We all have that one gateway game that piqued our interest and showed us a world of possibility beyond the roll-and-move simplicity of mainstream board games. Mine was The Settlers of Catan, a 1995 game that made European-style board game design hugely popular the world over – and slowly led to the board game renaissance that we see today.
Though Machi Koro – a simple and fast paced city-building game – was designed in Japan and features all of the minimalist design hallmarks that Japanese games are known for, it does have the feel of a somewhat stripped down Catan-esque game. In Machi Koro, players compete to be the first to complete all four special buildings that are under construction at the start of the game and which – when each is completed – bestow powerful abilities upon the owner, such as being able to roll two dice or re-roll if desired.
Each turn is incredibly straightforward – you roll the die (or both dice, if you’ve built your Station, though you still have the option to roll one die if you choose to), all players check to see if the number rolled matches those on any of the building cards in their city (and collect coins from the bank or other players if it does), then purchase another card to ‘build’ in their city if they can afford to. Each building has a different coin cost and the colour determines what type of income it’ll provide: if it’s blue, you can collect cash regardless of who rolled the card’s number, green means you can only collect on your turn, red allows you to collect from other players and purple cards (Major Establishments) have a variety of different, powerful effects. Players can only build one of each named type of purple card in their city, but all other types can be built as many times as the player can afford, as long as they’re available for purchase in the marketplace – once a card type has run out, that’s it for that particular building. Building multiple buildings of the same type means you’ll be rewarded with multiple effects when it pays out – if a 1 is rolled and the player has two Wheat Fields (which pay 1 coin to the player on anyone’s turn), the owner will receive two coins.
It’s simple, it’s elegant and – most importantly – it’s so straightforward that anyone of any age can pick it up within a turn or two. Not only that, but it’s not so strategic that new players will be at a disadvantage against more experienced gamers; as long as they understand that you’re best off getting yourself a decent spread of numbers as soon as you can to ensure you’re earning income on as many turns as possible (and not just your own), they’ll do fine.
Though sometimes it can feel as if luck is too big a factor to win Machi Koro, it doesn’t often outstay its welcome and players are generally invested in every roll of the dice, no matter the turn, thanks to those lovely blue cards. It’s got a wonderfully bright and simple aesthetic too, which makes your cities look brilliantly appealing as they build up.
It’s an excellent game for the whole family then and though the base game may not have a huge amount of longevity if your game group doesn’t rotate very much – which is perfectly possible these days – there are expansions available which do mix things up a bit and add further options into the mix. I’ve even got my eye on the standalone Machi Koro Legacy, which adds surprising game elements and customises your game permanently every time you play.
For those of you looking for something light and yet more involving than the normal games they may be used to, Machi Koro is a brilliant option for players of any age.
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