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Subject: Machi Koro (a Pros and Cons Review) rss

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bryden
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Stow
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Machi Koro: a Pros and Cons Review



Introduction (the biases):
Oh luck, how I hate thee. Those moments in Settlers (or Catan as it is now called) when you are strapped by die rolls that can get you off to a fast start (able to do things every turn), even start (where you are able to things every other turn) or no start (where you straighten the card stacks, pass dice and generally wait patiently till the dice actually permit you to participate). My history with SoC was relatively brief as the random start was such a turn off. My last play in a game group setting was so distasteful that I doubt that I will ever play it again in such a setting.

My issue with this type of luck is the dice mechanic of ‘skip your turn’.

Games that came later for the most part now give you something to do with your dice. You can modify your roll, re-roll or be able to place the dice to get some kind of gain for a later turn. It is with this that I ‘permitted’ dice to re-enter my gaming world and allow me to enjoy these types of games again.

In all honesty I would rather not have any dice at all (just look at my username: nodiceplease). I prefer games like El Grande, Agricola, Le Havre and the like. So what made me pick up a copy of Machi Koro? The triggers were ‘lite’, ‘quick’ and ‘cheap’.

What I was hoping for:
1. An engaging, quick city building game
2. Controllable luck
3. A lite and fun game with some strategizing or planning.

Did Machi Koro succeed? The tension builds as we enter the analysis section …



How would I describe Machi Koro to a new player?
It is a one source engine building game that involves dice rolling to generate gaming interaction.

On a roll, which may be one or two dice, everyone may get coin(s), just you, someone takes some coin(s) from you and/or you take/give a building to another and/or take coins from other players. If you are playing with harbor expansion you have the ability to modify 10+ die rolls to activate some buildings if the harbor has been constructed. A building may also permit you to re-roll a roll that you don’t want but this won’t happen until you have 22 coins in your supply to get it built. For the most part, what you roll is what you get.

How to Play:
1. Set up the building offer (I am solely using a variant to this due to the inclusion of the 2 expansions)
2. Each player takes all of the starting cards
3. On you turn you roll the die (dice) and activate all buildings that trigger by the roll.
4. You then may buy/build one building from the offer or a monument in front of you
5. Once a player has built all of his monuments, he wins
6. Game time has been about 15 minutes per player.

It is all really simple to explain and play.



Pros:
1. The art is bright and different which is always nice to have.

2. The play is easy to explain and simple to execute.

3. The game plays quickly … (with the offer variant that we use)

4. There is some planning involved once you have your coins. It is not stressful planning and is easy for new players to grasp.

5. The price of the game is right for the content.



Cons: – [a building offer variant that we use now mitigates most of the following]
1. The game is simple: If you only want a heavy or thinky experience, move on.

2. The game play is mildly chaotic (tactical): You have to consider the buildings that are on offer when it is your turn and 3-4 buildings may rotate through before you take action.

3. The game has dice rolling: If you make bad choices (or there are no valid choices in the building pool) you may sit and do nothing on your turn or worse have the few coins that you have collected stolen perpetuating your position.

4. There can often be a runaway leader: This is very strongly attached to the previous con. If the building offer locks up with buildings costing 3+ coins and you are only collecting 1-2 coins a turn you will be left behind in short order.

5. It can run long / center row lockup / group think: This is especially true when the second expansion was added. There is a very real situation where the players will only buy certain buildings, cheap buildings to strangle the offer and increase the chance of turns where all you can do is push coins around.

6. Poor component quality: The dice we received in the box were a joke. They were so badly warped as to be unusable. This is minor due to the amount of chessex dice we have laying around … still. The card quality is OK but the expansion cards are of a different size making good shuffles an issue. The cards are also of a slightly different shade.



Variant: – I expressed my concerns for the expansions in a Millionaires Row expansion thread and came up with some trial and error setups that provide much more interesting game play. The game has much more of a development arc and the building offer does not lock up at all. It goes as follows:

Breaking the offering into cost:
Both expansions:

0-2: [6 stacks]
3-4: [4 stacks] (3 if you want less red cards)
5+: [3 stacks] (4 if you want more purple cards)

Harbour Expansion Only:

0-2: [5 stacks] (6 if want a more green cards)
3-4: [3 stacks]
5+: [4 stacks]

I specify other options in the Millionaire's Row forum but this one is the one that works best.

Final Opinions:
As designed, Machi Koro is OK. Playing just with the base game is dull and rote. The luck factor is too high for my taste. When the harbor expansion appeared it added some more interesting things to do but the runaway leader problem seemed to happen more frequently. Finally, with the Millionaire’s Row expansion we had issues with the building offer locking up where the player who could afford the more expensive buildings could buy duplicates thus not causing a new building to enter the offering and then start to slowly exploit the buildings for multiple turns before the other players could break free.

Therefore my rating of the game and its expansions as written is 6.5. Good for occasional play but not something that I would want to play all of the time.

However, with the building offer variant I would raise the rating to 7.5. The free flowing nature and fast pace make the game much easier to play and tolerate. I feel that we have choices every round and that these choices have an impact on the game play. There is stronger development arc where you can feel the game progressing to a conclusion. You can mess with the other players and adjust to their play style as long as you don’t wait too long. The fact that everyone is in it till the end is great and it has shown to play well with player counts from 2-4.


Making Comparisons:

As a rolling and get stuff game

Machi Koro > Stone Age = Yspahan >> Settlers of Catan
I like CoB (Castles of Burgundy) the best but it did not quite fit the ‘get stuff’ as well as those that I mention. Stone Age to me killed SoC from the first time I played it and I still feel that way. What Stone Age lacks is variety. I will play Stone Age occasionally now and that seems to be enough. Machi Koro feels like it has better pacing while Stone Age may have a slight edge in strategy (starving is not a strategy) in the play. Yspahan is a dinosaur in this feel or at least it looks and feels that way. I like the interaction but after a number of plays it got stale. It is a hard one to get players interested in. I could get SoC players anytime I wanted to but I just don’t want to. All of the other games didn’t kill it. It was DOA.

As a gateway game:

Alhambra > Carcassonne > Tokaido > Machi Koro
So far Machi Koro has not risen to the accessibility of the others that I mention. The sense of purpose in Alhambra gives it the edge while providing just a little bit more decision making. Also, since I have the big box, it can play much different each time. Therefore I feel that Alhambra has a little more meat on it than Carcassonne which teeters on my gaming tolerance while still being accessible. Carc is a bit too slow with the casual player and those that play it seriously make the game unfun. There was a time that I found it interesting to play with others but now it is strictly solo or with family. Tokaido while not similar in play has enough going on (with the expansion) to keep me interested and has simple mechanics for the newer players. Every move provides a little measure of success and this provides the feeling of doing more than what it appears. Machi Koro has been ‘too difficult’ to understand even though I can explain it in a couple of minutes. The subtle depth coupled with card knowledge is tough for the new players. I was told that it is too much to take in.

As a city building game:

Suburbia >>> Machi Koro
No contest. Suburbia only takes slightly longer to play and provides way more depth and far reaching decisions with each selection. The economics are more interesting even with both games having a single currency. It feels more interactive as well.

Final Thoughts:

Machi Koro is a good for what it does much like Tokaido. Really thinking about the issues that I was having with the game and creating that variant has saved the game from the dust bin. The pacing of the base game (while boring) has returned using the 2 expansions and makes it enjoyable to play. I feel involved in every turn.

If you are a serious gamer and don’t like the lighter fare then there is nothing that anyone can say that will change your mind. For the rest of us, pick it up and both expansions and have a good time. You certainly could do much worse … don’t settle for the old standby.
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A J
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Riverside
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Thanks for the review! I really like the game comparisons towards the end.

Small suggestion, though: first time you use a game name, please use the full name. Took me a bit of guess-work to figure out what "CoB" was (Castle of Burgundy). meeple
 
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Aran Johnson
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I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying.

When you start the game, you take all the buildings that cost between 0-2 coins and you sort them into 6 randomized stacks?

And you take all the properties that cost 5+ and sort them into 3 randomized stacks, so that a whole game might pass without some properties every actually becoming available to purchase?

My understanding is that this prevents someone from JUST buying convenience stores or other high income earners.

My rules for the original game say to lay out all properties at the start of the game. But my understanding is that the expansion games change this?
 
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bryden
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aranworld wrote:
I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying.

When you start the game, you take all the buildings that cost between 0-2 coins and you sort them into 6 randomized stacks?

And you take all the properties that cost 5+ and sort them into 3 randomized stacks, so that a whole game might pass without some properties every actually becoming available to purchase?

My understanding is that this prevents someone from JUST buying convenience stores or other high income earners.

My rules for the original game say to lay out all properties at the start of the game. But my understanding is that the expansion games change this?

Yes, 0-2 (6 stacks), 3-4 (4 stacks) and 5+ (3 stacks). This is with both expansions and yes the rules with the expansions state to shuffle all of the cards together and draw buildings until 10 unique buildings are available. Obviously my setup expands this to 13.

Is it possible/likely that a building does not make an appearance? yes. Only the base game had you layout all of the buildings and buy what you wanted. The expansion added the random 10 rules.

This caused us issues and thus we play with a setup modification. We have played 10+ times since and it would be very difficult for me to go back to playing it any other way.
 
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Danny
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Thanks for your review. Do you know how the game functions as a two player game?
 
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bryden
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lifehouserocks95 wrote:
Thanks for your review. Do you know how the game functions as a two player game?

We play it mostly with 2 or 3 players. Some buildings are not worth buying at that count due to the return on investment which some take issue with.

By using the cost split setup we do it plays much better with 2 as one player cannot run away with the game as the other player will always have a buying choice. Come from behind victories occur with much more regularity now and this makes for an exciting race.

Make sure to get at least the harbour expansion. It is well worth it.
 
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