Just like Jules Verne, we're going around the world in 80 games and our first stop is Asia! Given the current situation, with travel restrictions likely for another few months, many of us are missing out on holidays abroad in 2020. I for one had one of those “holiday of a lifetime” trips planned, which was of course cancelled. So, in the absence of actual travel, we decided to play our way around the world instead.
Where in the world first?
So, having looked at my collection, all neatly arranged in my new shelving unit, there is a SERIOUS amount of games that are set in Japan or heavily Japanese-themed. Naturally, this is where we started. We got them all lined up and ordered Asian takeout to add to the atmosphere! Even though it was nothing like being in Japan, it was a blooming good time.
First up, we started easy, a warm-up game of Reiner Knizia’s Age of War. This is a much bigger game than the size of the box or the price would suggest. Age of War is set in feudal Japan, plays 2-6 players, and is played in 15 to 30 mins.
The game consists of 14 castle cards in 6 different coloured sets and 7 custom dice. Each colour of castle cards varies in how many cards make up that set; 1,2,3, or 4 cards per set. The custom dice have six different faces, either 1,2 or 3 longsword icons representing infantry (affectionately known in our house as 1,2 or 3 “stabs”), an archery icon, a cavalry icon, and a Daimyo (head) icon.
Each castle card has a different selection of required icons in the “battle line” that you need to get to win that castle. On your turn you roll all the dice, and then decide which castle to go after. You can either go for an unclaimed one in the centre or one your opponent has already taken that is not part of a full set. If you are missing an icon you need, you can choose to re-roll your unused dice minus one (which you take out of play) and repeat until you have won the castle or run out of dice.
Verdict: Push your luck, dice-chucky quick fun. Good with 2, good with 4.
Keeping with the theme of dice chucking, we're off to monster-ridden Tokyo. In King of Tokyo Dark Edition, you embody one of the cartoon-style tyrants that is ravaging Tokyo city (and bay if you have 5+ players). The game plays with 2-6 players in 30 mins. It's an ideal game to play if you have younger gamers with you.
The board is super simple for this, just in Tokyo city, Japan, or out of it. One monster must always be in Tokyo at the end of your turn, and you can only get out of Tokyo if you decide to whilst being attacked. It’s a little push-your-luck-esque as you gain victory points for staying in Tokyo, but you are unable to heal whilst inside. On your turn, you roll the dice, and can select to re-roll like in Yahtzee to try and improve your turn. The custom dice feature the following symbols: hearts, which help you gain health; energy, which you can use to buy power cards and upgrade your monster skill set; and claw attack icons, which let you attack monsters in the opposite place to you. The other three faces are numbered 1,2 and 3. Rolling three of the same number will grant you victory points and wickedness points. The winner is the first to reach 20 victory points, or last monster standing.
King of Tokyo: Dark Edition levels the game up from the original. It adds a moody, dark theme with sleeker game art, but it also adds the villainous track. This makes the game a bit more exciting by offering you more abilities and powers throughout the game. What's more, the components have had an upgrade too. I LOVE the health wheel cards and the energy lightning bolts are a nice upgrade from generic plastic green cubes.
Verdict: Smash and bash dice chucking fun, extra layer of strategy given by engine building aspect of power cards.
Tokaido is a 2012 game by Antoine Bauza. It has recently had a facelift with the Anniversary edition, which has lifted some of the colours and given it a cleaner look. The game is 3-5 players with an official 2-player variant and plays in about 45 min. The game plays well at two with a nice neutral character controlled by the person currently ahead on the road. This can increase player interaction and make the gameplay a lot more strategic.
This game holds two titles in my collection, “best looking box” and “most boring sounding premise but great game”. The idea of Tokaido is to travel along a road with your pals and have “experiences”. It sounds dull, but the gameplay is great. The movement along the road is governed by a crucial rule: the person at the back always moves next. I have found that this keeps the scores tight, especially in a two player game. We have never been more than 5 points away from one another. I like that there is no runaway winner option.
Along the road are inns where you can buy food (cards), souvenir shops where you can buy tat (cards), temples where you can leave offerings, panoramic view to photograph (collect cards), hot springs (get victory points and cards) and spaces where you have encounters (lucky dip for coins, cards or victory points). You collect victory points along the road, but there are also bonus cards available to boost your points at the end. There are points for the person who spent the most on food, left the highest value offering to the gods, collected the most souvenirs etc. These can turn the tables in a really satisfying way.
Verdict: Beautiful set-collection game with relaxing gameplay, despite being surprisingly strategic.
So it’s now pushing midnight, but there is still one more teeny game on the table unplayed. Not one to leave a task half-done, we finished our night with a swift game of Hanamikoji. There are few images more synonymous with Japan than Geisha girls. That's the theme of Hanamikoji. The game is for two players only. It plays in 15 minutes, so it is one of our favourite fillers.
The aim of the game is to win the favour of the majority of the geishas (4 out of 7), or to win 11 charm points (each geisha is worth between 2 and 5 charm points).
The round begins by dealing out the cards and putting one unseen into the box.
Each turn, you complete 4 actions in whichever order you decide. One is that you secretly place a card face-down under the secret marker, to be revealed during scoring. Another is that you discard two cards from your hand face-down. These are not scored. A third is that you choose three cards and lay them out; your opponent chooses one as a gift and puts it on their side of the geisha row. You put the remaining two on your side.
The last action is to place two pairs of cards face-up. Your opponent picks one pair for their side and the remaining one goes onto your side. After all the item cards have been played and the secret one revealed for each player, you score the round. If you placed more cards on your side of the geisha than your opponent you win favour. You lose favour if you have fewer cards than your opponent. If the number is equal, then the favour token stays where it is.
If nobody wins then you play another round.
Verdict: Short and sweet. Guess what your opponent has decided to do and do something to foil it. Hanamikoji has a lovely theme and great artwork. This gets better with people you know well.
Where in the world next?
After all that we went to bed, having not been to Japan but having had a great time at our themed games night for two. Where in the world will our games take us next?
Editors note: This blog was originally published on 23/09/2020. Updated on 18/08/2021 to improve the information available.