Monday, 27 January 2020

Machi Koro Legacy

Plays: 4Px10.

Machi Koro Legacy is a legacy game, so there are spoilers. I'm going to write about it in two parts. The first part will be mostly spoiler-free. The second part will reveal all, so proceed at your own risk.

Part 1

The Game

Machi Koro is a game which my children and I love. My version is the tin box version, which contains the base game and the two major expansions, Harbour and Millionaire's Row. When I first heard that they were making a legacy version of Machi Koro, I knew there was no question - I was definitely going to buy it. The legacy campaign is played over 10 games. Every game there will be some new element or change introduced. New components, new rules. After completing the campaign, you can continue to play, just that there will be no new elements. There will be some randomness in setup, so there will still be variation from game to game.

When I set eyes on this box cover, my heart melted.

The core mechanism in Machi Koro Legacy is the same as in Machi Koro, which I have written about before (Machi Koro, Harbour expansion), so I won't describe it again. I'll focus on what's different.

The moment you open the box, what will catch you eyes are these six sealed boxes hiding the new components. These are revealed during the legacy campaign. You will be instructed to open them and taught how to use the contents. The story in Machi Koro Legacy's campaign is linear. Your actions do not affect how the story goes. They do cause some differences in the game setup, but the main story progresses at a set pace and direction. Everyone buying the game will experience the same core story.

The coins are pretty.

Every player has his own player board. You get to name your little town, and you write the name on your player board. To win a game, you must complete the three landmark buildings on your player board, and also contribute to a community landmark building at the centre of the table. The costs of the three landmarks are printed on the player board. The cost of contributing to the community landmark is printed on the card itself. In some games, the winning condition changes. Also, from game to game, the community landmark changes, and your set of three personal landmarks also changes. All landmark type buildings have some special ability, so them changing means a change to how you will play.

At the top right side of the player board you can see four white circles, two of which are ticked. This means at the start of a game, you may pick two start buildings from a hand of such building cards. As the campaign progresses, you will get more cards to pick from, and you will also get to pick more starting cards. Eventually you'll be able to pick up to four cards, once all four circles have ticks. Players will have different starting strengths when they pick different starting card sets.

That card at the far left is a community landmark. You need to spend $20 to contribute to building it. You may build the landmarks and the community landmark in any order you wish.

The Forest building from Machi Koro appears here too. It's a good building. It being blue means you get to earn money on other players' turns too. However this building is a little pricey at $4.

The overall flow is the same as Machi Koro - roll dice, make money, buy building. It is a race to buy the four landmarks. In the first game, there are not many types of buildings to choose from. As the campaign progresses, there will be more and more. I won't describe all the new mechanisms in detail, but I will briefly touch on two of them. One important mechanism in the game is the ability to reroll your dice. This can be crucial. The game is essentially a race, so the difference of one turn can mean win or lose. A reroll or two may be exactly what you need to save that one critical turn. Rolling dice in Machi Koro can be like playing jackpot (slots). Sometimes you can set your town up such that if you roll a specific number, you will earn a windfall. Rerolls increase your chances of getting what you want, i.e. hitting the jackpot. Rerolls are also a protection against bad luck. If you roll a number that allows an opponent to rob you dry, you can reroll and hope to escape this fate.

The other game mechanism I want to mention is a push-your-luck mechanism, which is implemented using a die roll too. There is a particular action type where success depends on a die roll. If you are successful, you may gamble again, hoping for an even bigger reward. However, if you fail, you will lose all progress made so far on your current turn. This mechanism plays on our greed and tests our risk appetite.

The Thoughts

One of the biggest joys of playing a legacy game is watching how the story unfolds, how your actions affect the story, how new components and new rules are introduced. The new elements introduced throughout the Machi Koro Legacy campaign are cute, without being overwhelming. It still remains a family game. The campaign is best played with the same group of friends, preferably without too long a wait between games. If you swap people in and out, and if the gap between games is large, the kimochi (feeling) and immersion may be lost. You may forget rules and have to relearn. I did all ten games of my campaign with my wife and daughters. We did our first game in October. There was a gap after that due to the children's exams. In December during the Christmas period we resumed and did all nine of the remaining campaigns games within a week. If you are considering getting the game, it is best if you can get a bunch of friends to commit to the campaign beforehand.

There is one particular strategy in the game which I find to be overpowered to the point of being unbalanced. Many of our 10 games were won by whoever applied that strategy. One possible counter argument is that if everyone knows that's the best strategy, then everyone will fight for it, and as a result, no one will be able to gain an edge over others. However, this argument is flawed. If it becomes a must to pursue a particular strategy, for the sake of denying your opponents, then the strategic freedom of the game is reduced. I'd rather the game have multiple different and equally feasible strategies that players can pursue from the start.

One reason for this dominant strategy problem is Machi Koro Legacy uses the market mechanism of the original game, and not the one that comes with the expansions. With the original market mechanism, all buildings are laid out and made available to all players right from the beginning. So you can go in with a preset plan, deciding exactly which buildings you are going to buy. In the expansion market mechanism, only a subset of ten types of buildings are available at any one time, and the number of cards per type is usually low. Only when one type runs out then more cards are drawn from a deck to replenish the market. If the card being drawn is one of the existing nine types, it is added to the corresponding stack, and another card is drawn, until there are 10 types in the market again. With the expansion market mechanism, you can't go in with a predetermined plan. You need to be flexible and react to the market situation. The building you want may not be available, and even if it is, there may not be enough to make your strategy effective.

I think you should get Machi Koro Legacy only if you are a big fan of the original. If you are new, I recommend getting the original first. The story element and the new mechanisms are cute, but they are just a novelty. I have now completed my campaign, and I doubt I will play it again. I find the base game plus expansions a better game than the legacy game post Game 10. I think the gameplay is better. The 11th plus games of Machi Koro Legacy uses some rules to randomise game setup, but the setup is no longer thematic or logical like the campaign games are. During the campaign, new rules and components reflect the story being told. Post campaign, you are randomly picking landmarks from different parts of the story, and the random combination of landmark abilities may not be interesting or useful.

I may sound harsh, but I did enjoy Machi Koro Legacy. It was good to spend time with my family. The new cards and components were a string of pleasant little surprises. It was well worth the money. I am happy having had 10 plays out of this game.

This was Game 1, and there were not many building types in the building market at the centre of the table.

In Machi Koro Legacy you can always choose to roll one or two dice. You don't need to build a train station in order to roll two dice. On one of Chen Rui's turns, she rolled a 3, and then exclaimed that she had again forgotten that she meant to roll two dice. We said fine, just roll again. And this above was what she rolled. I guess it was meant to be.

Part 2 (contains spoilers)

The Play

Gems are a new resource type which can be used for rerolls. This new mechanism is introduced quite early in the campaign. On your player board there is a section called the gem mines where you may spend actions to fill in lines. When you successfully enclose one or more triangles, you get to collect gems, and from the next game onwards, you collect more starting gems (default being 1). Developing your gem mines can be very useful if you do it early. It benefits you for the rest of the campaign. The gem colours have no special meaning. The different colours are only for aesthetic purposes.

These are gem stickers you get to stick onto your player board when you complete triangles in your gem mines.

When back in Kota Kinabalu for Christmas holidays, we played using two mahjong tables. Shee Yun is the more serious and strategic type. She counts cards, takes note of the icons on the front and back of the double-sided buildings, and builds combos. She seriously tries to win, and when luck fails her, she gets flustered. She did eventually win one game, and that was very satisfying for her. Chen Rui plays with no expectations to win at all. She plays for the hell of it and does whatever she pleases, without really caring whether it helps her towards the winning condition. When the sailing mechanism turned up during our campaign, she decided that was the fun thing to do, and spent all her energy sailing and sailing. Michelle played in a relaxed manner. She fiddled with some combos, but didn't go into nitty-gritty bean-counting.

When you play, it is best to have a fine marker pen (or two) ready.

My copy of the game is missing one turtle sticker sheet, so I asked Chen Rui to draw turtles on two of the faces of this visitor die on the left. The turtle mechanism helps players earn extra cash. When the active player rolls dice, he also rolls the visitor die. If the visitor die shows the turtle face, the turtle moves a number of steps equal to the pips on the other dice. The turtle's path is all players' normal buildings in front of them. It moves from left to right, and when leaving the last building of one player, goes to the first building of the next player on his right. When the turtle lands on your building, it gives you an amount of money equal to the cost of that building.

This is the yokai, or monster. You need to add the yokai stickers to the visitor die. Unlike the turtle, the yokai moves along the buildings in the building market at the centre of the table. When it lands on a building, it becomes temporarily unavailable for purchase. If that building is a double-sided building, it is flipped and transforms into the other type. If anyone has this building type in his play area, that building is flipped too. This can screw things up a little, but sometimes it can be a life saver too, e.g. if it transforms an opponent's stack of attack buildings into harmless ones.

The sailing mechanism is introduced roughy mid campaign. You get a new action type - sailing. There are two ways to sail. The safe way is paying for it. You pay an amount equal to the number at the next stop. The risky way is rolling a 12-sided die. If the number you roll is equal to or higher than that at the next stop, you sail successfully. You may choose to roll the die again to take an extra step, and if you keep succeeding, you may push your luck further. If at any time you fail the die roll, you lose all progress made on your current turn. In one of the campaign games, reaching that number 11 island is one of the winning conditions. Locations numbered 7 and above give some benefits. That entices players to sail.

That white 12-sided die is used for sailing. Chen Rui's colour is blue. See how far advanced her ship is.

The third visitor which appears in the game is the princess. Once you attach the two princess stickers to the visitor die, every die face will be in use, and there will always be one visitor making a move. Like the yokai, the princess moves among the marketplace buildings. However she is benevolent. Instead of stopping you from buying a building, she is making it free instead. Long live the princess!

If the princess meets the yokai, she neutralises its power.

After adding the yokai and the princess stickers, the visitor die looks like this.

If you look closely, you will see that some cards have a grey flag icon at the top left. These are the starting cards. Eventually you'll get to pick 4 out of about 10 to be your starting town.

The Theme Park is one of those double-sided buildings. You can see at its top left there is a white circle with a tick. The tick means this is the side you start a game with. New double-sided cards are drawn at the end of a game, and the winner decides which side to tick. This is the side that will be in play at the start of the next game. During play, the yokai may flip it to the other side.

Rockets are introduced in one of the campaign games. You get to attach these cool rockets to your ship.

My seat is at the bottom right. In this particular game I pursued an offensive strategy, so I had many red cards, which robbed others.

At the bottom left you can see a special building on the left of my player board. There are five such special buildings in the whole game, each having a unique power. When you do sailing, you get a chance to peek at these secret special buildings (initially no one knows what they are), then decide whether to claim it for yourself. If you claim such a special building, from the next game onwards you may use it as one of your starting buildings.

In one campaign game, the sailing path is extended all the way to the moon. You are supposed to launch your ship into the sky using those rockets, and reach for the moon. The number 33 written on the moon space cannot be achieved by rolling the 12-sided die. You must pay cash to sail there.

The moon base community landmark appears in the same game you are supposed to land on the moon.

Michelle (red) and Chen Rui (blue) in a neck and neck race for the moon.


Gry Planszowe said...

hi, I came to your site by accident but I see that you also love board games. I don't know this game but after reading your entry I would love to play. It just so happens that I also write reviews of board games in Poland. Greetings Michal from Recenzje Gier Planszowych

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Michal! I'm glad you find the game interesting. Hope you have great fun with it!

BomberMouse said...

Thanks for the details, I love legacy games but I think I'll never get to play this, so I love seeing the spoiles.

Delores Keeper said...

This sounds so intriguing; I have to give it a try. But it does sound fiendishly complicated! How long did it take you and your family (they look lovely by the way) to learn how to play fluently, without having to consult the rules all the time? Also, it seems to take up a lot of space, so I am not sure it would fit easily into my tiny home!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

It does take up some space, more so than the standard game, because of those additional elements. Even the standard game takes up quite a bit of space because every player has his own tableau of cards.

The game is not complicated. For my family, we've played the base game many times, so learning the legacy version was easy. We don't consult the rules much. The new elements are introduced bit by bit, so it is not overwhelming. In my post I explain all of them in one go, but in actual play you'll only get about one new mechanism per game.

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