Fiona Dickinson
United Kingdom
Horley
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"I remember when all this was wheat fields, we would get up at the break of dawn, farm all day then go to sleep. Back then you'd take your wheat to the bakery, the only one in town, and they'd give you back some bread, and if you were lucky maybe an iced bun! Of course these days you young'uns are spoiled with your shopping mall and your amusement park, bah, no respect for the simple things in life! Of course when I was older they set me to work in the mines you know, that's when things really started changing around here. We stuck gold one day, figuratively speaking of course, and since then this town has been richer than you can imagine. Did I tell you about when this was all wheat fields?"

"Yes Grampa, that was 30 minutes ago"


Machi Koro is a fast paced card and dice game where you try to improve your cities to make the most of dice rolls while, if at all possible, hindering your opponent. Each turn you will roll the die (or both die later in the game), activate the relevant buildings, and then spend your hard-earned money on new constructions. The new constructions generally make dice rolls more profitable which in turn leads to more money and better buildings. Keep going until you have built the best town of all.

Every building has an effect printed in text at the bottom of it, a cost to buy and a dice roll that will activate it. Early on in the game players will be playing with 1 dice so all numbers 1-6 are equally good, but later on when 2 dice start coming into play then cards that activate on a 1 suddenly look less appealing. You'll pay a premium for the cards that can only activate on 2 dice, but then can often have powerful effects. Ultimately you need to buy the 4 special buildings that each player starts with a copy to construct, each building gives you a power once built (the cheapest one allows you to roll both dice if you want to) and the first player to build all 4 wins.

Cards come in 4 varieties; Cards that activate on anyone's roll, which generally earn you less money. Cards that activate on only your rolls, but reward you with more money. Cards that activate only on opponent rolls and usually involve stealing the roller's money. Finally there are the Special Buildings which generally unlock a new power (such as an extra turn on doubles). Some cards activate on 2 numbers which can help balance out their otherwise low power.

The game is simple to learn but difficult to master endure. Let's be fair there are some lovely ideas behind this game and the art style is simplistic yet visually pleasing. But the game pretty much runs itself. Machi Koro feels like a natural step between a game like snakes and ladders, where the player's only input is to roll the dice, and a board game as we know it today which requires thought and tactics. Sure you might plan based on statistics and probability (anyone used to knowing Catan will be able to tell you which numbers are obviously best to buy), yet the game has a frustrating way of ignoring this and letting lady luck spit in your face. I think the issue is that it's a short game, which means relatively few dice rolls overall and therefore a high chance that randomness will obscure the normally expected pattern for a 2 six-sided dice game.

The game also has a strong tendency to reward one player above all others, get lucky once and you can afford better buildings, which means you get lucky more, which means you buy more buildings, which means you get lucky more, which means you win. Perhaps this would be less pronounced in a 4 player game, but certainly the 2-player variant feels very skewed. If you want a game for ~8 year olds, who are ready to go beyond childhood games and start thinking about strategy then perhaps this game is the game for you, but I don't think I could in good conscience recommend this to an adult gaming group. The painful thing is I feel that there is a good game in here waiting to break free, but they just didn't get it right.

4/10

Please check out thegameshelf.blogspot.co.uk for more weekly reviews from this UK-based board-gaming couple.

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David Anderson
United States
seattle
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The game is pretty much as you describe, though comparing it to Snakes and Ladders is a bit of a low blow. I appreciate the game for the choice of different combos available from the cards to purchase. After that it is mostly a roll of the dice. Sometimes after a long day, that is exactly what I am in the mood for. I think the expansion fixes the game's solvability. Since receiving it for Christmas I've played dozens of times. Just picked up Machi Koro: Millionaire's Row. Ensuring many more plays, though the new expansion seems to add even more of a randomness to the game.
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Falmouth
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I heard the expansion adds a veneer of depth, but I traded this away because it was too lucktastic for me.

There are many more dice based games out there with more luck mitigation and interesting ways to play with the odds than Machi Koro. If this came out before Catan then it would have been an instant hit, now it's an ultralight gateway,
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Chris Van Deusen
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turtleback wrote:

comparing it to Snakes and Ladders is a bit of a low blow.


In fairness, she does compare it favorably to Snakes and Ladders.

Was considering the Deluxe Edition, but I think I'll pass for now.
 
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Zach Prater
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Hilliard
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Would agree for the base game, but the Harbor expansion does make it tougher in that all the cards aren't available at the beginning and there's more options to make money off of other people's rolls.
 
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Fiona Dickinson
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turtleback wrote:

The game is pretty much as you describe, though comparing it to Snakes and Ladders is a bit of a low blow.


Perhaps it is a bit harsh, but I stand by it. The game is too heavily controlled by dice luck and too little controlled by input.

Still you might be right, perhaps I should have compared it to the magic tooth fairy game instead?
 
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Michael Tan
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Great review. I played this once and once only and you'd have to pay me to play it again. It's dreadful in almost every way imaginable. It was a 4 player game and I was the lone newb, but broke the game by simply trying to win. The base game might not suffer from this problem, but the version I played (with the Harbor expansion) was not properly play tested. We had very few low number cards come out early on, and I was in the fortunate position to buy most of them as they came out. I opened up the first cafe and sushi bar and everybody else kept rolling 1's and 3's. I started hate drafting EVERY cafe, stadium, and sushi bar as I was the only one who had any money. At one point I had 2 sushi bars, 3 cafes, 2 stadiums, and the only shopping mall while the other 3 players combined had maybe 3 total. I turned the game into a torturous 90 minute affair because I intentionally suppressed anyone from moving to 2 dice cards until I had amassed a huge lead.

There are waay too many "attack" cards for a light game that is supposedly for kids. And they actually turned the lack of downtime into a huge negative. There is almost no thinking required yet you can never walk away - not even for a second - because you have to constantly watch other people's dice rolls so that you can vulture coins from them...

The luck/skill balance in this game might be like 70/30 if you have casual gamers, but it's closer to 100/0 in a competitive group - except that they would never play this game. It's like the designers knew that and didn't even bother introducing extremely basic game balancing mechanics like slightly penalizing the start player or not ending the game until the every player has had an equal number of rounds. No amount of planning can overcome a player who hits the jackpot with tuna boats, rolls lots of doubles, or gets pummeled by publishing. I don't even like the town of Mahci Koro. Their tax code is broken. It should be a graduated tax. If you have 9 coins, you owe nothing, but if you have 10 coins, you owe 5... Who thought that tax code makes any sense???
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