Thursday, 12 February 2015

Machi Koro

Plays: 2Px6, 3Px2.

The Game

Machi Koro is a simple game. On your turn you roll a die and see which of your buildings get triggered. Usually you make money from your buildings. Then you may spend money to buy a new building to add to your town. Your objective is to build four landmark buildings. Similar to the normal buildings, these have unique abilities too. The first player to build all landmarks wins.

There are 15 types of buildings, each with 6 copies. There is no limit on the number of duplicate buildings you own, except for the purple ones. You can only own one copy of each type of purple building.

Buildings come in four colours. The green and purple ones can only be activated on your turn. The green ones usually just give you money. The purple ones rob from other players. Blue and red buildings are activated on other players' turns too. The blue ones give you money. The red ones let you rob the player who has just rolled the die. Some buildings affect other buildings or rely on other buildings, and this creates powerful combos. E.g. if you own many ranches, your cheese factory can become a big money generator.

The purple cards are aggression cards. You can rob other players, or exchange buildings with them.

At the start of the game you only roll one die. After you build the train station, you may choose to roll two. Some buildings are triggered by die rolls of 7 to 12, so they only work if you can roll two dice. When rolling one die, the probability distribution is flat, but when rolling two, you are more likely to roll 6, 7 or 8 than than 2, 3, 11 or 12. That's something to take into account. Also when rolling two dice, your #1 building will be out of business.

Those four at the top are the landmark buildings. They start the game face-down. At this moment I have built the train station (leftmost) and I can use its power. Landmark powers are always active. Normal buildings have a number at the top to indicate the die roll required for activation.

The Play

Machi Koro is essentially a race. The costs of the landmarks are $4, $10, $16 and $22, totalling $52. You start the game with two basic buildings, and even if you roll the right number, you will earn only $1. So the game is about how you beef up your town to make money more quickly. In the early game you normally buy frantically, but towards mid game, to buy or not to buy, and which to buy, can get trickier. Do you want to save the money for your landmarks? If you spend the money on a regular building, you are postponing building a landmark. Will the investment be worth it?

Some combos let you earn a huge lump sum when you roll the right number. Waiting for "your" number to come up can feel like buying lottery and hoping to hit the jackpot. It's exciting. It's exhilarating. It is also nerve-wracking to wait and see whether you will hit the jackpot first or your opponent. You can diversify by buying different building types, so that more numbers will benefit you. However if you don't have many duplicate cards of a specific number, the benefit you gain when it is rolled may not be much. So far in the games I have played, we tended to gamble on just one or two power combos. No sissying around. I'm not sure whether slow and steady and diversified is effective. I have not really explored that.

Sticking to rolling just one die is viable. I have won using such a strategy. Cards numbered 1 to 6 may not be as powerful as the higher numbered ones, but at least when rolling one die you know there are only 6 possible results, compared to 11 when rolling two dice. I discussed this with Ivan and he wondered whether upgrading to two dice was even necessary. You can do quite well with just one die. Maybe it depends on whether your opponents meddle with your plans by buying the buildings you want. There are only six copies of each building type. If more than one player go for a particular building type, it can run out quickly.

So far my younger daughter Chen Rui (8) is winning more than me in our head-to-head games. She likes the game very much. In one game that we played, she made up her mind up front to go for the #11-12 building, and stuck to it throughout the game. I advised her that it was difficult to roll 11's and 12's. I myself went for the more reliable #7 building strategy. However she managed to roll 11 and 12 a few times, and promptly won the game, leaving me in the dust.

Chen Rui having a great time. She has built two of her landmarks. I have not built any yet.

It works well as a 3-player game too.

Chen Rui's furniture factory strategy. With five forests and four furniture factories, she could earn $60 by rolling an 8. A furniture factory allows you to earn $3 per gear icon. So, 5 gear icons on the forests x $3 x 4 furniture factories = $60.

The Thoughts

Machi Koro is a light and breezy game. The luck factor creates excitement, yet there is still some strategising you can do. It is nothing complex. After a handful of games you will already see all the major combos you can make in the base game. The game can get stale quickly if you expect anything more than a light strategy game. On the internet (well, among gamers) the consensus seems to be that this game needs the Harbour expansion. More buildings are added. You need to build two more landmarks. Only a subset of buildings are in play in each game. It sounds like this expansion should provide more variety and more replayability. So far I have only played the base game with my children, and we are loving it. This is a good family game.

Chen Rui has built her train station now and can roll two dice.

This is how a town looks like when all four landmarks are built.

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