Choose your path through the waters: catch fish or shrimp, visit sacred rocks, or enjoy spectacular panoramas in this spiritual successor to Tokaido.
What Is Namiji?
Namiji is a game by Antoine Bauza for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of €60 (about $67USD) for a copy of the game. Namiji is something of a sequel to Tokaido and share some of the mechanics, but knowledge of Tokaido isn’t a prerequisite by any means. The age recommendation seems about right based on the complexity of the gameplay, which is fairly light.
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. The plastic components in the prototype are 3D-printed, but will most likely be injection molded in the final product. The prototype is the Kickstarter edition and reflects what backers will receive if they pledge; there will also be a retail edition later on, which does not have the ship miniatures.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Game board
- 5 Boat boards
- 5 Boat pawns
- 5 Scoring markers
- 60 Panorama cards (15 dolphin, 20 octopus, 25 whale)
- 3 Panorama Bonus cards
- 20 Dock cards
- 20 Sacred Rock cards
- 20 Offering pawns
- 50 Crustacean tokens (30 shrimp, 20 crabs)
- 48 Fish tokens
- 12 Net tokens
- 5 Finish tokens
- Cloth bag
Namiji carries forward the same visual aesthetic as Tokaido, as you can see from the cover and the board design. There’s a lot of blank white space, with a meandering path marked by small, colorful illustrations. It’s a more minimalist feel than a lot of games these days—I happen to like the way it looks, though I have seen complaints from others that it’s not enough color overall, so your mileage may vary. The board is pretty large, and takes up a good amount of table space, so plan accordingly! The scoring track along one edge of the board uses a zigzag path, which feels a little confusing until you get used to it.
The illustration style is also similar, with a polished, cartoony look that has lots of personality. I particularly like the fact that the various boats all have different styles and sails, both in the illustrations and in the actual pawns themselves.
The unique boat designs don’t just make the game look better, but they also give that extra visual distinction for color blind players, though the color selection used may also have enough contrast that it shouldn’t be a problem.
The fish tokens are small cardboard disks, each one depicting a single fish. There are three colors and four fish shapes, which will affect your scoring as you arrange them on your fish rack. Net tokens are rectangular and depict two identical fish.
The cards in the game are all small half-sized cards, which is mostly fine, though it does mean that the text on the cards is fairly small, so get out your reading glasses if you use them.
The offering tokens are small plastic boats that look like paper boats.
Overall, even though this was just a prototype, it looks gorgeous on the table, so I think the finished game will be excellent. Funforge is an experienced publisher so I don’t anticipate Namiji suffering from typical Kickstarter woes.
How to Play Namiji
The goal of the game is to score the most points through various actions along the path.
Each player takes a player board and four offering tokens, which are placed on the marked spaces on the player board. Scoring tokens are placed at the start of the score track, and the boats are placed in a random order on the fishing village at the corner of the main board.
Shuffle the dock cards, the sacred rock cards, and the net tokens separately and place them on the indicated spaces on the board. Turn all the fishing tokens face-down and place them in a pool near the fishing village. The panorama cards (which are not shuffled) are placed in separate stacks in the spots indicated for dolphin, octopus, and whale cards. The crustacean tokens are placed in the bag, which is set nearby along with the finish bonus tokens and the panorama bonus cards.
Decide which direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) players will travel along the path.
In Namiji, turn order is based on which player is farthest behind on the path. Whoever is last in the line takes the next turn; if they are still last after taking a turn, then they continue taking turns until they have passed another player.
On your turn, you may travel as many spaces as you wish, up to the next dock—there are three docks, one in each of the corners (except for where the fishing village is). Some of the spaces have two dots instead of one: these are used for 4 or 5 players, and the first player to arrive there goes on the dot on the main path, and the second player to take that spot goes on the dot above the path and is considered “behind” the player on the main path for turn order.
Each space gives you a particular action:
- Line Fishing: take a fish token (face-up or face-down) from the pool, and then reveal a fish token.
- Net Fishing: take the top net token from the stack.
- Shrimping: draw up to 5 tokens from the bag, but bust if you catch two crabs.
- Panorama (dolphin, octopus, or whale): take the next panorama card for that animal.
- Sacred Rock: draw 2 sacred rock cards, and keep one.
- Offering: place your topmost offering token into the whirlpool.
I’ll give a few more details about the actions.
Whenever you go fishing, you do have the option of “releasing” your catch instead of keeping it—fish go back into the pool, and net tokens go to the bottom of the stack. Your first token must be placed in the top left space of the rack on your player board, and then each subsequent token must be placed adjacent to an existing token. If you complete a row or a column with fish of the same color or fish of the same type, then you immediately score bonus points shown on the player board. (There’s no penalty for completing a row or column that doesn’t match, but you forfeit those points.)
When you go shrimping, you draw tokens one at a time from the bag until you reach 5 tokens, decide to stop, or draw 2 crabs total. If you get 2 crabs, you bust and put the tokens from this turn back in the bag. Otherwise, you score 1 point per token (shrimps and crabs) and place them in the designated space on your player board.
Panorama cards immediately score the point value printed on the card—1 for the first card for any animal, and then increasing as you collect more of the same. You must collect them in numerical order, though you may have all three panoramas in progress at the same time. If you are the first to complete a panorama, you also get the 3-point bonus card.
Sacred Rock cards are worth points if you can complete a particular goal by the end of the game. Draw 2 cards, keep one, and put the other at the bottom of the deck. Sacred Rock cards are kept secret until the end of the game, and there is no penalty if you don’t complete them.
Offerings will cost you points at the end of the game if you have any left on your player board: if you don’t get rid of any, you’ll lose 15 points.
The three docks in the corners of the board are special: you must stop at a dock. When you enter the dock space, you may pick any available space, up to the number of players. (Note that this is a change from the inns in Tokaido, where the first player to arrive always takes the first space.) The player closest to the path will get first choice of cards, but the player furthest from the path will get to leave the dock first.
Once everyone has arrived at the dock, the first player in line draws dock cards equal to one more than the number of players, and chooses one to keep. They pass the remaining cards to the next player, and so on, until everyone has chosen a dock card. The remaining card is placed at the bottom of the deck.
Some dock cards are worth points at the end of the game (like the Bento pictured above), but the majority of them give you a permanent ability that triggers when you take certain actions. Each ability may be used once per space (as applicable), for the rest of the game.
When you complete the loop and reach the fishing village, you take the most valuable finish token still available, and you will no longer take turns. (The finish bonuses are worth 7, 5, 3, 2, and 1 points.) The game ends when everyone has reached the fishing village.
Aside from the points already scored during the game, you reveal sacred rock cards and score points for the ones you’ve completed, as well as any dock cards with points on them. You also lose points if you still have offering tokens remaining on your player board. (Since everything that scores points is represented on your player board or cards, you can also easily double-check your total at the end of the game.)
The player with the highest score wins. (There is no tie-breaker rule.)
Why You Should Play Namiji
Tokaido is a beloved board game that has spawned several expansions since its debut in 2012, as well as a deluxe edition and a collector’s edition: the gameplay is fairly simple, but what makes it fun (and frustrating!) is the way that players can affect each other as they jockey for position along the path. Namiji takes the core mechanism from Tokaido—that the last player in line gets to take the next turn—and builds a new experience on it that ends up feeling a lot like Tokaido but puts a fresh twist on the details.
The only action that remains the same as Tokaido is the panorama cards, and all of the other actions are new. If you’re not a fan of Tokaido, I’m not sure that Namiji is different enough to change your mind; if you are a fan, there are enough differences to make it feel fresh. And for those unfamiliar with Tokaido, Namiji is easy to pick up, and each of the actions are easy to understand, so you can focus on your strategy rather than trying to figure out what everything does.
The freedom to move as far long the path as you want (up to the next dock) is fascinating, because it forces you to choose between guaranteeing a particular desired action later in the path and trying to get some more points through actions before you get there. If you stop now to catch some shrimp, will somebody else skip ahead and take the sacred rock space? But if you jump ahead to the sacred rock, your opponent might be able to take several actions before they catch up to you. (Or, of course, maybe you know that somebody is working hard to collect octopus panorama cards, and it’s time to jump to that space just to make it harder for them.) That dilemma about how far to move is at the heart of the game.
The fishing and shrimping in Namiji add a little bit of press-your-luck to the game. When line fishing, do you take one of the face-up fish or hope that you can get something better by taking the unknown? For shrimping, you can score up to 5 points in a single action, but how far do you keep pushing past the first crab? I’ve seen players with awesome luck score the full 5 points several times, and others draw a crab as the first token and then bust with no points. And, of course, although the bag starts off with 3/5 shrimp, it’s possible to keep a lot more shrimp than crabs, so it only takes a few successful shrimp runs before the odds shift.
That’s one of the ways in which Namiji rewards those who take a particular action early. There are bonus points for completing a panorama first, you get more options if you arrive at the dock first, and drawing sacred rock cards early can help you decide on a tactic because you know what will score bonus points for you. But sailing fast comes with its own drawback: if everyone leaves one player behind, then they can take a lot more actions as they catch up at their leisure.
I also like the puzzle-like aspect of placing fish into your rack: because you’re trying to get matching colors or fish shape filling rows or columns, your options start narrowing each time you place a new token. You have to start in the top left, but the point values increase as you move to the bottom right, so sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice a row or column so that you can build a path to the higher scoring areas. My daughter tried to get a perfect layout (three colors going across the rows, four fish shapes going down the columns) but eventually had to give up in order to score the bottom row before the game ended. One player mentioned this gave him similar feelings to Sagrada: I need exactly one yellow stingray to complete this row and column!
Namiji succeeds for the same reason that Tokaido did: the “last player moves first” mechanic is easy to learn but makes for some tough choices throughout the game. The different ways to score points gives players several options for victory. And, of course, “hate drafting”—taking a space simply because you know somebody else wants it—can be incredibly fun, if your gaming group leans toward cutthroat play. For those looking for a rules-light game with a good dose of player interaction, Namiji is a great catch, whether you’ve played Tokaido or not.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Namiji Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.