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You can go your own way on the Tokyo Highway!

The Tokyo Highway box. The box itself is grey with Tokyo Highway in capital letters written in a white font

Players 2-4 Ages 8+ Game Time: 30-50 minutes

Tokyo Highway Board Game Review

For those of you who watched last year's May the 4th 24-hour livestream and saw my absolutely dreadful attempt at Operation - Star Wars, you'll know that dexterity and fine motor skills are really not my strong point... I am also somewhat of a klutz. You might be surprised, therefore, to find that I was keen to give Tokyo Highway a go when the hubby and I were playing games at our friendly 'local' game café, The Treehouse in Sheffield ( .

Designed by Naotaka Shimamoto and Yoshiaki Tomioka, and produced by a small Japanese publisher called itten (, Tokyo Highway (2018) is a 2 to 4-player dexterity game in which players build a system of intermingling highways, competing to place all their cars first.

The game is inspired by the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway; With an aim to reduce congestion, it was opened in Tokyo in 1962 with a mere length of 4.5km. With a 1964 major sports event on the horizon, cheap available land had to be chosen to rush the construction, leading to a complex structure. Over the years it was added to, and today it extends to a majestic 310km.

Opening the grey game box you are greeted by rules sheets in English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish and the following wooden components, as well as a pair of tweezers:

  • Cars - ten of each of the four colours (blue, green, pink and orange)

  • Buildings - four types

  • Road sticks - x 36 (these are essentially thick popsicle sticks)

  • Columns - grey x 80 and yellow x 8


The game starts with each player placing a grey column, a road and a car around the central area of the table as per the rulebook illustration for each player count, this is each player's highway entrance. For the 3-/4-player game, each player also places a building in a location of their choice. These buildings then act as obstacles.

The goal of the game is to construct your highway using columns and road sticks, placing your cars on the highway by building roads across (above or below) your opponents' highways. You win if you play all of your cars before your opponents.

A player turn consists of the following actions:

1) Build a column

Build one column to which to extend your road. It can be placed anywhere that is reachable with a road from your current base point (a column or junction built in a previous turn). The height of the column must be exactly one above or one below the height of the base point (unless using a junction).

2) Build a road

Place a road between your base point and your column following the placement rules:

  • The road must rest on column tops and within their bounds

  • It can be stacked or placed adjacently on a single column

  • Do not build over columns

  • Don't reconnect highways to themselves

  • Don't touch other roads, columns or cars

3) Place a car

You may place a car if you cross over a road that has no road above it, or cross under a road that has no road below it. Depending on how cunningly you build, this can result in placing more than one car. Cars can be placed on any part of the newly constructed road. If you can ground a road safely to the table you create an exit to your highway and gain the benefit of placing an additional car. You may not start a new road from the exit, so time this wisely such as to place your final car or because you have used a junction.

There may be times where you place no cars on your turn, as you can chose to just extend your highway. This could be when don't fancy a risky placement, to help with future turns, or maybe just to make it awkward for an opponent.

On your turn you can chose to build a junction using one of the yellow columns. This allows you to freely chose the height of the column stack regardless of the height of the base point, and can also allow you to branch your highway in two directions.

You'll be surprised at how much thought can come into each of your moves, as you figure out distances and ideal placements whilst being careful not to knock things over, and decide how best to help yourself whilst not giving an advantage to an opponent. You are also weighing up the risk of trying to achieve multiple car placement through strategic weaving because of the penalty system; if you knock over your opponent's cars, columns or roads you must hand over the equivalent number of columns (grey or yellow) as a penalty. This becomes an increasing danger as the highways grow. When the hubby and I played we'd accidentally not fully followed the rules and were handing over road sticks instead. That said, I can see no reason why you can't house rule giving over other components for a harsher version.

When components are dislodged, play only continues after the displaced parts are fixed by the player responsible for the damage. This can be rather tricky and its wise to have a stable table. As the rulebook doesn't specify, I guess it's up to you to decide whether penalties continue for any additional components you dislodge whilst trying to fix things... When we played, sometimes the hubby did help me a little in rebuilding things, and I don't feel that it detracts from the spirit of the game if you do assist each other in this way just to keep the game flowing.

The first player to place all of their cars is the winner with the other players continuing for subsequent rankings. This is where strategising can come in for finding ways to place multiple cars in one turn to get the advantage over your opponent.

There can be times when due to penalties no player finishes playing all their cars. If you ever run out of construction materials, your opponents go on to play their next turns and you'll lose immediately if they complete their turns without penalty, with players continue playing until only one player has remaining construction materials.

As you get nearer the endgame, the game feels really intense. Your hands are shaking and you are willing them to be steady, as they defiantly decide to shake all the more. You find yourself holding your breath, and bobbing up and down and side to side as you eye up your next placement. Dare you do that tricky weave to be able to place more than one car, or is it too risky?

What is great is that (at least personally) it doesn't really feel like there is downtime between each of your turns as your opponents play, as you find yourself intently watching their placements (whilst secretly... or not so secretly hoping they will knock components over). Whilst you wait for your turn to come around you can also be thinking about your next placement.

There is, however, the distinct advantage over other dexterity games, e.g. Jenga, that you are not out of the game if you knock things over. That said, some people may find the penalty system a little frustrating; if there is a bit of a domino effect that leads to multiple component collapses it can be difficult to reconstruct the respective highways as close as possible to how they were, particularly if memory is something you struggle with. For some it may feel like it's a bit futile to continue if there is a catastrophic tumble. The rules don't specify what you should do if there is a domino-effect disaster, some groups may just burst out into laughter mixed with despair and start again, after all games should be about having fun!


The wooden components are really sturdy and I love the colour scheme with the grey road sticks and column pieces and the colourful car meeples. Anyone who likes to fiddle or stim will love them. The overall minimalist feel of the game is brilliant. The components will certainly withstand the test of time and older children will be fine with them (there are small components that could be a choking hazard for younger children). The game is super aesthetically pleasing on the table. The rulesheets are made of a thick matte paper and are large single fold sheets with no staples. Other than little plastic bags e.g. for the car meeples it feels quite environmentally friendly.

The rules themselves are easy to understand, meaning that you can quickly get stuck in and play, and the rules manual also contains helpful illustrations. I would have preferred a slightly more accessible font size, with non justified text to be more dyslexia friendly. There is the option to download the pdf on the publisher's website for anyone who might find screen readers beneficial for understanding rules

Tokyo Highway Conclusion

A d6 die face showing five pips, each pip the head of the Diary Of A Lincoln Geek mascot Ink the imp

Overall I really love Tokyo Highway, the hubby and I couldn't resist buying a copy before we left the Treehouse game cafe and I know it'll see lots of play on our table. This beautiful, minimalist game is fun and simple whilst being really strategic. The production quality is great and it looks fabulous on the table. It has plenty of replayability as each players highway will vary every game. It's a dexterity game, so will not be for everyone and some people will find the penalty system and rebuilding after tumbles frustrating but overall I think a lot of people will love playing it, even those who are a bit of klutz like me!

Your resident Word-nerd


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