Tokaido (2012) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

Changelog

Version Reviewed

English US First edition, Second printing 2014

Introduction

If you are interested in a game that accurately models a growing indifference towards a workplace commute then Tokaido would be a hard one to beat.  We suspect though that’s not a premise that will leave many people salivating.  That perhaps helps explain why we gave it only three stars in our review.  Let’s say though that you don’t get enough of this in your real life and fancy spending your days wandering idly from one end of Japan to the other.  Would Tokaido be the game to fulfill those secret desires?  Could you play it?  Let’s find out.

Colour Blindness

Colour blindness has an impact but it’s not specifically a problem unless combined with a visual impairment.   It mostly comes into effect when considering the individual spaces that might be visited upon a trip through the Tokaido.  Some of the spaces, while possible to differentiate by icon, benefit immensely from also being differentiated by colour especially at a glance.

Colour blind spaces

Move me to the yellow one

This has a reasonably big impact on ease of visually interpreting game state, but since each stop is marked by its own distinctive art that ensures no information is lost even if it does become more difficult to instantly identify.  For example, consider the farm and rice paddy actions on the image above for those with Protanopia or Deuteranopia.   Consider the hot springs and sea panorama for someone with Tritanopia.  The information is there, but not optimally presented.

Colour blind meeples

An interesting colour palette

The meeples remain visually identifiable for all categories of colour blindness although lighting will be an issue for those with Deuteranopia if using the green and purple meeples.  This is at worst only going to be an issue in five player games anyway. and alternate identifiers can be substituted.

Colour blind panoramas

Enjoy the view

Panoramas for those with Tritanopia might be difficult to distinguish, particularly with relation to the rice paddy and the mountain.  Again though there is distinctive art for each and they have a fixed position on the board that ensures their location is always standardised.

We’ll recommend Tokaido in this category although bear in mind fluid play will involve a degree of close inspection of the board that wouldn’t otherwise be required for non-colour blind players.

Visual Accessibility

There isn’t a lot of game state that needs to be taken in at any time, and the nature of the journey leg system means that at most you’ll be investigating a fourth of the track.  Essentially, the picture below shows the key set of information with which you’ll be interacting at any time:

A journey to Edo

It’s a tight fit back there

Within this there are certain fundamental data elements of which a player needs to be aware.  First of all, the turn order – who is going to go next after a move has been made.   That in turn depends on the options available – you’ll only ever be selecting from options ahead of you, not those behind.  This means the visual parsing of the game state becomes easier as time goes by with a stage of the journey because less of the board need be investigated.

Each of the different actions has different art, but it’s confined within a relatively small circle and sometimes it’s not especially distinctive if viewed with low visual acuity.  For example the hot springs, sea panorama and mountain panorama space4s share similar graphical design.  While they’re difficult to mix up on close inspection that depends on how much visual information can be ascertained.  In any case, there is no real harm that comes from asking the table what each circle might be.

Due to the flow of play, options are usually a fair degree more limited than the board state might imply.  You may have five or six options you could select but the nature of the turn order system means you won’t want to stray too far ahead of everyone else.  Really, your choice is likely to be ‘move to the next square where I can use my power’ or ‘move to the farm to block off money for other players’ or ‘move to one of the one, two or three squares ahead of the farthest on player’.  That is good in terms of making the game reasonably visually accessible, but also opens up the possibility of play becoming a primarily verbal exercise.   All you really need to know when playing is what an opponent may be hoping to accomplish (and that in turn will be a product of the character they took and their funds) and what you’re hoping to accomplish.   I suspect, but haven’t tested, that the game would be fully playable with voiced instructions and feedback.

My holiday pocket money

The only place that is likely to fall down is in the collection of goods, which must be arranged in sets.  However, while the rules don’t say that souvenirs should be placed face up you don’t lose anything by doing this.  Similarly with panorama, hot springs and traveller cards.  There is no secret information there that impacts anything other than a victory count, and that’s already represented around the edge of the board.  Even the coins you have are of only one denomination and are public information.

As such, we’ll recommend Tokaido in this category for those with visual impairments.  We’d be especially interested to hear from any totally blind players that have tried and succeeded (or failed) to play without actually interpreting the visual state information themselves.   It seems like it could work, but this is entirely speculative.

Cognitive Accessibility

There are a few concerns regarding cognitive accessibility.  The first of these is that game flow is not only variable, it’s weaponised.   You’re looking to take advantage of an ever shifting flow of player order to undermine your opponents and maximise your own opportunities.   It’s not a particularly intensive exercise (last player goes next, with the order changing a little at inns) but it does have a profound impact on the way that games unfold.   The value of taking actions is primarily a function of what opportunities you’ll be giving up to others as a result.

There is too an explicit numeracy required of play.  Victory points almost always come as an exercise of arithmetic, whether it’s through collecting panoramas of increasing value or grouping souvenirs into sets with variably valued cards.  The level isn’t especially high, but it might be necessary in some cases for one player to act as a kind of accountant for the score of another player.  Playing with open game states should permit this easily though.

There’s a symbolic language present for player powers, but the powers aren’t complicated and in any case can be ignored to play a simpler version of the game.  Realistically, a lot of Tokaido can be stripped back to make a reasonably satisfying, low competition variant that would be cognitively accessible.   Think of it like a directed story-telling experience in this event.  ‘You’re on the Tokaido – you can visit a village, pray in a temple, or have an encounter – which would you like?’.   The choices presented by Tokaido are almost always about selecting between options – the real gameplay meat is found in the competitive turn order system.   Losing that would change the tenor of the game, but I think it could still be quite satisfying.   Simplified scoring too could be incorporated, or scoring could be ignored entirely in cases of severe cognitive impairment.

Even ‘full’ Tokaido doesn’t ask an awful lot of its players – if the turn system can be navigated, the rest of the game should be comparatively easy to learn.  We’ll recommend Tokaido in both categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

I made a big deal about the passive aggression at the core of Tokaido’s game loop, but while it’s certainly impactful really it’s not all that venomous.  The worst someone can do is block you off from a key opportunity, but the impact of that is usually reasonably minor.  The only part of the game where the impact may be disproportionate is locking someone out of a farm action.  Money is hard to come by in Tokaido and if someone has overspent their budget they’ll feel it.   Meals at the inn are worth six victory points each, and if you have no money to buy one and can’t earn more funds you’ll see yourself falling back as a result.  Compensatory strategies such as seeking out encounters are too erratic to be reliable in this event.  As such, the game permits not only serious score disparities but also creates and incentivises the circumstances for players to gang up on another player.   Most of the time the impact will be limited, but that will shift as the game curves into its last leg and the maximal scoring opportunities for each player become clearer to everyone.

To an extent, being a victim in this is going to be down to bad planning on the part of a player.  There are no direct player versus player interactions after all – no robbers or thieves on the Tokaido.  If you overspend, it’s because you chose to spend money when you couldn’t guarantee an income.   And, in the end, nobody can block you if you’re prepared to go far enough along the trail.  The price of that though is significant – not just in terms of what you gave to your opponents, but in terms of your own opportunity cost.   It is often self-destructive to go too far in the lead, even if it’s the only way you have of guaranteeing access to an opportunity.

It doesn’t even need a malicious group for this to manifest – it can happen just naturally as a result of individual self-interest.   It’s entirely possible to be set up for a frustrating game where all you can do is move to squares that don’t permit you to do anything even if nobody is trying to block you.   Money is used in temples and villages and the inn.  If you don’t have money, then those squares may as well not be there for all the value you’ll get out of them.   Ironically, they’re also the squares other players are most likely to leave open for you because they’ve got their own money trubs, brah.   Some characters have an easier time of handling money than others but nobody has an unlimited supply.

This then feeds into another problem with the game – not everyone gets an equal opportunity to play, and your mistakes are permanent.  There’s no going backwards here, and if you go too far forwards you might find everyone else is getting two, or even three, turns to your one.  If your own turn is then to wander into a space you can’t utilise – well.  It’s not going to be a lot of fun.

We’ll tentatively recommend Tokaido in this category, but bear in mind – it doesn’t necessarily need a group to be mean spirited for a game of this to feel deeply unfair.

Physical Accessibility

Placing your meeples is an act of surprising precision – the road is quite tightly constrained and individual spaces don’t give a lot of room.   There’s no need for you to be too pernickety about this though – really, as long as it’s clear which meeple is on which space that’s all that need be communicated.  However, for locations where two or more players may be situated the order in which they entered the space is important.  Some means of showing that will also be necessary if the size of the spaces is going to be an issue.

Similarly, as noted by Brad Neuhauser, the scoring track is very fiddly, and the use of alternating upper and lower spaces can result in any nudging of the board impacting significantly on score.  It’s not only moving onwards or backwards, but potentially also upwards.   The state can be reconstructed, but the unusual layout of the track has a definite accessibility issue.

When collecting a panorama card, you’ll need to leaf through the deck to find the next highest number.  There’s no need to place it in panorama style – simply stacking them up will be sufficient for scoring purposes.  Collecting souvenirs will need a little set management, but this is done in the open for the most part and so it’s not necessary to worry about doing this while holding a hidden hand of information.  The rest of the game activities relate to cashing coins and picking up cards.

Tokaido map

A long and winding road

While the board is slightly long, activity is only ever focused in one quarter of the trail at any one time.  This means that if physical mobility is an issue, it’s possible for the board to be moved where it’s convenient without the game state sprawling outside of a small area of interest.   There isn’t a lot represented on the board at any time, and it’s easily removed and then replaced if necessary.   It’s a three-fold board though that is longer than it is wide, and as such this would only be required in extreme circumstances.

As to verbalisation, this is very easily handled because of the unidirectional movement and the relative parsimony of options.  ‘I want to visit the next temple’ or ‘move me to the farm just before the inn’ will convey all the important game information.  In some cases, players may be choosing from one of a set of secret options, some of which will then need to be passed on to other players.   This can be handled with the use of a standard card holder, and is mostly an issue with certain character powers and the inn meals.

We’ll recommend Tokaido in this category.

Communication

There is no formal need for communication when playing Tokaido although muttering ‘you bastard’ under your breath is definitely helpfully cathartic.  There’s no reading level associated with play either.

We strongly recommend Tokaido in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The manual defaults to masculinity and that is always frustrating to see.  The set of characters draws from historic and fictive traditions, and while it definitely skews towards men it has a number of women to choose from.

Characters in Tokaido

The unusual suspects

Satsuki, Sasayakko and Umegae are women, and one of the encounters you can have is a woman Shinto priest.   Whether you believe that Sasayakko the geisha is a servile stereotype depends on what view of geisha you believe the game is presenting.  I suspect given Antoine Bauza’s demonstrated love of the culture that it is likely more rounded that the Western orientalist simplification of the role.

Notes about Japan from the manual

The man loves Japan

Still, it’s not a great split of genders but not so bad as to warrant our most scathing criticisms here.  Especially since there’s no attempt to overtly sexualise the artwork.  A range of body types are represented too (for men, primarily), which is nice.   Otherwise the game has no overtly gendered art and focuses on symbolic or artistic representation.

Tokaido has an eye-watering RRP of £50, and I absolutely could not remotely recommend it at that price.   It just doesn’t have anything approaching the longevity that the price tag would demand.  You can find it on sale reasonably often though, and my own copy was purchased for a more reasonable £34.  Realistically though I’m not sure I’d even recommend it too strongly there given the number of other games at the price point that will generate far more ongoing enjoyment.   It elegantly supports three to five players, and even has a perfectly playable two player mode.  It scales well up and down but it absolutely does not have enough in it to sustain interest in the long term.  Tokaido will be a game that you dip into on occasion with new people, but not one that you’ll find as a core staple of your play.

Intersectional Accessibility

The visual parsing problem we discussed above is going to be more intense if it is combined with colour blindness – probably not bad enough for us to revoke our recommendation, but certainly enough to temper it with some additional caution.

If adopting a cognitively accessible variant of the game there shouldn’t be a need to worry about the intersection of visual and cognitive impairment.  If not, then the visual state provided by the physical representation of turn order is a useful reduction in the cognitive cost of play and losing this might be enough to just tip the game over into inaccessibility.   You’d be trying to not only hold your own game state in mind, but also the implication of your moves for all the other players in the order that they’ll be moving.  Not impossible for one or the other condition, but I suspect too cognitively expensive for the combination.

If communication impairments intersect with physical impairments, the game should still be playable through verbalisation provided a common simple language can be determined.   The options you have during play are quite limited.  You could realistically play the game by exhaustively indicating all the possibilities just for a player to indicate assent in some manner.   The narrowing possibility space we indicated as a limitation in the review is a major benefit here.

Games of Tokaido are quite short – perhaps thirty minutes or so discounting accessibility compensations.  They are also ‘low impact’ because there isn’t a huge amount to consider during play.  However, there can be a disproportionately long time between one turn and the next – if you move far down the track, and then everyone else inches along behind you, you might find some of them get two turns to your own.  As such, there is a small risk that those with intersectional issues manifesting as attention deficit may not be able to concentrate fully on play.   You might not know in advance when your turn is going to come round again.

If players need to drop out, Tokaido permits that reasonably well.  You simply stop taking their moves.  Even dropping from three to two is feasible if the automata outlined in the manual is followed.  Just grab a player meeple that was previously active and make them the new neutral traveller.   There’s no scope for buying back into the game, but since it’s quite short anyway it’s likely a game would be mostly over by the time that became an option.

Conclusion

Many of the things that result in criticism in our reviews turn out to be accessibility boons.  We’ve noted that several times before – here, it’s the passivity of Tokaido that leads to a good performance across the board.  Not the highest we’ve seen, but high enough that we’d recommend it (as usual, with caveats) to almost anyone.

Colour Blindness B-
Visual Impairment B+
Emotiveness C
Fluid Intelligence B-
Memory B
Physical B
Socioeconomic B-
Communication A

Games like Tokaido really do show up the limitations of standard review models when discussing the intersection of gameplay and disability.   Game reviews are inherently ableist – they work on the assumption that individual experience is at all generalizable, and because almost all game reviewers are abled they reflect those internalised attitudes.  That which I don’t like in my games might be the very thing that makes it playable for someone else.

We gave Tokaido three stars in our review – it’s pleasant and meditative and genuinely fun the first couple of times. you play   It turns out though that its real virtue is the relative accessibility permitted by its game design.  This was, I suspect, not an intentional benefit.  Accidental accessibility though – well, I’ll take it.  It’s certainly better than the alternative.

 


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