Did you know that in Japan, a mayor can start a city with nothing more than a wheat field and a bakery, create a bustling empire for his constituents, and ensure that her rival shichou can’t get their cities up to snuff all in 30 minutes or less? This is your goal in Machi Koro, one of the latest quirky, short-form Japanese games to finally get an English translation in 2014.
Machi Koro is a deceptively simple card and dice game that combines elements of deck building (think Dominion), strategy/resource management (think Catan), and plain, old-fashioned luck. On each turn, players roll, collect income, and construct. Your goal is to build the four landmarks that make your town the best in the land: a radio tower (can you hear me now?), a train station (zoom!), an amusement park (whee!), and a shopping mall (oh you betcha). The first player to construct all of these wins—it’s that easy. Or is it?
Along the way, you will construct a set of secondary establishments that alternately help or harm either you or your opponents. Once built, each card has an effect that is triggered when players roll the dice at the start of their turns. The kicker is that the effects of all cards on the table trigger no matter which player is rolling the dice. So each player could collect a coin from the bank, or all players may get to steal a coin from the roller. The strategy of the game lies in weighing the cost/benefit of constructing various buildings and in playing your opponents against one another.
The Good, the Meh, and the Ugly:
Machi Koro is a good deal of fun and very well suited to players who want something quick and easy to learn but still intelligent. Four inexperienced players should be able to get through a game in around 35 minutes, and old-hats will have this down to a 25 minute game in no time. Pieces and parts of the game are solidly constructed and delightful, and the box includes enough spots to store the game bits without fear of unpacking everything only to have it fit poorly back into its original container.
The artwork is, in this humble writer’s opinion, merely OK. The box cover art was intriguing, but the graphics on the cards look a bit like they were designed by the architects of Disney Japan if they were watching too much My Little Pony. IDW also could have done a better job with their dice. Machi Koro includes two D6s, but they look as if they were scavenged from an old Yahtzee! set. Despite the pop art theme, the designers missed out on an opportunity to include cute dice.
The major downside to Machi Koro is that it always requires more than two players. The game says it is suitable for two to four players, but with only two players, the game’s more interesting mechanics of stealing from and screwing over one’s opponents fall flat and some of the inherent chaos of the game is lost.
For the casual gamer, those who are drawn towards zippy games, and anyone who brings a short game along to play before, after, or on the side of an epic game like Twilight Imperium, Machi Koro is ideal. This strange little game isn’t going to satisfy people used to epic deck or city-building games, but especially with its new Harbour Expansion (extending the game to a possible five players and adding more complexity), Machi Koro is enjoyable, re-playable, and well worth the $30 or less price tag.
While Machi Koro is intense and encourages you to thwart your opponents at every turn, the fast-paced and light-hearted nature of the game means it’s unlikely to make your best friend toss the game pieces in frustration the third time you steal all their money.
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