Lillian Mizutani
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In the game of Machi Koro, we are building a small city. Unfortunately most of the city is under construction. We do not have a lot of money to start with. All we have is 3 units of money, a wheat field and a bakery. Our goal is to build all the required landmarks: a train station, a shopping mall, an amusement park and a radio tower. An additional expansion adds a harbor, an airport, and a city hall. Also included in the game are an assortment of buildings that one can purchase to provide income to the city and allow the builder to build the landmarks.

Set up: each player receives all the starter cards: a wheat field and a bakery, plus the city hall (already constructed), a train station, a shopping mall, an amusement park and a radio tower. These landmarks are to be placed grey side up – that is they are under construction. The remainder of the starter cards are placed back in the box.

The building cards are then shuffled, and ten piles of unique buildings are placed in the middle of the game area, within reach of all players. These buildings can be classified as follows:

Red Buildings: Cafes and restaurants that when people visit them take money from other players
Blue Buildings: Revenue generators where money can be earned by anyone rolling dice
Green Buildings: Factories that use the goods to produce or sell to other buildings. Revenue generated only when the building owner rolls the dice.
Purple Buildings: Specialized buildings – mostly entertainment related – who can make big money when used

On a players turn they would roll a die. The total of the die or dice is compared to all the buildings on the table and if applicable the special abilities take effect.

In order of activation:

Red cards activate when someone else matches the number on top of the card
Blue cards activate when anyone (including the player rolling the dice) matches the number
Green cards activate if the player rolling the dice matches the number
Purple cards activate only when the person rolling the dice matches the number.

Once all of the activated cards are done, the player may buy any of the buildings available for purchase in the centre of the game area or build a landmark by paying the cost on the bottom left of the card. They can only purchase/build one building during the turn. If the player does not have any money, the city hall activates and the player will receive a coin from the bank.

Some of the cards only activate in conjunction with other cards. For example, a flower shop requires a flower orchard, the furniture factory requires either a forest or a mine, a cheese factory requires a ranch, and so on.

Building is optional, a player can save the coins for future turns.

Play then goes to the next player.

When a building purchase creates an empty lot, the player draws from the draw deck until a unique building fills the lot. The first player to build all of their landmarks first wins.

Thoughts on the game:

I had first played this game with the Japanese cards, until the game was brought over to North America. The artwork is very cute – almost reminds me of Japanese anime to some extent. Some of the ink on the cards bled through other cards but it was a minor defect for my set.

Base Game play:

I taught this game to a number of people and found it quite easy to teach. The problem I found with the base game alone is that since all the cards are available all the time – until the cards run out – one can find one or two strategies seem to work at the expense of other possible strategies. This was somewhat alleviated with a variant whereby only eight piles of unique buildings are available for purchase. Although it was an ok play for two players I found that it improved with three or four players.

Harbor Expansion:

With the harbor expansion came more cards of varying abilities. However with two players, I found that whoever manages to build the airport first undoubtly wins the game. With the airport ability of receiving ten coins from the bank if they do not purchase a building/build a landmark, one can merely take their time and build the other landmarks in a course of three or four turns after, depending on the dice roll. The tax office and the publisher amongst other special buildings can counter that in a three or four player scenario, those cards do not give much benefit in a two player scenario.

There is a third expansion released recently but I have not had a chance to observe playthroughs with that expansion. However, it appears that this expansion may be a further way to counter the “build the airport/collect the coins until you can afford the next landmark” scenario.

Occasionally what may happen is that the first set of cards available for purchase would be either too expensive or would require two dice to activate, when no player has built the train station that would allow the player to roll two dice.

Overall Thoughts:

I enjoy playing Machi Koro with the Harbor Expansion and I will say that I will not play the game without this expansion. It is a quick game that is easy to set up, easy to teach and everyone is engaged on everyone's turn as the dice roll may well affect them. Having said that, however, one can get a little tired of playing the game and may need some breaks between game plays. I would recommend that this game be played with three or four players. Although the game is ok for two players there are some problems relating to some cards' abilities being unuseful or overpowering.
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