Tokaido was one of the first board games I purchased when I started my transition from Magic the Gathering to tabletop gaming. My collection started humbly with Coup, Love Letter, Sushi Go and Tokaido.
I started by watching every episode of TableTop on youtube and Tokaido was the game that caught my attention the most. It was the perfect mix of light relaxing gameplay, decision making and awesome art direction.
Now, years deeper into the hobby Tokaido remains one of my favorite games especially with the Crossroads expansion. To the untrained player this might seem like an overly simple game with little decision making. But the truth is the more you think about it the deeper it gets.
Understanding how points work is pretty easy: earn as many points as possible by the end of the journey, some things are going to be worth more points than others so you need to make some relatively straight-forward choices:
“Do I continue to work on my panorama and grab the 3-point panorama card or take a random hotspring card worth 2 or 3 points?”
It gets tremendously more difficult when you are choosing between the hot springs or going to the shop, because you need to put a value on coins. The most important consideration in consistently scoring high in Tokaido is how to maximize the points you earn from spending coins.
In order to do that we need to figure out how many points a single coin is worth. We will start by analyzing the min and max return per coin at every stop. Through that analysis we will gain a much better understanding of the strategy in Tokaido
Food considerations are straightforward. Everyone will go to the same number of inns, and have the same opportunities to convert coins into points. There is no better place to begin our evaluation of coin value.
Players want to spend the least on food at every inn unless they have a very good reason not to. By my count, there are exactly three good reasons not to:
- setting up to screw over another player
- using the devotion amulet to donate to the temple and targeting a 2-3 coin donation
- you are 100% sure you will win the gourmet accomplishment with this meal
Keep in mind that there are
- 9 total 1-cost meals. Three each: Dango, Nigirimeshi and Misoshiru.
- 10 total 2-cost meals. Two each: Yakitori, Soba, Tempura, Tofu and Sushi
- 6 total 3-cost meals all of which are unique.
Food coin values:
- 1 coin food = 6pts/coin
- 2 coin food = 3pts/coin
- 3 coin food = 2pts/coin
Going for the 3-cost food nets such a small return that it might be a good idea to intentionally skip that meal, especially if it’s early in the trek, and look for better opportunities later.
It should go without saying that when selecting your meal you should observe what other players have already eaten. Since a player cannot eat the same meal twice, there are often opportunities to keep another player from eating at all, or spending more than they wanted. Don’t miss these opportunities to put the pressure on.
You get points on souvenirs based on how far along you go in completing a full set. Each progressive item is worth more than the last by 2 pts like this: 1, 3, 5 and 7. A full set is worth 16 pts. If we break this progression down per item we get the following distributions of points.
- 4pts per standard item (set of 4)
- 3pts per standard item (set of 3)
- 2pts per standard item (set of 2)
- 1pts per standard item (set of 1)
Getting a full set of items returns the best value per item, and even more so if you can get a full set in the fewest stops. On top of this, the food and the artifact item classes have varying prices, so you should consider your situation before paying a premium!
The fans always cost 1, the food cost 1 or 2, the shirt always costs 2 and the artifacts cost 2 or 3. To complete a full set you will be spending 6, 7 or 8 coins depending on your draws.
- 2.66pts/coin for 6
- 2.28pts/coin for 7
- 2.00pts/coin for 8
Try to catch the deals early in the journey, only buying the high end items toward the end if you still have spare coins. If you have the choice to buy a fan, or a 1-coin sushi buy the sushi because you are getting a deal this time, you can always get a fan later for the same price.
Some probabilities just for fun. When you pull 3 random souvenir cards there is a 42.68% chance that they will all be from a unique category. A 3.9% chance they will all come from the same category. A little over half the time, 53.42%, you will get two from the same category.
The sword items are very straightforward: 8 points for 3 coins or a value of 2.66pts/coin. Interestingly, if you end up buying both swords you are getting 16 points for 6 coins which is the best result possible when getting a full set of souvenirs.
The argument can be made that getting swords is actually the best use of you coins at the shop since you’re essentially guarantee yourself a full set in only 2 stops instead of a possible 3 or 4 if you get unlucky. With swords there is no luck.
Emaki and Shodo are the 1-cost items. These items are worth 1 point for each other item you have. If you are playing a village-heavy strategy these can be worth 5-6 coins, which is obviously insane value. Try to get them early if you are going to lean on shopping to get a large chunk of points. Great for rich characters.
Ema and Buppatsu, the 2-cost items items, extend the potential of your souvenir set to 5 items, making the 5th set category worth 9 points. Note, this item does not need to be the 5th, it will always count as a new set addition no matter when you acquire it. If we incorporate this 5th set item to the value of souvenirs, it makes them worth 5 points per item, the whole set being 25 points. This item always costs 2 so if you plan on getting the entire set you will be spending 8, 9 or 10 coins to score 25 points.
- 3.12pts/coin for 8
- 2.77pts/coin for 9
- 2.50pts/coin for 10
Without counting legendary souvenirs, the best value per coin at the village is 2.66 points. If you include the legendaries and extend your set to 5, you can top out at 3.12 points per coin. The 1-coin legendaries are exceptions in that they can be worth any amount of points, reasonably they top out at 5-6 points unless you are having an outlier game.
The hot springs looks like a no brainer. Either you take a freebie or you pay 1 coin for 4 points. Seems great, 4pts/coin is a good value! The problem with the bath house is you can already get 2-3 pts for no coins by just drawing a random hot springs card. So actually the coin is only earning you +1.5 points which actually makes it pretty questionable unless you are running out of time to score.
A good time to get bathhouse is if you use the health amulet to visit the hot springs and also the bath house. I call this the “double dip.” With this tactic you are spending 2 coins (the amulet cost, and bathhouse cost) to gain ~6.5 pts or 3.25pts/coin.
I have played over a hundred games of Tokaido, which isn’t a huge sample size, but it’s big enough to say that putting 3 coins into the temple pretty much locks you up for at least 2nd place and often 1st. You get full points on ties, so in order to knock you out of your position someone would need to drop in 4 coins, which requires a crucial second visit (outside of being the character Hirotada or drawing a Miko encounter). You also get a point for each coin you donate.
Points per coin after 3-coin donation:
- 4.33pts/coin for 1st
- 3.33pts/coin for 2nd
- 2.33pts/coin for 3rd
The temple is excellent value in almost all cases. In a few fringe situations one or more players might not be able to access the temple in a game. If that happens you might have a good chance to win 2nd place with only a single coin! Even if you don’t win 2nd place, just a single coin should get you at least 4th for 2points, taking into account the point for the donation itself, even 4th place is 3pts/coin.
The downside of the temple is you really need to be efficient with it by putting in all your donations at once. Putting in 3 coins once is much better than putting in 1 coin over 3 stops. Not every character can easily afford to drop 3 coins in right away. If you cannot afford the full 3, getting an amulet with the hope of making a big temple donation later might make the most sense.
Panorama stops are free, free points and sometimes a free coin. But which choice is better?
The value of panoramas are as follows:
- Green: 1+2+3 = 6pts
- Grey: 1+2+3+4 = 10pts
- Blue: 1+2+3+4+5 = 15pts
Those are respectively 2, 2.5 and 3 points per card if you complete the whole thing. If you finish first, and get the accomplishment, you get a slight bonus up to: 3, 3.25 and 3.6 points per stop.
But what if you always took cherry blossoms instead?
- 3 cherry blossoms = 6pts and 3 coins
- 4 cherry blossoms = 8pts and 4 coins
- 5 cherry blossoms = 10pts and 5 coins
This is theorycrafting because it’s very difficult to get more than 3 cherry blossoms, but if you convert those coins to a meager 2pts each then you will outpace even the maximum panorama value. My recommendation on panorama stops is always take a cherry blossom if one is available, with very few exceptions.
The coveted farmhouse is the primary way to get money in Tokaido, but do you take the easy income or risk it all for the big payday? Well the math says you take the sure thing. Taking the gamble has an average payout of 2.33 coins which is less than just taking 3.
I have implemented a house rule: “Whenever your character gambles at a farmhouse, gain 2 points.” It makes gambling a little more enticing and makes thematic sense. Gambling is fun! Flavor win.
In a game of calculated moves the last thing you should be doing is taking lots of chances. On the other hand if you are behind and need to swing for the fences, gambling is one of the few ways to luck yourself back into a game. But 19/20 times you should take the 3.
Encounters don’t cost any coins, but in the spirit of thoroughness I think it’s worth putting an average point value on these as well. After all, we need to know if it’s worth spending a coin on a calligraphy card instead of taking a standard encounter. First let’s look at the breakdown and then move on to evaluation:
- Kuge x2: Gain 3 coins
- Miko x2: Donates 1 to the temple on your behalf
- Samuari x2: Score 3 points
- Shokunin x2: Gain a random souvenir
- Anniabito x6: Gain a panorama card
We have 14 encounter cards, and 6 of them are Anniabito (Actually it’s 2/2/2 for each respective color of panorama) which means you will gain a panorama card a little under half the time. Let’s try to assign each pull a point value.
Kuge = 9pts
This is getting into spoiler territory, but the conclusions of this analysis is that a coin is worth slightly more than 3 points. Kuge gives you 3 coins which you should hopefully be able to convert into at least 9 points by making good decisions.
Miko = 4pts
The donation itself is worth 1 point off the bat, so there is that. The next part is a little dependent on player count since having any coins in the temple at all guarantees you whatever last place is at the temple. So in a 3 player game this 1-coin donation is worth 4 points for third place. In a 4 player game this is worth 2 points. On the flip side, this donation is 1/3 of your way to getting first place much of the time, which makes it worth 3.33 point. The math gets a little fuzzy but 4 points feels fair.
Shokunin = 2.5pts
Gaining a random souvenir is the hardest encounter to evaluate. If you get a full set, each item in the set is worth 4 points. But when you get a random one, even if you are going for a set, you might just flop and get a duplicate worth only 1 point. Or if you are just not going the village route it just might not be that valuable. So I decided to split the difference and call it 2.5.
Anniabito = 2pts
Not counting first-completion bonuses, each card from a completed pano set is worth: 2pts for green, 2.5pts for grey and 3pts for blue. The majority of the time you won’t complete the panorama you get the card for, reducing its value a great deal. A pano card is always worth at least 1, often 2, rarely 3, and very rarely more than 3. I think 2 is fair. Note: if you have already completed a panorama and draw the Anniabito that gives you another card for that panorama, you may choose what color he gives you instead.
Samurai = 3pts
Samurai needs no explanation, he is worth 3 points.
If we average all of that out, a random encounter card should be worth 3.5 points with a high amount of variance. Kuge is doing lots of work to pull up this average. You are getting 3 or less points on 10/14 cards with the final 4 acting as jackpots.
Sometimes it’s worth “going for” one specific encounter. For example:
- You have 0 money and need to find Kuge or be forced to skip a meal
- There are no more temples left and you need Miko for the donation
- You need help completing a panorama
If this is the case make sure you look around the table and take note of what encounter still exist. There are only two of each.
Analyzing the possible outcomes of all of the stops gets us to a very important number, that number is how many points is a coin worth. You won’t always have the opportunity to get the best case because of the many times you are at the whim of luck, but here is a good starting point:
- Village: 3.12pts/coin
- Temple: 4.33pts/coin (assuming 3 coin donation)
- Food: 6pts/coin
- Village: 2.66pts/coin
- Temple: 3.33pts/coin
- Food: 3pts/coin
Based on these best and medium cases it looks pretty clear that a coin should be earning you over 3 points as a goal. Of course you can settle for less but this will be a good benchmark.
Now that this basic gameplay analysis is out of the way we can get into the thick of things. How to use Amulets and Calligraphy cards.
Amulets are purchased at the temple instead of making a donation. This is a bit tricky since putting in a temple donation is often one of the most important sources of points and giving that up for an Amulet is a tough choice. Amulets can also earn you substantial points so most of the time those choice is predicated on how much money you have and how early in the game it is. You generally want to make your temple donations later in the game to give your opponents less time to plan and react.
If you are lucky enough to end up at the first temple, my advice is to grab the Devotion amulet as it has the biggest possible return of anything else in the game.
The next time you would spend coins on a single purchase, donate those coins to the temple instead
Devotion is the most powerful amulet because if used optimally (to make a surprise 3-coin donation) in gives you the best return on your 1 coin. The most obvious target is one of the legendary swords.
I call this the “Sword of Devotion slingshot.” It gives you a 3 coin donation to the temple, as well as a powerful 8 point item, at a value of 2.75pts/coin, this pretty much locks you in for at least 2nd at the temple, sometimes first for a huge point gain!
- 5.25pts/coin for 1st
- 4.50pts/coin for 2nd
The second best target for devotion is food at the very last stop. One of the best elements of this amulet is how surprising it is. The last day only has one double temple and once everyone has passed it no more opportunities exist to donate coins (other than a Miko encounter).
A common play in our games is to buy Devotion on the first stop and hold it all game until the very last day. This way no one but that player will get to benefit from this powerful amulet.
If you hold the devotion amulet you have perfect information about what you need to donate to take first or seconds, and no one can do anything about it.
Treat any single-stop spot as a double spot. In a 2-3 player game, you can use friendship on ANY stop, since they are all considered single stops.
Friendship is a great amulet as it essentially guarantees that you cannot be blocked from getting to the spot you want. It’s especially useful for hitting the farmhouse or the village when other people are trying to keep you from it.
If you use friendship, you count as being further back then the person with whom you are sharing a spot. So you can often use it to get multiple moves at a time, keep your eyes open for opportunities like this:
In this example the blue player can use the friendship amulet and grab a stop at the farmhouse and then immediately get another turn on account of still being in last position.
Use both options at the next stop.
This can be a very powerful amulet for surprise steals of accomplishments. You can grab hot springs + bath house, encounter + calligraphy card or you can go on a shopping spree buying souvenirs and a legendary item. These moves not only have the potential to earn big points but also pull you into the lead of the end-game achievements by giving you 2x the cards.
As I mentioned before, using health on the hot springs (the double dip) is a great way to get value out of the otherwise weak bathhouse stop since you are actually getting it in addition to the normal stop. Using health at the farm as also a decent value for earning coins, great in combination with the Foresight calligraphy or a shop-centric strategy.
Be mindful, the health amulet loses value and flexibility as the game goes on. Once the cherry blossoms are all gone, panorma stops are no longer beneficial. Once all the good calligraphy cards are taken the encounter stop isn’t that lucrative.
Money is consideration with health as only the farmhouse and panorama stops are free. All the other stops are going to cost you at least 1 coin which might interfere with you getting to an inn feeling confident about your dinner options.
If in the lead position, take another turn.
It often seems like this amulet is actually costing you a stop because you are letting other people get so many more moves before you get to act again but I don’t think it does. I think instead this just ensures you get the stops you need.
Vitality can be used well in conjunction with the Patience calligraphy to do a quick double stop at the end of the journey and end up at the final village ready to go into the Inn last. It is also a great way to pick up multiple panorama cards in a row (although friendship can also usually be used for the same effect.)
Careful not to hold on to vitality too long because it’s only effective as long as you can be in the lead position. On the last day people often leap to the last shop and if someone takes that spot and you are holding vitality… You just earned yourself a paper weight.
Roll the fortune die and gain coins for the number shown.
This amulet, like gambling in general, is a bit of an oddity. Granted you don’t have a “sure thing” choice like you do at the farmhouse, but remember you are still gambling 1 coin. The expected value of this 1 coin bet is to earn 1.16 coins which isn’t a very great return. Of course luck is luck, you can get +2 or +3 coins which can hopefully be converted into plenty of points.
Generally there are two reasons to buy this amulet. One is the foresight calligraphy in which case maximizing coins is the gameplan. The second is you only have 1 coin left and you don’t want to miss your next meal. If you are in the second situation then you must consider this amulet if hospitality is not available.
Take your meal for free and an inn.
This amulet allows you to take one of the available meals for free when stopping at an Inn. It is like buying a 1 coin meal, but having the chance to use it to gain a 2 or 3 cost meal pushing you closer to the Gourmet bonus. The most common use of hospitality is to ensure you get to eat a meal when you are low on funds. It works great for that especially if you only have one coin. But if you have a few coins here are some additional things to consider:
What have you already eaten?
There are only 3 different 1-cost meals in the game, so if you have already eaten most of them, it gets less likely that you will be able to catch the last one. On the other hand if you have not eaten many 1-cost meals, then you might want to spend your coin on a different amulet since chances are decent you will catch a 1-cost meal anyway.
What order is everyone hitting the next inn?
The more players get to eat before you the less likely you are to get a cheap meal making this amulet more enticing. If you will end up selecting your meal first you can probably get a 1-cost meal, so perhaps your value lies in another amulet or stop.
Village stops frequently appear as the last or second to last stops before inns. If you are playing a village-centric strategy and focusing on hitting these stops you will end up being one of the last to enter the inns. Hospitality shines in this situation.
Hospitality is flexible and useful to both the poor and the rich. The former get insurance that they wont starve at the next inn, the latter get to spend their coins on memorable souvenirs or the luxurious bath houses. But Hospitality requires some thought to ensure that it returns enough value for you to be picking it over the other amulets on offer.
Calligraphy cards are very powerful and you should make it a priority to get one in every game you play. To put it into perspective, if we stick with our 3.5pts per coin it’s very easy to score at least 3 points from every calligraphy card with minimal effort, sometimes accidentally. Scoring 8+ off one of these isn’t at all uncommon. For your convenience I have ranked the calligraphy cards from worst to best (with plenty of exceptions).
Gain 3pts for each uneaten meal
Fasting is very situational, you would probably never get it unless you need it and there are few situations in which you need it. Obviously if you have already missed a meal, this is a good way to recoup three points for 1 coin, which isn’t terrible value but also not exceptionally good. If you missed two meals then this one is worth 6 points which is excellent. So clearly one of the reasons to get it is if you missed one or more meals.
The other reason is if you also have Foresight calligraphy which grants you points for your remaining coins. In that case if you skip a 2-cost meal, you lose 6 points but will gain 4 points the coins you saved. A net loss of only 2 points. If you get fasting calligraphy you recoup that and gain a point.
Even with foresight and fasting, you should still buy 1-cost meals.
Beyond these two rare circumstances, this calligraphy card should never be purchased over any other.
6 points for being last into the final inn, 4 points for being 2nd to last, 2 points for all other positions.
This one takes a bit of setup. Certainly you can skip ahead to the last stop of the vacation and lock this in, but how many points are you giving up? On the standard trip, the last stop before the inn is a village and the 3 stops before that are all panoramas. Many players will be skipping ahead to complete panoramas and to grab that last village. It will take some thinking and some guessing to determine how many stops you can squeeze in before having to make the leap to secure your patience bonus.
If you are already playing a Village-heavy strategy and the final village stop is useful for you then you can probably afford to make a substantial leap. Having the nostalgia calligraphy and leaping to the last village to pick up another couple of items can be a game-making move.
On the other hand, going in 2nd-to-last and getting 4 points is still a great value for 1 coin so your chances of getting a good return on this calligraphy is pretty good. Most players tend to ignore this one as well so it can be a nice late-game grab. It’s always worth at least 2 points so you can take a gamble on it.
What keeps this calligraphy from being a priority pick is how low of a ceiling it has. You can only gain 6 points in the best possible scenario, and doing so involves you giving up some value to go to a village early. Often you wont have enough money to truly make use of the village and still afford to eat. And then there is the consideration that you will get blocked off and earn only 2pts. I recommend never first-picking this, but sometimes 2nd picking if no other cards look promising.
Gain 2 pts for each coin at the end of the journey
My group used to think foresight was an absolutely game-warping calligraphy, the best one in the game, an auto-take! It is true that foresight has the highest ceiling for potential gain, I have seen this gain over 30 points to a score! However 2pts/coin is actually not very good value which means the “spam coins and drag them across the finish line” is not as good as spending the coins to earn more than 2pts/coin on each.
People often get blinded by foresight, it’s almost a trap. Your eyes get huge looking at all the opportunities to gain coins and save coins. Players find themselves not visiting villages because they think keeping those coins will serve them better. Now we know better.
Foresight shines when you have so many coins that you cannot reasonably spend them. It is a rare problem but it could happen since the Village is the only true “coin dump” in the game. If you are a rich character like Yoshiyasu or Hirotoda in a game with multiple characters competing for village stops you might find yourself with 8-10 coins and few opportunities to spend them down.
If you are a super rich character like the two listed and you feel like you can afford ignoring village stops, Foresight might be a good early pick… But if you are first picking with a rich character, you should probably be taking Nostalgia every time.
2 points per accomplishment, 1 points per calligraphy card
This calligraphy is automatically worth at least 1 (one per calligraphy). All you need is to secure one accomplishment to bring this up to 3 points and get a good return. This calligraphy combos well with Nostalgia and Contemplation since most souvenirs and completed panoramas are both accomplishments which you would already be going after.
Some characters are favorites to win some accomplishments, for example Chubei or Kita are favorites to end up with chatterbox, Kinko, Nampo and Kidzuna are favorites to win gourmet etc… If you are playing one of these characters, this might actually be a great pick up early since you can likely squeeze 5+ points out of it. Village/Panorama people will also benefit, but they have other calligraphy cards you should get first.
If you grab this as your 2nd calligraphy, it’s already worth 2 points, making this an excellent 2nd pick up. But generally Contemplation or Nostalgia are going to be easier to score from as first picks.
1 point per cherry blossom, 3 points per completed panorama
It is important to note (because I had it wrong for a few games) that you earn the points for completing panorama, not just for completing it first. Completing a panorama leisurely is pretty easy if you focus on it, and with just a single one you earn a solid 3 points. Cherry blossoms are also common and profitable stops, so this calligraphy is a great compliment to nearly any character.
Getting 4 points off this calligraphy with 1 cherry blossom and 1 panorama should be pretty trivial. Getting 8 points is possible if you get this early and plan yours moves. This high range makes this a great first pick for poorer characters.
1 point per souvenir, 2 points per legendary item
If you are already playing a village-oriented strategy this is a no-brainer, as it rewards you for your purchases. If you score a full set of items (which you are already trying to do) you will score 4 points off this which is awesome on its own. Picking up a legendary item takes it up to 6 points. You can see how quickly this ads up.
In games I have played it isn’t at all uncommon to score 8+ off this calligraphy through some encounters and characters abilities. Since souvenirs are already a very lucrative strategy, adding this gravy on top can put you in a massive lead.
I would say this is worth taking even if you aren’t planning on going for a village strategy just to block other characters from getting it. You can easily grab 3-5 points from this with a slight change in focus. Granted you need to actually spend some coins to get this card to pay off.
I hope you learned something and the next time you play this seemingly simple game you find yourself really paying attention to your moves. This guide is as comprehensive as I can make it before getting into the weeds with specific character strategy. Your character choice will certainly play a huge role in how you evaluate the game state and some characters are played in a way that is contradictory to what is expected.
With this guide now you are empowered to make well thought-out choices no matter what character you find yourself piloting. Happy trails!
Special thanks to my good friend Eric Hart for helping me analyze the game and compile this guide. Additional special thanks to Mark Wilson from boardgamegeek who has done some pretty impressive analysis of his own. Reading his articles has inspired me to see this game with new eyes.
Continued reading: Tokaido Character Guide