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Machi Koro

Reviewed by: Frank Hamrick

(IDW Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; about $24)

Machi Koro was one of the real hits at Essen 2013. This Japanese game designed by Masao Suganuma was in great demand, in part because there were relatively few copies available in English (a few more in Japanese). In addition, the beautiful artwork and simple, yet engaging game play made Machi Koro a very sought for product. Word spread quickly and, within an hour, all the copies were sold out. For the last year, rumors have abounded concerning an English edition, the ultimate announcement of an “imminent” Pandasaurus release and, finally, the wait to see it in English speaking stores!

machi1All of this compounded to heighten the expectancy of this game. Meanwhile, Print ‘n Play versions have appeared and my experience with the game is with my on P’nP edition. The English edition (due now in October) will have standard sized cards, whereas my P’nP edition is the much smaller 45mm X 68mm card.

“Machi” is Japanese for “Town” and “Koro” has been variously described as meaning “dice” or “a clattering sound.” This aptly describes the concept of the game which combines the basic mechanic of dice rolling with the goal of building the best ‘town.”

Machi Koro is a quick-playing game that has a great amount of luck (dice), but offers just enough decision-making to make the game interesting. I think there is a deft balance between decision-making, playing-time, and luck/strategy that is hard to define, but is obvious when experienced, and Machi Koro seems to excel in this balance. If the game was much longer than its 20-40 minute playing time, the amount of luck would tarnish the game. However, for a “filler” length game, the luck vs. decision-making seems to be just right (at least for me).

Since I’ve not seen the finished English product, I can’t comment except to say that the art on the cards is exceptional. Those who have played it love the Japanese art style on the cards. It is exactly like the art on my PnP and so I am very positive about its appearance. Basically, the game consists of 108 cards, 54 money tokens, and 2 6-sided dice. The 108 cards consist of 24 Starting Cards (each player takes the same set of 6 cards each); and 84 cards to purchase (each card depicts a type of building to be “bought”). Each card type comes in one of 4 colors- blue, green, red, purple. The money consists of $1, $5, and $10 tokens.

Each player’s 6 Starting Cards will consist of two cards (a wheat field and a bakery) which are already “built”. They are placed face up in front of him/her. This is the player’s “town”. In addition, each player will have the same 4 “Landmark” cards: a radio station, a shopping mall, a tower, and an amusement park. These four cards are placed face down in their town. The object of the game is to be the first to build these four buildings in their village. This is done by simply “paying” for the card and flipping it face up in their area. Once they are face up, the benefit each card provides is now active.

In the middle of the table, the players set up stacks of cards numbered 1-12, in numerical order. These are the cards which will be “purchased” during the game. Each card contains illustrative art, an “activation” color, a die/dice roll number, a name, a cost to buy the card, and a description of what the card does when activated. The game is now ready to be played.

A player’s turn consists of 3 steps: a) roll one or two dice, b) collect money and, optionally c) purchase a card to add to their town.

The die rolling concept reminds me of The Settlers of Catan in that everyone stands a chance to gain a resource (money) each time the dice are rolled, no matter whose turn it is. For example, every player collects money if they have a blue card of the number rolled (#1,2,5,9,10). Green cards pay only if the player who owns the card rolled the number on the card (#2-3, 4,7,8,11-12). Red cards are activated when another player rolls the number on the card (#3,9-10), the player rolling pays everyone who owns a red card; and purple cards pay off only when the owner of the card rolls a 6. When cards are activated they pay from $1-$5 (multiplied by the number of cards of that type the player possesses). So, if a player owns a Farm (which pays $1), he receives $1 for each Farm card he owns.

In addition, some cards combine with others to enhance the money received from the bank. For example, the Dairy (#7) pays $3 for each Farm (#2) card a player owns. If the player owns two Dairies, then he gets paid twice for each Farm card, etc. There are other combinations in the game and part of the decision making process is to decide which combos to go for.

After everyone has checked to see if they are due any money, the player who rolled the dice may then purchase exactly one card and add it to his town. If he has now purchased all four of his landmarks he wins the game.

As I said, games are quick and the die rolling is tense. The decisions in the game are obviously centered around which building to buy, when to buy it, and which combos to go for (as in the Dairy/Farm combo mentioned above). In addition, once a player has built his Radio Station (Landmark card), he may roll two dice rather than one. This creates another decision: how many dice to roll. Obviously, rolling two dice will mean the #1 card will not pay off, and the chances increase that the 6-12 cards will begin to pay. I’ve seen games in which players went for the combos early and were rolling 2 dice most of the game. I’ve seen games where the players were so rich in low numbers that they never rolled more than 1 die. Of course, the colors of the cards affect the decision making as well since blue cards pay off even when others roll the number while green cards pay only when the owner rolls the number etc.

These small, but important decisions, combined with the luck of the roll, are the essential elements of the game. Own the right buildings and you can rush to a quick win. Or, roll the wrong numbers and you will watch others build those four Landmarks first. (I should also mention that there is an expansion coming shortly: Harbor. The Japanese version also has a second expansion: Sharp. Whether it will appear in English has not been announced.)

Machi Koro is one of the very f-e-w games my wife will actually play! My family basically likes social games that require little thinking, while I like the more thoughtful games. My gaming group is also split between those who like lighter games vs. those who like heavier stuff. I have found both groups enjoy Machi Koro! Very few games in our collection of over 300 games achieve this universal enjoyment. I love the game – but watch out for the dice! They hate me!

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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