Tokyo Highway Review

Well into the age of the auto-mobile in Tokyo and traffic is starting to pile up on the city’s streets. Construction companies have been contracted to fix the traffic calamity by building an elevated highway system. Land is expensive though, so to get from point A to point B, companies are going to take the path of least financial resistance. On top of that, perverse government incentives are being given for building over or under competing companies highways! Who knows what the Tokyo Highway system is going to look like once the project is complete!

2-4 Players | 30 Minutes | Designed by Naotaka Shimamoto and Yoshiaki Tomioka

Tokyo Highway (four player edition) was published in 2018 by a small Japanese publisher called itten. It is a ‘sequel’ or sorts to the original two player version of the game. The two player game gained a lot of attention on its 2016 release (it’s a very photogenic game, there were a lot of Instagram posts about it) but I didn’t get it at the time as it was only two players. I was very pleased to see a 4 player version announced, and picked up a copy when it made its way to one of my local game stores.

A completed game.

How does it work?

Tokyo Highway is a dexterity game where players build a system of intermingling highways. Each player starts the game with a number of cars and some highway building supplies. The first player to place all their cars onto their highway system is the winner!

Initial setup sees each player place a starting section of highway and one building. Buildings act as obstacles during the rest of the game. After setup, players take turns building highways and trying to score. A turn consists of playing one highway segment. You place a pylon stack either one higher or one lower than the previous stack and then place a highway ‘stick’ on top, joining that pylon to the previous end of your highway. Players can only continue building their own highway, and cannot join onto or touch other player’s highways.

To score (to place your cars), your highway needs to satisfy at least one of three conditions (for clarity, highway below means section of highway):

  1. Place your highway over another player’s highway that has no other highway over it;
  2. Place your highway under another player’s highway that has no other highway under it;
  3. Create an exit (highway segment ending on the table).

One highway section placed may satisfy multiple of the above conditions and thus be worth multiple points. For each point earned, the player must place one of their cars on that section of highway.

Each player is also given a small number of junctions which are pillar pieces that allow for some rules to be broken. For example, a player can use one to move up or down more than 1 pylon piece, or to create a branch in their highway.

The first player to place all their cars is declared the winner! Players must be careful though, as knocking over parts of the highway system requires them to rebuild it, and will result in penalties that may mean they run out of construction materials before they can place all their cars.

Is this legal? We say, yes. Because it’s hilarious.

What do I think?

I’ve played Tokyo Highway several times now with 3 or 4 players. It might sound a bit shallow, but the game looks amazing which gives it a significant boost for me. I do really enjoy the gameplay. I tend to like dexterity games, stacking and building ones especially, because I’m not shaky so I tend to win them often.

The Good Stuff

  • Tokyo Highway is one of the few dexterity games I’ve played that really feels like a solid game. I think this is because it is not just based on pure dexterity skill.
  • Building on the above point, the game has a great mix of strategy and dexterity. After a game or two you will find yourself thinking strategically about future turns or blocking other players. Sometimes strategy is limited by your physical capability, sometimes the other way around.
  • The game looks beautiful. The minimalist box and pieces are lovely, and a completed game is extremely photogenic. I usually take pictures while playing (check out my Instagram page!) but this is one of the few games I’ve played where nearly everyone is pulling out their phones to take pictures.
  • The rules are simple enough to explain in a couple of minutes and get playing.
  • The quality of the pieces is great. They are all made out of dense, good quality wood. You can rely on the long thin highway pieces to be flat and straight. Everything is just the right size as well – not too large or small.
  • Each game results in an amazingly different highway system being built. This means that every game you play there is a multitude of varied options, plays and strategies that may be made.
  • The game includes a set of tweezers! These are commonly used and allow players to pull off very ridiculous placements that would otherwise be impossible.

The Bad Stuff

  • While the rules for scoring are simple enough, it can take a little while to fully grasp the concept and even after several games I still get confused. I think the way they are is explained in the rules could be a little clearer.
  • We have found the end-game winning rule to be a little unfair, to the point of house ruling. If you win it is often just because you went first as everyone generally places cars at the same rate so we have started allowing for the round to be finished, with extra cars permitted. If there is a tie after everyone has had the same number of turns, least materials used wins. When players are more experienced and start blocking when they see other players close to victory, this becomes less of an issue.
  • Unfortunately some people are just physically worse at dexterity games due to various reasons and for them this can be a fairly frustrating game to play. Knowing and seeing exactly what you need to do and not being able to execute it is something that comes up a bit in Tokyo Highway.
  • There can be some agonisingly long turns, especially when repairs are involved. If a player knocks down parts of the highway and needs to repair it can be a slow, delicate surgery, resulting in possibly more knocks. In one case we simply called the game because too much damage was done.
  • The box could easily be smaller.
What’s in the box.

I really like Tokyo Highway for its table presence and simple but interesting gameplay. I do worry that the game may soon grow stale as despite each game resulting in a highly unique result, there are some patterns in the strategy and the low variation in starting game state means that it could grow to be a rote activity. This is probably thinking too much into what should be a fun and light dexterity game to pull out for a quick game with friends. For that it’s perfect and generates a lot of laughs, table talk, and photos! Definitely give it a go if you love dexterity games, I think it’s easily one of my favourites in the genre.

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