Review: Machi Koro

machi-koroFrom IDW games, in Machi Koro players are small village mayors trying to expand their community into a blossoming city. For 2-4 people, it plays in about 20-40 minutes. The goal of the game is to be the first to build all 4 key landmarks within their town, indicating they are the most prosperous community.

Turns of play are rather simple. Players roll a die (or 2 if they build a special location) and collect any income matching the die roll with any establishments they have. They then can build one location. This can be an establishment from a common supply of cards, or one of their 4 special landmarks.

As a twist, some locations will function during other player’s turns. Additionally, some locations force the player rolling the die to fork over cash, or potentially they’ll collect money from other players. Some establishments have a higher payout depending on other locations within your town. Lastly, bonuses and income for the cards are additive, so having multiple copies of the same location is beneficial.

There are a limited number of cards for each type of location. There are also some location types that can only have one copy per community. So when trying to work on income combinations, this can lead to a race to acquire desirable cards.

You end up with an interesting dynamic of trying to cover a decent spread of different die outcomes, all the while trying to minimize your opponent’s income. There are locations out there that can benefit everyone provided the right die roll is made. This adds a giddy gambling feel making it a pleasant, light engine building game with a bit of luck thrown in.

The Good – This is a filler type of game. Something light that doesn’t require a ton of explanation yet still has a smudge of strategy. You can opt for low cost cards that work on a single die, or spend more cash for establishments that give better payouts on two dice. Or you can try to dabble a bit in both and work the angle of getting income from just about any die roll. What works for the game is that players can collect income if anyone rolls a number that matches key establishments they own. It really keeps everyone engaged.

The design of the cards is well done, matching types of income conditions based on the card color, as well as through text. The icons are simple and the design of the cards has a cute cartoon feel which is colorful.

The Bad – There is a lot of luck here which might turn people off. Also, sadly the game can creep into having a repetitive nature. Setup and the available cards are always the same so you aren’t going to get the breadth of options in play. Players can easily find themselves slipping into set strategies.

The Verdict – I like Machi Koro. It’s a fun family game that’s light with enough choices to make it interesting. I think the major aspect of the game which makes it so much fun is how income can be earned. It’s not always based on what you roll during your turn. You can also get income on other player’s turns, and with the right combination of establishments you can get a huge payout. It allows you to grasp that gambling feel by the tail and revel in it, which does adds a sort of interaction at the table.

A big detraction however is the similar game setup and lack of card diversity. There are expansions floating around which would seem to alleviate this some. I’ve taken to using a modified setup, splitting the location cards into separate decks based on the die roll number needed to induce their effect. By limiting the pool of available cards to pick up and play to only 10 types of cards, you end up with just enough limits to make for hard choices, but not completely slow down the game.

However I guess I can forgive Machi Koro for being light. It doesn’t wallow in that pretentiousness of being anything more than a filler game. The mechanics are not groundbreaking but the idea of allowing resources to be gained on other player die rolls works wonders. It helps slip the game from a ho hum, engine building, resource acquisition game to something more exciting. The theme is light, matching the art on the cards and it works. Machi Koro isn’t a deep experience. It needs a little tweak to the game setup to add some variety after several plays. However it’s also something that provides great fun, especially if looking for a family game.

[EDIT: Figure I’d add my tweak to the base game from the Harbor expansion which introduces using a single deck for locations. Cards are drawn from the deck until there are 10 types available. Similar cards stack up in piles, and if a type is exhausted a new card is drawn and either added to existing piles or placed in the supply as a new location. So 10 different locations are always available and may be of varying numbers.

For my games, I split location cards into 3 decks. One deck is for locations of 1-5 , one deck for unique landmark locations (purple 6 cards that is made as per the rules. i.e. 1 card of each type for each player), and a third deck for the 7-12 locations. Four cards each are drawn from both the 1-5 and 7-12 location decks, while only 2 are drawn from the 6 location deck. As per the Harbor expansion, there must be 10 total different locations available and multiple copies are just added to existing draw piles.

You’ll end up with 10 different location cards that are always available (4-2-4). This adds just a little more challenge and using random (but limited) available locations allows for some different play strategies.]

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