Tag Archives: relaxing

Tokyo Highway

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.

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.

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

Shephy

Shephy (pronounced ‘Sheppie’judging by the reimplementation) is quite simply a modern classic.

Released in 2013 by veteran Japanese tabletop / RPG publishers Bouken – also charmingly known as Adventure Planning Service – it was both designed and illustrated by Pawn (ポーン). This light, surreal solitaire balances between whimsy and meaningful choices.

But Shephy isn’t going to drive you insane with agonizing dilemmas.

It’s a meditative exercise. Protect the herd when you can; sacrifice it when you must. I think I’m in love.

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Theme

It’s not often that quoting directly from the rulebook is a good way to convey theme. In this case it’s perfect:

Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill the earth.
Flourish in every part of the land and let the tread of golden hooves resound.
Let calamity be inspiration and have a plan for any purpose.

This poem continues for some time, sketching out a gentle yet fragile post-apocalyptic world. Sheep – the meekest of creatures – have inherited the earth, and are filled with hereditary urges to populate its vast, empty fields.

As both designer and illustrator, Pawn has complete control of this vision.

Every woolly fatality by lightning strike, falling rock or asteroid feels tragic. There’s just something touching about the noble ambitions of these sheep married with their plump, round, woefully impractical biology.

Mechanics

The game’s population is represented by 49 sheep cards of ascending value (1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, 1000 – seven of each). These are moved around seven play slots, representing the land available to grow and expand.

You’ll start with one sheep, and from there things can only improve, although that first expansion is never quite explained…

Manage your hand of event cards to guide this flock through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Duplicate, subtract, divide and combine your furry citizens in a glorious march to outproduce the game’s timer – the black sheep.

Players win by reaching a population of at least 1000 by the end of three rounds.

Although it’s possible to lose in the first round (even the first hand), there’s usually a path to victory once you understand the different cards. The challenge then becomes beating your previous score.

Choose a card; do the thing. Simple.

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Components

There are no chips, counters or dice here – only cards on nice, premium stock.

But just look at those sheep! Each card has a unique illustration, from the weird acrobatics of population markers to the grim portents of the event cards (what exactly is a Shephion?).

It won’t be to everyone’s taste but clearly I’m a fan.

If there’s one complaint (I’m contractually obligated to have at least one) it’s that Shephy isn’t quite as portable as it feels like it should be. At 72 cards, it’s a fairly substantial deck, and won’t exactly fit in your back pocket.

This is probably the inspiration behind the previously mentioned reimplementation, which is the same game in miniature.

What do others think?

Shephy is rated 6.8 on BoardGameGeek and reviewers generally approve – although rarely with the same enthusiasm I feel.

If you are looking for a light, fast solo game, that won’t burn your brain, Shephy could be just what you baa-gained for.

David Harding

I play this game as a kind of restful, self-imposed exile from other min-maxing, heartier games that my group loves.

Michael C

If the idea of sitting alone on a tea break and indulging in some hot sheep on sheep action while defending your flock from all the worst bits of the bible does it for you, then I urge you to give this a try.

Mike B

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Conclusion

Shephy is a gateway game.

Don’t take that for the insult sometimes suggested. This is a gateway to solitaire play, a field I’ve previously associated with fiddly World War Two simulations and big boxes that you could – technically, if you really wanted to, we suppose – play on your own.

With Shephy, I’m finally able to game over my morning coffee. And doesn’t everyone deserve a moment of zen?

4.5 sheepskin rugs out of 5.

Number of players: 1

Playing time: 15 mins

Age: 12+

Country: Japan

By: Pawn

Price: 19.99€ at NiceGameShop