Blending simple, clean colours and a concept that everyone can understand, Tokyo Highway is a dexterity game that is perhaps a bit heavier than most, but still relatively easy to pick up and learn. The stylish use of grey components to represent roads and other concrete features, offset against the colourful cars gives Tokyo Highway real table presence, so it’s capable of appealing to both frequent gamers and those looking to take their tentative first steps into the hobby.
Overview and turn structure
Tokyo Highway is a game for two to four players that focuses on building networks of highways that become increasingly more entangled as the game progresses. The basic concepts are fairly simple — highways must cross each other in certain ways, which is ensured by the players being restricted to certain kinds of highway placement on their turn. Most turns are a simple case of placing one highway section and one new supporting column, which must be higher or lower than the column it is connected to. Only by using yellow junction pieces can players maintain a highway at the same height.
One of several games in which the game can end (and undoubtedly the most positive) is by one player placing all their cars onto sections of the highway. A car can be placed only when a section of highway is placed over or under one or more other sections. Whilst it is aspirational to be able to do this on every turn, it’s just not going to happen like that — often you’ll need to wheel back away from the action and then back in again. Another way to place cars is by creating an exit ramp that takes the highway back to ground level. In doing so, you’ll create a perfect section for other players to pass over, however.
Turns in Tokyo Highway proceed with the players taking turns one after another to place their column pieces and sections of highway, with cars being added when appropriate. It isn’t long before the whole construct begins to look quite precarious, with roads crossing each other and columns looking misaligned due to constant nudging. Aside from a myriad of rules about legal and illegal placement, the procedure for handling knocking pieces off the structure is also included in the manual and there are also elimination conditions such as using up all your column pieces.
The components in Tokyo Highway are excellent, despite their simplicity. Essentially, each road section is just a wooden lollipop stick painted grey, whilst the column pieces are simple wooden disks. The cars provide glorious spots of colour against this otherwise very sleek background and then there are four grey wooden buildings thrown into the mix to complicate the board state.
Outside these core gameplay components, Tokyo Highway contains just a large, brief instruction booklet that does an excellent job of teaching the game — despite some fiddly rules — and a pair of tweezers used to handle some of the intricate pieces. I actually found the tweezers to be harder to use than my own fingers, although there are occasionally going to be very complex networks of roads that need a bit of extra reach and a slightly clearer view.
In short, I think that the look of Tokyo Highway is one of its most appealing features and that is delivered entirely by these excellent components. This is a really impressive game when set up and in full flow and I challenge anyone to look at it and find it ugly. Sure, there’s a lot of grey, but that’s a stylistic choice that I think really works here, capturing the concrete madness of the titular theme perfectly.
There are two schools of thought to come from when considering whether Tokyo Highway is right for you or not. There’s the competitive, hardcore approach that will the game as a highly competitive, relatively complex dexterity game and then there are the casual players, who will likely play just for fun. The former audience will appreciate the complexity and additional weight which isn’t often seen in dexterity games, especially where pieces like the junctions come into play, or the rules for what is considered a legal crossover for the purpose of placing cars.
Whilst I am usually at the more competitive end of the spectrum and I enjoy more strategic, complex games, I probably side with the casuals more often in relation to dexterity games. Playing Tokyo Highway over Christmas has meant that I played it most often with people who rarely play games and as a result I taught it with some very relaxed interpretations of the tougher or more competitive rules. When played with some of the more exacting requirements described in the manual, Tokyo Highway felt a bit too serious for me, given that it might all come tumbling down at any moment.
Everyone who played it agreed that it is an exceptional looking game and thanks to how fast it plays and how easy it is to teach, I did end up with some marathon sessions that never bored me. Anyone involved in a game of Tokyo Highway will work out their own way of “beating” the game and therefore you can never second guess what one player will do compared to the next.
The best laughs often come when it all goes wrong, of course, and so I refer back to my previous statement about the whole thing coming crashing down. When someone does knock over a large section of the game, you could wade through the rules to determine how best to resolve it — or you could just say they lose and start again. The best thing about Tokyo Highway in my opinion is that it provides a beautiful set of pieces and a great structure for someone sensible to build house rules around, as well as offering a hardcore experience for those who want it.
In conclusion, Tokyo Highway is an attractive and versatile dexterity game that is on the heavier side of the genre, if you play it as the rules state. That, in itself, might be exactly what you’re looking for and if so then I think that it will make a fantastic addition to your collection. On the other hand, if you want something lighter and more fun, then it might still fit the bill, but be prepared to make modifications to the basic set of rules in order to adjust it for your group.
A copy of Tokyo Highway was provided for review purposes, and can be purchased from all good local games stores. For online purchases, please visit 365 Games