Ever bought a house? It's crazy overly complicated. Not to put anyone off, but it takes time, patience, dedication and an ability to listen to a solicitor drone on and on about facts and figures... So imagine trying to purchase a business and then create profit and produce from it, that must be a house tenfold. Now imagine buying and running a city. Effectively being the mayor but with less bling and more property development. That would be like running several businesses all at once! And then turning a profit there too, sounds impossible right? Well, Machi Koro by Pandasaurus Games has you doing just that; running a city and turning a profit. The game is for 2-4 players and plays in about 30 minutes.
Machi Koro is an engine builder - Don't worry, it's not as technical as it sounds. You purchase assets to generate income to let you purchase more assets. Spend money to make money! Not all engine builders run on money but a resource is gained through specific instances. For Machi Koro, it's a dice roll.
The game starts with each player receiving a wheat field, a bakery, three coins and four unopened attractions. All other establishments are stacked in individual piles ready for purchase on the table. The aim of the game is to open all four attractions first by paying their cost. Sound simple? Well it is! But it's not as black and white as earn cash and splash it.
Every turn players roll to generate income and then spend income (should they choose to). Every establishment owned has an associated dice roll to say when they activate. E.g. a card with a one result will activate when a one is rolled. Some cards activate on the active player's turn, some on everyone's turn, and some on opponents turns. These are blue, green and red, respectively. A player can own any number of these at any one time, and card stack, other than purple cards. These are powerful and a player can only own one of each.
Each turn, players roll a dice to determine where income is generated and players then check to see who gains it. Cards activate in order, red (to take income from the active player), then green and blue. If a player has no money to be taken then it's tough luck for the thieving players! The active player can then choose to purchase one card, should they wish to, or open an attraction. The effects of this card are active as of the next player's turn.
The game ends when any player has all four attractions open. They are the magnificent mayor of their town and claim glory. Praise be upon them!
What's It Like To Play?
Wonderfully charming! There are no poor elements to Machi Koro; players are responsible for their own lack of structures and cash. The dice roll can't be blamed if you didn't purchase any cards that activate on an eight, that's player choice. What can catch you is the combinations of cards. As the game progresses you will activate an attraction which enables you to roll two dice. This means more structure activation chance, particularly for those with seven+ activation. But these higher value cards often coincide with other values of cards; more money based on what cards you have. We've had instances where a player has cashed in one over 15 coins! Madness.
The main appeal from the outset is its aesthetics. It's genuinely gorgeous in a sickeningly sweet way. The sort of art you'd expect to see in a children's book, but that artwork supports the theme really well. The different elements of the cards are easy to understand and the establishment being purchased is clearly different to the rest. Charming does quite cut it. Adorable may be more appropriate!
There are multiple approaches to the game, all of which are completely viable. You can stack certain cards and cash in on a specific dice roll. Slow, but big reward. You could spread the board and have one of each card. You'll get less cash but more frequently. Or you could focus on blue cards to ensure you get cash when everyone else does, again cash but infrequently. There is no doubt the argument that statistics comes into it; seven will always come out the most in a two die roll. Normally I'd agree, but the chaos and improbability of predicting a roll perfectly means it's no guarantee! Plus, generally speaking, die results only appear on one or two types of cards, so sevens will only benefit on your own turn.
Machi Koro doesn’t present itself as stressful. Its charming artwork and easy flowing system allow you to take it all in as needed. You can plan a turn ahead to some degree and still cash in on others' turns. It can sometimes be frustrating when you don't get the results needed, but it's unavoidable in any game. Machi Koro's dice driven resource generation system only fails when you haven't got a back up plan. Focus heavily on specific results and you're not going to make financial leaps every turn!
Balance and a goal
We found the game had a good balance of player interaction and separate play. You'll be able to cash in on others' rolls when applicable, and also take some of their cash, but you're solo as far as your board goes. The purple cards' effects are what will hit your opponents the hardest; their effects are dire! But, because your board is visible to everyone, they'll know it's coming and get you right back!
What's most difficult about Machi Koro is ensuring you're focused on the end game. It is tremendously easy to get wrapped up in ownership on this! You'll want the most money, the most buildings, the most constant income... but none of that will matter! You need to open the four attractions to win. That's all! Everything else along the way should just be progress, not the focus. Our first game was centred entirely around gaining as much money as possible! We were incredibly shocked when someone had won - they had no money and less buildings as us. But, low and behold they'd cracked that amusement park open, cut the ribbon and taken the crown. Frustrating but our own fault! Our own greed took us down, shamefully.
The final thing worth mentioning is the variations of play. As a standard, you have everything available to purchase from the outset. This means you can pick a method and stick to it easily, usually one you're comfortable with. Our favourite variation is to have a mixed deck of everything and to deal out eight cards at random for purchase. Immediately you're out of your comfort zone and forced to make do and again be consistent. Tricky, but we found it made for more dynamic and rewarding play. It also added more value to some of the powerful purple cards. One of these let you swap two properties between yourself and another player!
Final Thoughts on Machi Koro
Machi Koro requires you to have a plan. A method. Something you'll focus on to win. Whether that's covering every base or waiting for the magic roll, to be successful you've got to stick. Probability and statistics are handy, granted, but a dice roll is chaos. You can't guarantee a seven, nor can you hope your opponents don't cash in on red properties. You've got to be consistent.
The game is very fun and tremendously accessible. We had no trouble picking it up and teaching it, and the games were fun! Despite its simplistic mechanics, the elements of player decision is what is to blame in any scenario. Whether it's forgetting to open attractions or making bad decisions. But it's all good fun! If you're after your first engine building game, an easy to access family game, or something with a lovely charm to it, Machi Koro is a top choice! It won't get you on the property ladder, but it'll definitely give you a good laugh!
The 5th Anniversary Edition features plastic coins, bigger cards, and chunky dice.