Every now and then a game expansion comes along that takes a decent game and makes it much better. Machi Koro: The Harbour is one such expansion. Machi Koro, from IDW Games and designed by Masao Suganuma, is a light and accessible dice rolling, city building game. You are Mayor of the city, and you have to meet the demands of your residents buy building developments and landmarks to become the biggest, best city in the region.
I always heartily recommend Machi Koro. I enjoy it's simplicity, not for the first time have I had an observer to one of our games say: "It's like Monopoly...but fun!" Well, yes the aim of the game is to make as much money as possible and laugh while your opponents are forced to hand over the pittance they have to your capitalist empire built on lucky rolls and burger joints.
Machi Koro is a fun, light, filler. But it always lacked in the repay-ability department, until now!
The residents of Machi Koro are getting restless and they're bored of you churning out the same cheese factories and convenience stores all the time. In The Harbour expansion, you are up for re-election and your residents are even more demanding than before. The harbour expansion gives you a bunch more, mainly sea themed cards such as a Sushi bar, a Harbour (of course), and boats and... a flower shop, obviously!
Not only do you get extra cards, the expansion grants you the ability to play with up to five people. Some of the cards come with neat new abilities when you activate them that make the game more interesting with more powerful abilities and the chance to have more tactical control over a luck based game. For example, owning the harbour allows you to add two to your roll if you roll 10 or more. Combo that with the Tuna boat which allows you to roll two dice and take the pip value in income for some serious cash. Other cards like the Flower shop and Flower orchard combo together encouraging you to buy both cards. The new City Hall card which all players start with allows the player to take one coin to buy an establishment if they don't have any money to start with, so there is less time spent waiting to get the money you need to buy the basic options.
The big change this expansion brings though, is that it changes the rules, most importantly it changes Machi Koro into a proper card drafting game. Gone are the days of putting out all the cards in the box! Now, at the beginning of the game, some cards are selected at random. This new set-up completely changes the dynamic of the game, the cards you have are different every time, the options for combos will change too, and when piles of cards run down you draw a new set at random.
The Harbour fixes the replay-ability issue the base game has and brings a lot to the table. I would never play this game without the Machi Koro: Harbour expansion.
Player Count: 2-5
Time: 30 Minutes
Welcome to the world of Machi Koro, in which the tax office is as irritating as the real one.
This game places you in charge of a city which you grow into the biggest and best in the region, with the winner being the first ‘Mayor’ to build four landmarks: a Train Station, Shopping Mall, Amusement Park and Radio Tower, because in this charming fantasy world people still listen to FM.
However you only start as a little village with a sole Wheat Field and a Bakery. Clever selection of cards and the luck of the dice will affect your gameplay. What’s interesting about this is how the base game is a simple gateway, but the Harbour expansion turns it into a longer game with much greater replay value in a perfect piece of add-on judgement.
How to Play Machi Koro
The rules are simple. Every city card has an activation number. Activation? Yep, because each player has three phases each turn: first roll a dice (or two if you’ve built the train station), second activate any cards in your city with that number at their top. Normally these will earn you income, such as rolling a one for a wheat field which gives you one coin.
You slowly grow your bank balance, and in phase three you buy cards from the ‘marketplace’, which is basically all the different types of cards in their own piles in the middle of the table. So, you start with rolling a one a few times, get a few coins from your wheat field, and you could buy a café.
As your city grows so does the chance to earn money from each dice roll, so you might have four wheat fields and get four coins from each one, or you might have a building that awards coins for types of other cards, or even allows you to take coins off another player. In the case of a rare few cards, they activate even when an opponent is rolling, and there are lots of special rules, dominated by the four landmark cards which you start with half built and activate when grown.
What’s the strategy? You decide whether to spread out to cover more dice rolls, or focus on a few. Do you want a group of cards that activate on a one and bring in a lot of cash, or do you want cards that bring in less money but cover one, two and four? Do you want to activate your train station and roll two dice, because you’ll need to have bought more expensive buildings which activate on nines and 10s, etc.
You can start to chain cards together, so a building draws on the presence of other buildings, and the landmarks have different values so can be built in any order, giving you have the classic go for the big one first or last dilemma.
Thanks to this streamlined system, bright art and good themes among buildings, basic Machi Koro is a fun, simple game that gets people into the hobby and fills a 30 minute gap. However, there isn’t much depth, and replay value falls off a quick cliff. Not every game has to be massive, and Machi Koro does what it aims for brilliantly.
But that’s not the end of it, because you can also buy a ‘Harbour’ expansion. This comes with more cards, more landmarks, the option for a fifth player and brilliantly, a revised set of rules you can use to vastly multiply the replay value.
In basic Machi Koro, you can build any of the buildings at any time as long as it’s your turn and you have the money, because they are all on display ready. But in the variant, a new system shuffles all the cards together, and only has a limited number available at once, drawn off the top of the deck in order. So, you can’t save up and buy your stadium, because someone else might take it first, and the shuffled deck might not produce another one for a while. Couple this with some tougher cards, and you have to think and adapt quickly.
It’s a simple change, but a massive one. Games take much longer, more thinking, more jockeying for position. It turns a simple gateway into a grand set of walls and it’s worth buying both at once to allow for this growth (and they all fit into the original game’s insert).