I quite like the unpredictability of dice. And I love the feeling of dice in my hands. Last week we looked at a game all about the dice, this week we’ll reduce the number of dice and up the number of cards. Because this week we have all become mayors of our own small Japanese town, and it’s our job to make it the best town it can be. Machi Koro is a so called engine builder where we as mayors will acquire new establishments for our respective towns, and race the others to first finish certain landmarks that will really put your town on the map. So plow that wheat field and fire up the bakery, because it’s time to play Machi Koro…
Before we get started I need to say that I own the deluxe version of this game. It comes in a tin, and includes both expansions of the game. However, this post will only concern the base game okay? I will write a post on at least one of the expansions later (have only played one of them so far actually), but for now let’s stick to the basic. However, since I only have the deluxe version at hand, that is what I have used for pictures. Compared to the base game, the cards look exactly the same but the money have been upgraded and look nice and pretty. The dice are customised with the 1 being a mountain instead of a pip. But that’s it. Okay? Let’s do this.
Components and Setup
This is a game that fully consists of cards, with some aid from two dice and money tokens. There is no board, but the game might get big, especially if you’re four players. We will go through what each kind of card does in the Gameplay so just go with it for now.
There are two major types of cards: establishments and landmarks. The establishments are in majority and are the cards you will mostly be working with. At the beginning of the game each player will receive their starter establishments: one wheat field, and one bakery. They will also receive a full set of four landmarks: train station, shopping mall, amusement park, and radio tower. These cards are put with the construction side up, and are what you strive to build throughout the game to win. But more on that soon.
In the middle of the table you will create the market. This market consists of all different kind of establishment divided by type and activation value. So first, let’s look at a card so you know what’s what. At the top you will see this activation value. And then there’s the name of the establishment together with a symbol for the kind of establishment it is, a nice picture, and then some text that explains exactly what the card does when activated. In the bottom left corner there’s a yellow circle with a number in it. This is the cost of the establishment. But let’s leave that for now. Just divide all the establishment so that you create piles consisting of all of the same establishment – i.e. one pile of wheat fields, one of bakeries, one of cafés, and so on. And for convenience, order them in descending order of activation value – from 1 to 12.
Each player receives 3 coins, and rolls a die. Whoever gets the highest number will begin the game.
This is a typical but simple engine builder. What does that even mean? Well, it means that you start small and aggregate cards (or whatever the particular game calls for) that produces something which in turn lets you buy more cards to get more product etc etc. In this case we simply want money. Why do we want money? To be able to pay the cost of building all four of the landmarks. Cause whoever finish building their landmarks first is the winner!
How do I get money and how do I buy the cards then? Each turn has three simple steps: roll the die/dice, (hopefully) receive income from activated cards, and purchase an establishment or landmark (if you can/want). When the die is rolled it will activate the cards with the same value as the roll. So let’s have a look at the cards again. There are four different colour of cards: red, blue, green, and purple. That is also the order in which they activate on a specific roll.
Red cards are mean. They activate on another player’s turn, and gives you money from their stash. So if I have the café (a red 3), and you roll a 3, you have to give me a coin. If you do not have enough money to give, you give what you can (if anything). There is no debt that will roll over to your next turn or anything like that though, thankfully. If you owe more than one opponent money WHAT HAPPENS.
Blue cards activate on anyone’s turn and give them money from the bank. That means that if anyone rolls a 1, everyone will get paid for their wheat field.
Green cards activate on your own turn only, and gets you money from the bank.
Purple cards are the worst. They activate on your own turn, and lets you take money from someone else. They are called major establishments, and because these are so mean you can only own one of each kind.
Yes – red, blue, and green cards can be stacked! To keep using the wheat field as example: if you have three wheat fields and someone rolls a 1, it means you will receive 3 coins! This becomes really interesting with higher value cards that depend on other cards. Let’s take my favourite: the Cheese Factory (green 7). The text for that card says that you “Receive 3 coins for each [cow icon] establishment you that you own”. If you have one Cheese Factory and no Ranch (which is the only cow icon card in here) you get nothing. If you have one factory and one ranch, you get 3. If you have one factory and two ranches, you get 6. If you have three factories and 4 ranches, oh mama you’re rich! Each factory will give you 3×4, and then two more times. You suddenly got 36 coins from rolling one measly seven. Now that’s how it’s done!
So how do you get these cool cheese factories and cows and stuff? You buy them of course! After you’ve received income from the establishments that are already part of your city, you can take that money and go to the market. As I mentioned earlier, the number in the yellow circle is the cost of the card. Pay that and it’s yours. You can only buy one establishment per turn. You may also decide to wait and just save your money. Or you know, make a sad face cause you are broke and the die doesn’t like you.
Instead of buying an establishment, you may choose to buy/build a landmark to make your city way cool. You cannot get both an establishment and a landmark on the same turn though. So what’s the difference between them? First of all, landmarks do not need a die roll to activate them. Once they are built, and flipped over to their active side – they stay active. They do not grant you income, but instead give you special abilities. While I did not go through all the different establishment and what they do, I will give you a rundown of the four landmarks:
Train Station (cost: 4) – gives you the ability to roll two dice. Yes, this is what you need to get those higher cards to activate. You always have a choice when it comes to the dice though. Even if this card is active, you can choose to only roll one die.
Shopping Mall (cost: 10) – each establishment with a cup or a house icon (so café, family restaurant, bakery, and convenience store) gives you one extra coin when activated. This means that if someone else rolls a 3, they have to give you two coins instead of one because you have built this shopping mall.
Amusement Park (cost: 16) – if you roll doubles, you get to take another turn right after your current one!
Radio Tower (cost: 22) – lets you re-roll your dice once per turn. If you used both dice you also need to re-roll both. This can be very good, and I tend to always forget I have it.
The person who has finished all four of their landmarks first is the winner. Please keep in mind that you do not have to build them in order. And that’s it. That’s how you play the base game of Machi Koro.
The way the market in the base game works means that you can always play with the same strategy, as long as no one else beats you to it with some lucky rolls. Personally I find that going for Ranches and Cheese Factories works really well. In general it’s a good idea to stock up on the secondary establishments (like Cheese or Furniture Factories) as well as their primary counterpart (Ranches and Forests + Mines respectively). Once you roll right you will get a lot of income in one swoop.
When I’ve played we’ve never really cared about the purple establishments. They’re almost too mean and not really worth it to me. Maybe get one, and base that on how many people you’re playing with. For example, the Stadium gives you two coins from every player and that’s not much use in a two player game. You’re better off stocking up on red cards. In general I say go with red rather than purple. They’re cheaper too. It is a good strategy to have at least one of each activation value, which in the base game means you need to go purple to cover that 6. The success of these cards is also dependent on your opponents having a decent amount of money. The way we always tend to play means they don’t, and so there’s not much use spending a lot of money on a card that could give you 5 coins but in reality will probably get you 1. But I do suggest you get at least a few of the red cards!
Which brings me to buying cards. In general I’ve found it good to be quite aggressive with your buying. If you can afford a card that would be decently good for you: get it! Especially if your opponent is sitting on some red or purple cards. The way I am usually able to afford the bigger landmarks is by having built some good stacks and rolling well, rather than saving up. And sometimes of course you roll really well, and only spend a small part of your income for that roll. But as a rule of thumb: spend your money! Now, if you only have two coins or so, and you’re aiming for a cheese factory, of course save for the next round. But don’t hoard. Someone will most likely take it from you eventually. I have played with newbies who tend to want to hold on to their money in the beginning, while I spend and spend. This results in them having less of a chance of rolling something that generates income, and as such won’t be able to save more. Whereas I get more and more money cause I have a basic engine.
In the very beginning, buy some of the lower value cards. Like ranches, cafés, and convenience stores. That way you get a high chance of income, even if it’s low income, and you keep just spending it all during your turn anyway. But also don’t be afraid of buying one of the higher value cards even before you can roll the two dice needed. It will be good to have them when you do. Of course, I’d suggest only buying a couple in that situation as they won’t actually get you anything and you need a decently steady income. And speaking of this, I almost always try to go for the Shopping Mall before the Train Station. I find that getting that extra coin for my cafés and convenience stores early on is really nice, rather than having the choice of rolling two dice. The Train Station is cheap and I can buy that pretty much any time I feel like it’s time to upgrade to rolling two. Of course I’d have to wait til my next turn but still.
I rather like this game I must say. But I also like dice, and I think they might generally be on my side (now watch me lose every dice game ever in the future). At least I’m not generally super unlucky. Or I’m just good at building my city engine? Anyway yeah, I enjoy playing this, but I have also won every game I’ve played so far. One of my friends said this game is a game that’s not fun enough to lose, and maybe she has a point. But other friends seem to like it well enough.
As I mentioned earlier the market is static which means you can pretty much stick to the strategy you like every single game. This does make it boring after a while. However, in the expansions the market will be made more dynamic and modular, which will fix this problem. And I really love this change. But I’ll talk more about that when I review the Harbour Expansion in a couple of weeks.
While the game does have colour coding for ease of play, it does work fine for colour blind players. The text on the card is clear regarding when the card activates, and whenever you, or anybody else for that matter, roll a number you check the cards anyway. So naturally this game does require the players to be able to read relatively easily in the language of the game. But the text is quite simple, and there is no unnecessary flavour text that could be confusing.
Lastly, quality of the components: Now, I do have the Deluxe edition so I can’t speak for the original. As such see this as a mini review for the Deluxe version. It’s not great I must say. I got it as a birthday gift (which I am very happy and grateful for), and I wanted it because it included expansions. And for that it’s definitely worth it. I wouldn’t call it deluxe. I’d call it big box or something like that. Sure you get custom dice, and a velvet pouch, but let me just say “meh”. The money tokens are nice though, and look better in this Deluxe version. But the cards… oh they’re bad. The card stock itself is decent, but they are so warped! It’s like they’ve been cut in different directions in small batches. And it’s even worse when you mix in an expansion which of course is also warped. So if you think the cards in the photos in this article look kind of brutalised… you’d be mistaken. They have actually been bent a little bit corrected by me rather than the other way around. The dice are good though, and the art is absolutely darling. The look of the game is great!
So in the end this is a great game, but the card quality is questionable and it gets better with the expansions. It’s a game I’d definitely recommend!
- Title: Machi Koro
- Designer: Masao Suganuma
- Publisher: Pandasaurus Games, IDW Games
- Players: 2-4
- Time: ~30 min
- Type: engine builder, cards
- Size: large
- Release year: 2012