James Nathan Spencer
So last week a went to a buddy's house warming party, and played a game of Loco Motive that, for me, illustrates the beauty and genius of this game.
When I first spent the holidays with my wife's family, her father would bring out small, 100-piece children's jigsaw puzzles that he had procurred from the dollar-store, her grandfather would offer up a roll of nickels, and in teams of 2 or 3, you'd race to put them together, "Speed Puzzles" we called it. It was fun. Not unlike the first half of Galaxy Trucker - but: in teams (a +), and there was a right answer - which, though it could be hard to find the right piece, it was rewarding when you did, and, well, they were 100 piece kids puzzles, it wasn't that hard.
It was more about the team-work and the divison of labor with a little bit of speed puzzle solving.
And one thing that struck me when I picked up some of these puzzles to continue this tradition elsewhere, is it that it doesn't work on an individual basis. The key is playing in teams, and it does more than its fair share to even out the individual skill levels of the puzzlers.
Tokyo Train is all about the team-work and the division of labor with a little bit of speed puzzle solving.
You play in teams of two - one person the train conductor, the other the passengers. But the passengers got on in the wrong order (huh?), and the conductor needs them to sit in a specific arrangement (what?). I'm not a fan of theme in my games, but I love the theme of my games - and even when I'm learning some new edition of Tier auf Tier, or Geistes Blitz, I insist on knowing what the theme is. The theme here is absurd, but serves its purpose dutifully, and I would have difficulty explaining the game without it.
(I'd played Tokyo Train/Loco Motive on 26 occasions prior to this evening. I had a friend who was attending Essen for the first time in 2009, and my sole request was to return with a copy of Tokyo Train. Though I like the name and packaging of the original better, I enjoy the extra language cards that LM comes with. Really, either set is sufficient, and that's enough talking about the different versions.)
I'm a quiet person, who hates games where I have to perform. I can move my cubes and play my cards, but I'm going to steer clear of things like Times Up, because that's too much performance.
I'm a quiet person, though, who loves to have sudden bursts of screaming. Especially if its about being right. And if I can beat you.
And that's what I find here: can I frantically wave my arms and shout ambiguous words better than my opponents.
And this game is a drag race. Each team on your mark, set, (Wait! We're not rea-) 123GOOOO!! And you're off to the races, and then its over.
I like games with multiple paths to victories. That is, do I wait and plan out an optimal strategy, or issue more commands more quickly? Is it better to do a few adjustments with different colors each time, or more adjustments, but that may use the same color and likely occur faster because they require less mental translation?
I like that this game is a balance beam where I can't afford the time to see how other teams are doing. We have no time for that. And each time you pause to think about how to give directions, or wait on your partner to provide direction - there is this sinking feeling in your stomach as you fear your team is about to fall.
This game can struggle with that performance anxiety. Sometimes you pull out the box, and bodies sulk away from the table. Guys, where are you going? Guys, come back? Please? We can play something else, I guess....
But a few months ago, I discovered something I love: playing this game with drunkards at around 1 AM.
I was at a party at my friend Josh's house (These are not going to be people's real names). And he's into board games, but recently had a child, and his wife has been in school, so he yearns to play more games, but has other priorities. But sometimes he throws parties. And while these aren't centered around board games, there are usually enough people that we can rangle together a few small games of something.
During our high school years, we'd go to his house, and it was a basement full of video games, and, though I moved away during college, they continued to play video games into the morning most nights. Blake was tells story of how there was a standing policy that a hole-in-one during a game of Mario Golf resulted in the player stripping down to his boxers and running down the street. (He noted one encounter with the police during such a run).
At a recent party, I squeezed in some games of For Sale and Parade, but talking and drinking and loudness usually overcome any attempt at meatier games. But, around one AM, there was some request for Tokyo Train. I, of course, had brought it, and obliged. I'm not a drinker, and I counted one other sober person, and several people having trouble standing at this point. In this house, Josh had a small round kitchen table, but I set the game up for three teams of two, and, being the only person who had played before, set myself up with the girl having the most trouble standing upright.
And it was a blast. Like I said, normally, I have trouble rounding people up to play, but on this night, on this occasion, when I grew tired of playing, and put it away, they asked to get it back out! Even the time my partner failed to give me any correct directions before another team achieved the card, it was a blast. It was a loud party, and required that much more screaming, was that much harder to hear your opponent, and that much better for the wear.
So Josh moves into a bigger house, gets a large square dining room table, and has a housewarming party. Somebody tells the story about Mario Kart, and somebody brings moonshine.
I had assumed that the memorable and joyful late night drunken game of Tokyo Train was a flash in the pan, and unreproduceable event, that I would savor in my memory, but never try to reproduce because I could only be disappointed. But, it turns out, I was wrong.
I was about ready to leave the party, turned to my wife, gave her the I'm-ready-to-go-home signal, but then the requests came to play Tokyo Train. Josh had acquired his own copy since the last party. There were 8 of us left, and we set up 4 sets on his table. Six of the eight of us had been drinking, drinking some moonshine, and then Blake drank some more moonshine.
Now, I may not play this game completely by the rules. It feels a little like Telestrations to me in that regards - who knows how to keep score. We play a set, play another set, switch roles, play two sets, then switch partners, then switch partners, then switch partners.
My team(s) won most of those games, with Blake getting increasingly agitated. And the game getting louder. Something about that night, or the acoustics of that room... but that was the loudest game I've ever played. We were all shouting as loud as we could, and each person could hardly make out what there partner was saying. It was a little dim and difficult to tell the yellow apart from the brown.
I realized that the partners were in a set rotation, and I wasn't getting to play with several of the people, so I called everyone into the kitchen, then we all went back to the table at different spots. Played a round, then rotated. I was the passenger's to Blake's conductor. 123GOOOO....TOKYO TRAIN!!!
He flexes, raising his fists in victory, and growling.
Then he's in the kitchen taking his pants off, and then he's out the door as the rest of us make it on the porch to watch him run down the street.
Tokyo Train, you're the best.
Great story about a great game indeed. There should be a special category "games to play when you're drunk". You say you don't like it, but Time's up with drunk people is great. We had a game where Mozart was seriously guessed several times in each of the 3 rounds, even when he was never in the cards.
James Nathan Spencer
I feel confident I would love guessing, I just don't want to be the guy trying to get the other people to guess.
I want more drinking-friendly games. Jenga just doesn't cut it any more...
You play in teams of two - one person the train conductor, the other the passengers. But the passengers got on in the wrong order (huh?), and the conductor needs them to sit in a specific arrangement (what?). I'm not a fan of theme in
my games, but I love the theme of
my games - and even when I'm learning some new edition of Tier auf Tier
, or Geistes Blitz
, I insist on knowing what the theme is. The theme here is absurd, but serves its purpose dutifully, and I would have difficulty explaining the game without it.
My wife and I toured Japan a few years ago (Osaka, Kyoto, Iga, Tokyo, and Fuji in 7 days). You can get across the whole country by train, and those longer rides typically have assigned seating -- if that helps you swallow the theme. We were always on the wrong train, or in the wrong seat. It was fun. (Seriously, on our trip to Iga we got on the wrong train and were going to miss our stop. When the conductor came through to check our tickets, they noticed this, and they stopped the whole train to let us off so we could make the right connection. Stupid Americans giving westerners a bad name...