18 November 2019
Shikoku is all about the arriving..
Named for a Japanese island famous for its 88 temples, Shikoku is another of those games themed around the Far East, produced by people in the Midwest. If the Japanese create board games about receiving Holy Communion in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve not seen any, but this is a game about a Buddhist pilgrimage where, for some reason, the most important thing is the order you arrive at the top of a staircase.
It’s a jockeying-for-position game, with the twist that the winners are the pilgrims who arrive second or second-last. Movement each turn is also based on being in the middle: everyone plays a number card, you only move if yours isn’t second-highest or second lowest, and the amount you move depends on the number of sandals on the card.
It’s fun enough, particularly with a good number of players, but if you’ve played any tactical movement games like this before – from Reiner Knizia’s also-oriental Sakura to the venerable Elefantenparade – you’ll find it strangely austere. I know it’s meant to be a Buddhist pilgrimage, but rules for nudging or jumping would enliven the climb enormously.
The other thing is the staircase. It’s 33 steps, and there’s nothing to do on the way to the top. Sakura has cherry blossom for you to observe without bumping into the emperor, Elefantenparade has logs to collect and water holes to get stuck in, and that makes every move interesting and strategic. In Shikoku there’s nothing to aim for except the final position. There’s an element of optimising your hand of cards over successive turns, but it’s not interesting enough to sustain the whole game.
A wise poet wrote something about it being better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Shikoku is all about the arriving. Personally I’m with the poet.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Eloi Pujadas
Artist: Amelia Sales
Time: 30 minutes
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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