The hotness (noun): a game generating buzz and excitement, capturing the zeitgeist of a convention.

“Do you have the hotness? Shut up and take my money.”

Yes, every convention has a hotness, and at the recent Tokyo Game Market that hotness was (fittingly) Tokyo Highway, an elegantly abstract dexterity game for two players.

Despite having early access to the hall and heading straight to the publisher’s stand, we barely managed to snatch one of the last copies.

Why so popular? Partly because this photogenic little game is social media gold; mostly because it promises a fresh twist on a tired genre – and actually delivers.

Tokyo Highway is bottled lightning for Itten Games.

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Theme

Two rival construction companies compete to build grey, minimalist stretches of highway – like a city skyline refined and reduced to its bones.

Sound dull?

Fortunately, the rulebook provides a Rosetta Stone in beautifully eccentric style:

“Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway was formed conspicuously complicated design with many curves and multiple grade separations. Today, 310 kilometers of highway network has been built and became very unique urban expresway, with no similarities seen in the world.”

Those columns and connecting beams could be anything – trade routes, jungle bridges, whatever – but somehow they are precisely one thing. We’re building Tokyo’s spidery highways!

It all clicks into satisfying place with that description and a moment’s play.

Without a single character or ‘zany’ mechanic, Tokyo Highway pulsates with its own distinct tone and sense of place. It’s elegantly abstract: it cuts to the heart of things.

Mechanics

Players have a bunch of thick grey disks (pillars), thick yellow disks (junctions) and very thin wooden beams (roads). They also have tiny, brightly colored cars for scoring.

  Burano

Each turn, a single stack of pillars of variable height is placed anywhere on the table, free-form style, so long as a linking road connects it to the rest of the player’s network.

Points are scored each time a road crosses above or below the opponent’s highway. This is where those cars come in handy, and are carefully placed on the beams to keep track.

Tokyo Highway gets tangled and knotty fast, so there’s a penalty for accidentally knocking over your opponent’s highway.

In practice, you’ll pick it up in about a minute. There are a few more rules that force conflict and implement junctions, but Tokyo Highway is basically about spatial awareness and steady hands.

The game finishes when one player runs out of building material (mostly because they keep knocking stuff over) or manages to score all their cars.

That’s it – everything emerges organically from these constraints.

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Components

Despite (or because of) their minimalist design, the components bring Tokyo Highway to life.

Words really cannot convey just how tiny the cars are, or how satisfying it is to place them in just-the-right-place with a pair of tweezers.

That’s right – each player has a set of plastic tweezers that narrow to a fine point and feel medical in their precision. They’re funny at first, but you soon realize they’re vital for tricky plays.

Everything in the box gives an impression of attention to detail, from the restricted color palette to the slightly rough ends of the wooden beams.

Tokyo Highway is not an expensive production, but it is a quality one.

What do others think?

This is fresh from the factory, folks!  I can’t find a single English review of Tokyo Highway anywhere.

  The Best of ゲムマ

Leave a comment below if you’ve tracked one down, otherwise I’ll check periodically to add to this section.

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Conclusion

Personally, nothing scares me away from a game like the word dexterity.

That’s because: (a) this usually means thrashing about the table as quickly as possible, like button-mashing in real life; and (b) I’m really bad at these games.

But Tokyo Highway is a dexterity game like Operation is a dexterity game, which is another thing entirely.

It’s a bento box filled with miniature food – careful, precise and inexplicably satisfying.

5 tiny cars out of 5.

Number of players: 2

Playing time: 30 mins

Age: 8+

Country: Japan

By: Itten Games

39.99€ at NiceGameShop