Machi Koro is a card buying game where players use money to purchase different buildings (cards) and put them into play.Each building has one or more numbers on it, ranging from 1 – 14. Each player starts his turn by rolling 1 or 2 dice, and buildings that match the rolled number “activate”, giving some sort of benefit to the player who owns it. Usually that means acquiring cold hard cash, but a few buildings have unique abilities. Players continue to acquire more money and buildings until one player completes all their structures and wins the game.
While not technically a deckbuilder, since you don’t have a deck of cards you draw from, Machi Koro plays a bit like them, and feels like the same sort of game in some ways, but the die rolling mechanic and the general gameplay make it a different and addicting game. It’s one of those games that almost everyone takes to immediately, wanting to play again or run out and buy their own copy.
As I mentioned, each building has one or more numbers on it, ranging from 1 – 14, and whenever that number is rolled the building activates (you may be wondering why buildings go up to 14 if you’re only rolling two dice; there is a card that lets you add 2 to the dice roll, meaning you can potentially roll up to a 14). There’s a twist though: not all buildings activate on every turn. Some only work on your turn, some work on everybody’s turn, and some only work on the opponents’ turns! The buildings are color coded to differentiate them, and when a building activates has a big impact on its value. Obviously a card that works only on your turn won’t be as valuable as one that works on everyone’s turn, and cards that work on an opponent’s turn are much more powerful with more players in the game.
The base game comes with 15 or so different buildings, and all of them are available for purchase at any time (each player can only buy one building per turn), meaning you can carefully plot out your strategy and buy whatever buildings suit it best. But once you’ve added one or both of the expansions you instead shuffle everything together into one deck, and put out 10 different building types in the “marketplace” that are available for sale (after a building is bought from the marketplace a new one is added to replace it). This means you have to take what you can get, and players will be fighting over the good cards as they come up.
Machi Koro has some cards that are very good, some that are OK, some that are situational, and some that are terrible. This is common for deckbuilders, and players get to know which cards are worth buying and which aren’t. But the power swing is so big on some cards in this game that it’s ridiculous. One expansion card is so worthless that no one would ever buy it under any circumstance, so we just tossed it back into the box and don’t play with it. Another card from the same expansion is so powerful that we had to nerf it; the whole game became about acquiring that one card, and it was the only way to win.
It’s always nice when a game has different strategic options, and Machi Koro does nicely in that area. You can try to spread out so you’ve got all the numbers covered in some way, you can really load up on a few numbers and hope you hit it big, you can concentrate on buildings that take money from your opponents, and more. I tend to go for the “load up big on a few spots and hope to roll well” strategy, which either leads to huge success, with copious amounts of gloating, or spectacular fail, with me whining about the blankety-blank dice and the unfairness of it all.
Overall it’s a very fun game that I’m always willing to play and show others, but it does have some drawbacks:
- The cards are very low quality. They’re on low-quality stock and they warp, making them hard to shuffle. And the cards for the expansion are cut to a slightly different size, making shuffling almost impossible once you’ve added an expansion.
- Speaking of expansions, I’ve found that if you add 1 of the 2 to the base game it plays well. But if you shuffle both of them in it breaks down, because some cards within an expansion work together, and once you’ve got both expansions there are too many different cards to be able to count on getting certain combos.
- My wife and I actually don’t like one of the two expansions at all, so we never play with it (just like Lords of Waterdeep!) In fact I ended up just giving it to Goodwill (wasn’t worth selling online). But our friends we game with a lot really like that other expansion, so you might too.
- I feel the best version is just playing with the base game. It lends itself to the most variety of strategies and eliminates the problems associated with the expansions. The downside is it gets repetitive fairly quickly, and you’ll feel like you’re playing the same game over and over.
- Finally, one minor irritant is that the expansions don’t have any kind of symbol on them. Once you’ve shuffled everything together you have to consult an online list to sort them back out again if you only want to play with 1 expansion, want to teach the base game to new players, or hate one expansion and want to sell it (ahem) for example.
There is also a new “2.0” edition of Machi Koro called Bright Lights Big City, that takes some cards from the base game and some from the expansions and tweaks the rules a bit. Haven’t gotten a chance to play that one, and probably won’t plunk down the money for another edition of the game.
Despite the negatives I do really enjoy this game, and am always willing to teach it to others. Let me know if you want to play and thanks for reading!