Machi Koro: Review

Cute Japanese box cover. IDW games.

Yōkoso. Hajimemashite. That means welcome and nice to meet you, or so says Google. That’s probably enough Japanese for now.

This is not about the first time I played Machi Koro, in fact, before this night took place I had played Machi Koro at least a dozen times. But, this was the first time I’d played Machi Koro with 2 people that don’t play board games. Non-gamers, if you will.

Playing with non-gamers is different than playing with hardened, experienced gamers. It’s better, in some ways. It’s back to basics, back to enjoying a game’s simplest aspects and not getting wrapped into trying to break the system and gain a competitive edge.

We’ve already had dinner, so bellies are full and we’re ready to build up our Japanese cities to earn us some serious cash. The basic mechanics were easy to explain. The hardest part was getting them to wrap their heads around card activation. This one gets you money when anyone rolls this number, but that one only gets you money when you roll that number, and so on. Sounds pretty easy but it takes a couple turns to figure out what’s exactly happening.

Buildings for purchase.

I setup the game, it’s a pretty quick and painless affair. After the first couple turns we’re upon an important moment in the game. Not much has happened at this point since everyone has the same 2 buildings, and because you need to roll the number listed on the building to earn money, it’s possible no one earns any money the first couple turns. That’s exactly what happened, so we’re faced with a moment where the non-gamers become distracted and uninterested. That’s a death sentence for game night.

Luckily the next couple turns see some eventful rolls and everyone becomes occupied with the buildings (cards) for sale, and the cute drawings on each.

The bank.

Sidenote: the art is incredibly cute and very Japanese in a western sort of way. And, from the looks of, it the new night version looks just as pretty.

We are all making money at this point, but it’s not a lot. The game has a tendency to crawl for the first three-quarters and then just explode. The momentum, however, instantly shifts when one of the lovely players that night buys a forest. When I say lovely, I mean infuriating, and when I say she infuriated me I mean she TOOK THE CARD I WANTED. It’s upsetting.

The forest is a beast of a card. It’s blue meaning it hits on anyone’s turn, and it hits on a 5 which is a wildly common roll. It’s a money maker and she was making money. By the time the next forest had shown up for someone else to purchase the damage had been done and she had a strong lead.

Here’s the thing about leads though, they can be lost as easily as they’re won.

My girlfriend, the sister of the current leader is a Machi Koro master. Her knack for pulling out a win is unmatched as far as I’m concerned and her poor sister is, at this point, completely unaware of this skill. It happens quickly but quietly. At some point during the game, someone eventually notices how close she is to victory and mutters something like “When did you build all those?”, followed by “Wait, how much money do you have?”.

The train station is a crucial early purchase.

The tide turned quickly on the long time leader, aka ‘forest lady’. All the forests couldn’t save her now. Machi Koro is similar to almost every deck builder out there. You can’t spend too long building your engine, the game inevitably ends sooner than you anticipate, and that cool combo you’re building toward or that super powerful card you’re saving up for is not worth it. Lean and mean. Eye on the prize.

By the time I noticed what was happening it was too late. I had made a last ditch effort to try and block her with some red and purple cards but it was too late. She took whatever was given to her and made her Japanese city into a winner while the rest of us swooned over cool sounding powers and beautiful artwork. Them’s the brakes.

Machi Koro is a fun game, and great to play with non-gamers. It’s simple, quick and nice to look at. The base game on its own is not enough, though, you definitely want to pick up at least one of the expansions which add some rules and cards that fix some of the issues the base game suffers from.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.