added, including the deceptively important donations to the temple, I take the victory, just barely. This game is special though, because even when you lose, you never feel like a “loser”.

Final Thoughts: Tokaido is truly a unique experience. It is a zen experience. The way you move down the board is great. Don’t want to donate to the Temple? That’s fine. Skip it. You can try to soak in every Hot Spring you pass. Or you can stop in every Village and browse the souvenir shops. There are certainly times where you may want to block an opponent from a location, but the theme and the overall scope of the game is one of taking in the small moments, encountering unforgettable characters, and in a gaming world that focuses so often on speed, this game awards taking your time. The rules are pretty simple too. After a couple plays, the spaces and what they provide become more familiar. Each character comes with a special ability that does actually feel special. All the different facets come together in a great way.

The game looks stunning and the cards are decent, just a bit small. The graphic design is really well-done and it all adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Kudos to the designer Antoine Bauza, one of the best out there, for creating this unique gaming pilgrimage.


“And now for something completely different…”

Switching gears, and I will make this brief, we have the fast-paced, crazy action-filled family game called King of Tokyo. Each person takes control of a giant monster rampaging around the city and also trying to destroy all the other monsters. The main game mechanic is a Yahtzee-like roll of the dice. The dice have 6 different faces on them. For each Claw symbol you roll, that is one attack and the other monster(s) must take 1 damage. Each monster starts with 10 health, shown as hearts and they will gain and lose as the game goes on. For each Heart symbol, you gain one health. There are also numbers on the dice from 1-3 and when you roll a set of three, that is how many points you get. So if you roll three 2’s you get 2 points. Any additional numbers in the set score extra points. So five 2’s would be 4 points. Lastly, if you roll the lightning bolt symbol, you get an Energy cube. Energy can be used to purchase cool upgrade cards for your monster. You gain points the longer you are able to stay inside Tokyo, but the catch is that you cannot heal yourself while inside the city. If your health drops too low, you can yield the city to the attacking monster who replaces you. If your health ever drops to 0, you’re out. Whoever is the last monster standing or first to 20 points is the winner.

1…2…3…FIGHT!

I am playing as Cthulhu, and my wife is The King (let’s face it, it’s pretty much King Kong). I get a few points to start out with, then I crash into the city.

Apparently, in this universe, Cthulhu’s origin story involves human meddling and an escape from a laboratory…

The King takes the city, but watch out! Cthulhu is about to morph into Phase 2…


Tokyo is an electric, modern, densely populated city that is home to more than 9 million people. That’s not even including the many millions more considered to be within the overall metropolitan area. As you may imagine, it is rich with culture, diverse cuisine, bustling markets, and advanced technology. The skyline is dominated by the Skytree tower, which became the world’s tallest tower at the time construction was completed in 2011. The whole city is a great example of modern aesthetics and efficiency. Tokyo’s rail system is one of the most extensive and efficient in the world, with more than 100 routes and 13 subway lines that intersect the city. Use the great transportation system to visit many of Tokyo’s attractions. There is something here for every kind of traveller or resident: immaculate parks like Rikugien or Shinjuku Gyoen, the large Tokyo National Museum, and beautiful historical temples.

Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will run from July 24 to August 9. The organizers claim the games will be “the most innovative ever organised”. The sports themselves will also be new and different, as they are adding baseball/softball, surfing, climbing, skateboarding, and karate. The medal designs were revealed recently, and the amazing part is that all 5,000 or so of the medals that will be given out at the Olympics & Paralympics will be made 100% out of donated and recycled electronics and cell phones. [https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/medals/project/]


The King is racking up the points the longer he is able to stay in the city. He is sitting at 12 points, and I have 10. I need to focus on Attacks to get him to yield his ground. A few rounds go by though, and I don’t get as many Attacks as I was hoping.

With Cthulhu’s new powers, as a last-ditch effort, he tries to kick up a smoke cloud to confuse his enemy…

But…it’s not enough. Cthulhu gives a final gasp of “fththhgn” and collapses to the ground. The King is (fittingly) the King of Tokyo.

Final Thoughts:

Just strictly going by fun factor, this game is king. It is a raucous dice chucker of a game and the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. It gets crazy when you have 5 or 6 monsters all vying for control of the city and attacking. Then, sometimes there might be a more pacifist monster who is quietly, sneakily accumulating points and trying to win that way. Then, you have the great upgrade cards. There are a lot of them, and they’re thematically appropriate and all of them are exciting and interesting. For example, if you are able to get the Extra Head for your monster, that gives you an extra die to roll for the rest of the game! I like how you can win in two very different ways and you have to be aware of where people are in points, because 20 points can really sneak up on you. For having so much luck of the dice, there are a good deal of interesting choices available to players throughout the game. And the cool thing is, no matter what you choose, it feels like you’re doing something awesome. Gameplay is quick, rules are pretty simple, and instead of bogging down with a higher player count, it gets better! Because the dice rolling is so similar to how Yahtzee works, I find it makes it really easy to teach to pretty much anyone in a wide age range.

The black & green dice are SUPER great quality, and they’re actually some of my favorite dice from any game I’ve played. This is great, since the gameplay all revolves around the dice. Usually the main game board is crucial, but this is one game where the board itself is barely necessary. It only shows who is in the city of Tokyo. The green Energy cubes are simple but effective. They enhance the sci-fi feel a bit. Overall, this is a top-notch game. As far as light family fun, I’m not sure this game can be beat. Excellent!

Check it out on Amazon (Click below):


*A special thanks to Dr. Hannes Grobe, who assembled the public domain reproduction images of Hiroshige’s artwork.

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