Board in the Stacks: Tokyo Highway

The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway is a spidery network of highways, overpasses, and expressways that was constructed in 1962 to increase the efficiency of traffic flowing through Tokyo. It’s unique and mind-bogglingly complicated design of curves and grades is the inspiration for Tokyo Highway from Itten Games and designed by Naotaka Shimamoto and Yoshiaki Tomioka. This two player game plays in approximately 30 minutes and is appropriate for players 8 and up.    

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In Tokyo Highway you will be constructing columns and roads in order to place all of the cars in your supply. First person to place all their cars, wins! Players each start with 30 grey discs (pillars), 3 yellow disks (junctions), 15 roads (thin wooden popsicle sticks), 10 small cars and a set of tweezers to place them.

To set up the game each player places one pillar, one road and one car. The pillars are set within one road’s length of each other and a road is placed resembling an entrance ramp to your highway. Each player then takes turns completing three actions:

  1. Construct a pillar within on road length away from another pillar or junction. Pillars can’t be the same height or 2 more/less than the base point.
  2. Construct a road by placing a popsicle stick between two pillars. The edge of the road should not hang over the pillars. Roads should not pass directly over other pillars, and shouldn’t touch other roads.
  3. Place a car on the road just constructed if it is the first to cross over or under your opponent’s road. If multiple roads are crossed then multiple cars can be placed.

The yellow discs are junctions and provide some additional benefits when placed. The allow any number of grey pillars to be placed despite the placement rules. However, during the following turn the normal rules apply. It also allows for an additional road to be built from the junction.

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Tokyo Highway is a three dimensional, abstract, 2 player, dexterity race. The only way to place all your cars to win is to construct pillars and roads that cross over your opponents. This means space and mobility get restricted quickly (Hello, tweezers!). The components are delightfully minimalist as are the rules. This, like many dexterity games, requires an extremely steady hand and there are rules in play for clumsiness which can be a frustrating if you have mobility issues.

My largest complaint is that Tokyo Highway requires players to constantly check to determine the legality of a move. In particular, if a road is touching another road or if a road is crossing over a pillar. This slows down the flow of a game. My opinion is if you want to enjoy Tokyo Highway, just let the highway grow and don’t worry too much about it.

Overall, Tokyo Highway is a delightful dexterity race which, unlike many dexterity games, ends with a feeling of satisfaction as you gaze over the mess you both created. It is also practically begging to be supersized so if anyone wants to take that on, let me know!   

 

Board in the Stacks: Hatsuden

In Hatsuden, the new two-player game from Japanese games publisher Itten, you are competing energy companies jockeying for control of five renewable resources: Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Hydro, and Biomass. While competing you maintain your cities’ optimum amount of power. Too much power and you may control a specific resource but won’t provide the optimal amount of power to your cities. Too little power you lose control of a resource and may under-power your cities .

At the end of the game, players earn one point for each renewable energy they control and one point for each of the cities they supply with 10 units of power (after subtracting one point for any city receiving 8 or less units of power). The player with the most points wins. 

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Competing on the deck for control over hydopower.

Each player starts their turn with a hand of five cards (each card is suited to one of the five resources, and numbered 1-4 with two of each card) and can do one of the following options:

  1. Construct a power plant by placing a card on any open space of the card’s corresponding renewable resource.  
  2. Upgrade a power plant by placing a corresponding power plant card over an already existing plant of a previous generation (lower number). When you upgrade a plant to a generation of 4, you get to draw a special technology card.
  3. Construct a pylon by placing a card face down on any empty space.
  4. Place nothing and trash one card face-up to the discard pile.

After a card is played, they choose a card either from the draw or discard pile and play moves to the opponent. This continues until one player is able to fill all ten of the spaces in their tableau.

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Hold those heavy cards until the end of the game. I see pylons happening here.

After one play of the game it will be obvious that Hatsuden has taken inspiration from a pair of very successful 2-player Knizia designs – Lost Cities and Battleline (cf. Schotten Toten). Hatsuden removes the instant win conditions from Battleline, replacing them with a traditional point system. Gaining control of the each of the power sources is based upon the sum of the cards placed in the column rather than poker hands. This simplifies the game game-play significantly. I mean, sure, sums are easier than poker hands but I mean it really makes a difference.

As a result, Hatsuden almost seems too straightforward: you play a card and draw a card. However, the snappy gameplay does not negate that there is an enjoyable depth of play for a 30 minute simple tableau building game. There is also an added complication of a two tiered scoring system that balances out the gameplay. It isn’t simply a matter of going higher than your opponent. You need to balance between a head to head battle to gain control over each renewable energy source with providing the optimum amount of power to your two cities. Battleline was always a bit to confrontational for me and Hatsuden rounds those edges just enough for me. Be gentle with me, I’m sensitive.

I also enjoyed the ability to place pylons (basically placeholders) which negates the ability to count cards and mitigates the analysis paralysis that is so often an issue in Battleline. I can stare at a hand of Battleline for whole *minutes* trying to do the mental calculus to gauge my best move while in Hatsuden 2-4 placed pylons pretty much knocks the math right out of my head. This leads to a more subtle game of finesse and bluffing where the stronger cards are held back and players slowly inch forward in gaining control. The Special Technology Cards are similar to the Tactics Cards in Battleline. They add some small amount of flexibility but are much simpler.

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The Special Technology Cards

Bottom Line: If you love Oink Games, Battleline, and prefer stark, minimalist iconography and artwork, then Hatsuden a great fit. The point system is layered providing some depth but is still extremely easy to teach. It is tiny and takes up very little space making it a perfect pub game.