Give it a try: you might be hooked.
Alex Randolph was one of the pivotal games designers of the 20th century – that ‘was’ is because he died 15 years ago. Tonari is not the result of a session with some rice wine and an Ouija board; it’s based on an abstract game Randolph created in 1986, Veleno, given a 2019 remix by Bruno ‘Citadels’ Faidutti.
Despite its new fishing theme Tonari is still basically an abstract, built around the hex-based board of the original and the two ideas that drove Randolph’s design. These are: everyone moves the same counter (a fishing boat here) one space at a time to pick up tiles, and at the end your score is added to the score of the player on your right and the player on your left’s score is added to yours.
The tiles on the board are mostly fish and you score by collecting sets of them, some by number and others in Sushi Go!-style combinations. A few tiles give special moves or abilities.
It doesn’t sound like much, but the stroke of genius is the score-sharing. Every turn, you’re looking to help the player who comes after you, setting them up for an optimum move, while preventing the other players getting near the tokens that will do well for them – the profitable five-point pink fish which has to be approached in a very specific way, or the prawns which give eight points to whoever has the most but none to anyone else.
This is the dynamic that makes the game sing. You can play it with two people and it’s solid if unexciting, but the moment three or four are involved it takes off into uncharted waters, as you try to work out what the player before you is trying to make you do and where you should leave the boat for the next player.
Tonari is a simple concept with simple rules and fast play, but for a filler game it has surprising depths. Give it a try: you might be hooked.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Alex Randolph, Bruno Faidutti
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
This review originally appeared in the October 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.