Tokiado from Fun Forge was one of the earlier games I played in my prestigious, dice rolling, career. It's a wonderful game where the idea is to walk from one end of a road to the other and to have the happiest time. It's such a zen idea. Each stop along the way allowed you to do something. Like paint a bit of a picture, or go shopping, or have a nice bath.
It's all very relaxing. I really enjoyed it and its two expansions but now Fun Forge has released Namiji. A sort of fishing themed sequel to Tokaido that builds on a lot of the same ideas. So, is this plain sailing or will it end up lost at sea?
Treasures At Sea
First things first, Namiji was a kickstarter campaign. The version I'm playing is that from that kickstarter so there may be certain components in the retail edition that are not quite as tricked out as the ones you'll see in the photos here. I'll do my best to mention the differences, but I may miss something. With that said though, let's get into this!
I'm going to assume you've never played Tokaido before. If you have played Tokaido before this is basically the same game with the actions on the spaces being different. There are a few other little rules differences but that is basically it.
For everybody else, Namiji is a sort of rondell game. Players will take it in turns to move along a track. You can move forward as far as you like but you can never move backwards. Also, there is no standard turn order. The player that is currently furthest back on the track is the player that goes next. As a rule, each space can only hold one player.
You get this interesting choice between going for exactly what you want but potentially skipping some other stuff and maybe having to wait a while until your next turn. Or you can just take the next space on the route. You may not get exactly what you want but you will get something and you can move again a little sooner.
In Namiji each player takes control of a fishing boat. (The ones pictured here are painted which I think is a kickstarted exclusive. The retail ones will likely be unpainted.) On that fishing boat you can store fish and crustaceans. You can also equip upgrade cards that give you some powerful abilities. It is a sort of point salad game where pretty much everything you do will earn you a point or two. Each of the different spots will have you interacting with one of the different systems and they all feel a bit different to each other.
The only places you have to stop are the three dock stations that split the game into checkpoints. In between those docks you can stop wherever you like, providing there is space for you there.
There are five different systems where you can get points. First off, you've got the fishing. There are two different spaces that allow you to place things into your fishing rack. The first one has you drawing single tiles to place, whereas the other has you drawing double tiles. Doubles can be really useful but can occasionally be difficult if not impossible to place in a way that will score you points.
To score points, you need to have a completed row or column in your fishing rack with every fish in that scoring row or column either being the same type or colour as every other fish. The rows and columns are also not worth the same amount. You have to start filling everything from the top left with every additional tile being placed adjacent to something you've already placed. Because of this the top row and left most columns are worth the least points. With the bottom row and rightmost column netting you a hefty premium.
So, you can forgo these lower scoring columns to try and get to the bigger stuff, or you can just bumble along as you go and score what you can. It's a nice decision and reminds me a lot of some of the alternatives added with the crossroads expansion for Tokiado.
May Contain Shellfish
The crustacean's net spaces have you push your luck while drawing tokens from a bag. Here you'll be grabbing a mix of shrimps and crabs. You can draw up to 5 tokens worth a point each, but if you draw a second crab you lose the lot. Again, I like this and I'm reminded a lot of Quacks of Quedlinburg and those cherry bomb tokens that can blow up your whole soup!
The shrines to Tokiado are replaced with offering spots where you can set little origami ships out to sea. My version has these little plastic ships but I believe they are cardboard tokens in the retail release. Here you start the game with a penalty and then can remove that penalty by setting the boats loose. It's an interesting difference but this is probably the one action space that I think was stronger in Tokaido. But, with there being no concept of money in Namiji I'm not really sure how they could've swung it.
From my least favourite space, let's head to my favourite next. The sacred rocks. Stopping at these rocks will let you draw two secret objective cards and keep one. These little bonuses are great and can give you a much needed sense of direction while playing the game.
Lastly, the panoramas are back. These spots have you drawing cards to paint a panorama. There are three different panoramas to paint and the first player to complete each one gets a few bonus points. This is a nice little race within a race to keep things interesting.
Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay
The dock spaces are the only thing I've not touched on so far. These are very cool and a little different to the way Tokaido used to do things. You still draw some cards and select one in secret with the rest of the players drawing a card in the order they are lined up at the dock. But this time, you get to choose what order you line up in. You can get yourself into a position where you can get off to the next leg of your journey the fastest, but you'll only get to look at the cards once the other players have chosen theirs.
Or conversely, you can choose to pick your cards early but start at the back for the next section of your journey. More interesting decisions! The other big difference is what is on the cards. In Tokaido you were getting meals and trying to not get any repeats. In Namiji, there are a few meal cards which are worth points, but the more interesting cards are the upgrade cards that can give you special abilities when you land on certain spaces.
These are a nice addition as the player boats don't have special abilities like the characters in Tokaido do. You also get a few chances to get these upgrades meaning you're likely to have some pretty diverse abilities by the end of the game which helps with that all important replayability.
As a bit of a Tokaido fanboy I was always going to like Namiji. It feels like a version of Tokaido where every piece was subtly reinterpreted to freshen things up a bit. If we were comparing base editions of the two games, I'd say Namiji is the better game, hands down. But Tokaido has two expansions which really give the game some extra depth and that makes things more complicated.
At A Crossroad
The way I see it, Tokaido with expansions gives you lots of simple things to do whereas Namiji gives you fewer, more complicated actions to consider. They are not complicated at all in the grand scheme of things, but they are more complicated than the actions found in Tokaido.
My recommendation is this: If you like the sound of Namiji and you don't own Tokaido, go with Namiji. It is the better game. If you already own Tokaido, maybe consider either, or indeed both, of the two expansions: Crossroads and Matsuri. If you already own all of them and still want more, Namiji will not disappoint. It hits all those classic Tokaido ghighs but then puts a cherry on the top.