Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Machi Koro

Machi Koro Reviewed by Todd Barker on : Machi Koro is the next great boardgame craze coming out of Japan. A fast paced and light engine building card game for you and up to 3 friends.

You might have seen this game come up recently online, a lot of people are predicting it to be the next big craze and I will do my best to explain why. In my review of Machi Koro I will explain how to play as well as how I liked it with 2/3/4 players. I also consider the who should buy section much more important than usual and of course I will touch on my thoughts including why I think Machi Koro is a great replacement for monopoly and why I think some groups might ditch it unfairly.

machi koro box card game japanese art

How to Play:

The goal in Machi Koro is simple, the first player to complete his 4th starting landmark is the winner. To complete a landmark you must have the right amount of cash and importantly like regular buildings you can only build 1 per turn.

To start deal each player 1 of each of the 4 landmarks face down. Next give everyone a wheat field and baker (make sure they are cards that do not have a coin cost on the bottom left) and finally give everyone 3 coins. Then lay out all the available buildings you can buy, we found arranging by colour works better than by price or die roll.
machi koro setup

On Your Turn:
Your turn is simple, you roll 1 or 2 dice (if you have constructed your station) and then depending on the result all players get a chance to activate their appropriate buildings. It is important to remember what the colour coding of the cards means and when they will activate.

Note: If you have the station you can choose between rolling 1 and 2 dice, when you roll two dice the results are added together and not counted as 2 rolls (notice the cards that require higher than a 6 to activate).

Green / Purple Cards - Activate only if you roll the die
machi koro card example greenmachi koro card example

Blue Cards - Activate if anyone rolled the corresponding number
machi koro card example mine blue

Red Cards - Activate only if an opponent rolled the corresponding number
machi koro card example cafe red

All the cards tell you when they activate but if you can remember the simple colour coding you will be able to quickly survey the table and see the strategies of your opponents. This will also ensure the game moves along a little quicker, and its easy to memorize the meaning of a few colours.

Next you get the chance to buy a building from any available stack or construct one of your starting landmark cards. This is how you build your engine, note that you can only buy once per turn. Then play passes to the next player who follows the same fast and simple process.

As this is not the finished copy I will not spend too long on the components, I will note that they will have better currency in the finished version. We are currently working on an appealing solution to the plastic chips, so far we have used real coins a couple times and dice others but the plastic chips included simply wont do. I am in love with the Art which is actually what first intrigued me about Machi Koro. One thing I do like is Machi Koro gives us dice lovers a chance to break out some of our d6s, rather than pass the dice around we simply each had 2 of our own.

My Thoughts:
Before I delve into how it plays / scales with the different number of players I just want to touch on why this could be the next craze in the board game hobby.

It is very simple to teach. There is luck factor that stops people who are teaching from gaining a huge lead on the players still learning the game. This also stops you from having to hold back when teaching, which creates a much better intro experience.

It plays fast and how it plays. A turn can be related very well to Monopoly that I think any non gamer will pick up on it almost instantaneously. You roll a die see if you get money and then spend your money, this is actually a lot more fun than monopoly where you roll dice see if you owe money and then spend your cash. The action of rolling dice at the start of your turn, occasionally giving money to other players, spending your money and passing the dice / your turn to the next player  keeps everyone interested even when its not their turn. All together playing a game has been taking us 5-20 minutes depending if players know the rules and how many people are playing and of course what numbers actually get rolled.

Sense of accomplishment. In monopoly you get to see your properties and you get to see your money making scheme develop as you add hotels and houses to your lots. In Machi Koro your accomplishment or sense of building towards something is amplified because each investment pays off so much easier and quicker. All someone needs to do is roll the right number instead of landing on the right space which yes is just rolling a number but each space cant come up on any given turn. At the end of the game when your landmarks are turned over and you can quickly see how many everyone else had turned over you get a much better sense of how everyone placed than in a game like Monopoly especially when you are not the winner.

Mechanically Machi Koro appeals to both non gamers as you can see from my examples above but it also appeals to board gamers by giving us a refreshing take on already well known mechanics. Something like Dominion without the shuffling/deck, the process of playing provides lots of interaction and room for table talk and of course there are those take that screw you mechanics, they are totally optional which brings me to my last point, that Machi Koro is a game where you get out of it what you put into it. If you want to just sit back have a beer buy some investments, roll a die and see what happens then Machi Koro works for you but if you want a nail biting take that race built up by the anticipation that "anything can happen" when the dice are rolled, where you need to count out every move and make sure every action counts, then you can do that with Machi Koro too.

My only criticism I have already seen elsewhere, there simply aren't enough cards to choose from but that can be combated by refusing to give in to Machi Koro's play me again attitude. This can be offset by future expansions, at the very least this is a very easy game to add some of your custom cards too if you aren't happy with the current selection. My only other complaint ties into the lack of card selection and that is how quickly you can burn out from Machi Koro. Even though it leaves you wanting to play again I do not believe it was intended for multiple plays in succession to each other although that is purely my perspective / speculation. I think that if you pace yourself with Machi Koro it will be a great addition to every group however I think that it has the potential to sit on someones shelf because they get tired of it and assume it is because of the lack of card selection meanwhile they played it 20 times in the week because it was new and shiny.

machi koro building location card selection
machi koro action card selection
Building / Location Selection
How It Scales:
2 Players - At first I did not enjoy playing two player, my first thoughts were this is kind of cool but you can see how it would get a lot better with more people. Now after playing 15 or so times with different number of players, I think the two player game is just fine. This builds off my last point above where I say you get what you put into it, this is important for my two player gaming because depending on how busy our day was sometimes we just want a minimum thinking game and other times we are ready for an all out war. Some things I like about 2 player Machi Koro over 3 / 4. The overall game length is shorter, your rolls benefit other people less and it feels more strategic even when not giving it a lot of thought because there are fewer rolls, more room to play around with your strategy because no buildings will ever run out. I enjoy 2 player Machi Koro because it provides better sense of accomplishment than lots of other 2 player games in my collection, my only criticism is its a lot to break out if you are only going to play 1 match for a 2 player game.

3 Players - This is my favourite size for Machi Koro, I feel like there is just the right amount of everything, play time, strategy, dice rolled etc. I do not have a single complaint about 3 player Machi Koro and if your gaming group consists of 3 players often, you definitely need to buy this game.

4 Players -  Alright, this is my least favourite way to play that is not to say that I think Machi Koro is bad with 4 players but let me explain why. Some of the cards can run out, in a game that doesn't give you a ton of different strategies to begin with, it is annoying when someone takes the cards for the strategy you want although you can argue that is part of the meta game that comes with playing 4 players (watching what cards your opponents buy more carefully). I do not like how the odds can landslide in someone's favour, in 2 player it is easy enough to make a comeback but I never managed or saw it happen in a 4 player game because you get 1 buy / 4 rolls as opposed to 1 buy every 2 rolls. That means that if the person in the lead is utilizing blue buildings they are likely to remain in the lead. Also as engaging as Machi Koro is on other players turns sometimes it takes a little too long for it to be your turn again, I am generally impatient but I wasn't the only one feeling this way. 4 Players is also a tight fit on our table once everyone gets an engine going we start running out of room and have to shuffle things around or risk our cities sprawling into our neighbours.

Who Should Buy Machi Koro?

Family Gamers - This is one you can play with any of your relatives or family from kids to grandparents. The theme I think is great and accessible to anyone, who doesn't want to develop their own city? I think that Machi Koro actually teaches you some cool concepts as you are playing you learn some basics about investing, probability and definitely makes it easy for non gamers to think strategically. You can explain that it is sort of like Monopoly but much quicker and without a board and I think you will get your family interested, for that reason I cant wait to show my sister (total non gamer).

Casual Gamers - You own Ticket to Ride, King of Tokyo and Pandemic, your next buy should be Machi Koro. I would say this really depends on the number of games you own and what they are, if you only own 3 games and one of them is a deckbuilder I would not buy Machi Koro, if you only have 1 or 2 games then I would also not buy Machi Koro as its very easy to burn out on especially since it leaves you wanting to play again and is short enough that there is always enough time for one more game. If you play a lot with non gaming friends or people who aren't entirely sold on the hobby yet, definitely get this one, this is where I think it will shine the most, brining people into our hobby.

Gamer Gamers - Great for in between games, great for showing friends and family that aren't as enthusiastic about the hobby as you are. Smaller size makes it easy to justify adding to your already huge collection. Machi Koro is a game I think everyone should have in their collection and since you have more games to choose from it is likely that you will ever burn out from Machi Koro.

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