The game: Machi Koro by Masao Suganuma, published by Grounding in 2012. The name means something like “Dice town”.
Elevator pitch: Catan resource production distilled into a 30-minute filler game. Roll dice to produce money, use money to buy your way to victory.
What’s in the box? The smallish box contains cards, cardboard coins and two dice. Everything looks really cute, in the usual Japanese style.
What do you do in the game? On your turn, you roll one die, check if the buildings produce and then can buy one building. Each player starts the game with one wheat field and one bakery. The wheat field produces one money when anybody rolls a 1. The bakery produces one money, when you roll a 2 or a 3.
There are four kinds of buildings. Blue buildings like the wheat field make money on everybody’s turns. Green buildings like the bakery only produce on your turn, but they tend to be more powerful. Red buildings make money from other players when they roll the target number. Purple buildings are very powerful special buildings, and you can own only one copy of each, unlike other buildings.
The goal of the game is to buy your four landmark buildings, which also provide special benefits. The cheapest landmark is the railroad station: once you buy it, you can choose whether you want to roll one die or two dice on your turn, counting the sum: this makes using the buildings that require rolls of seven or more possible to use.
Lucky or skillful? There’s a big luck element in this game. There are decisions, for sure, and it is possible to make bad decisions, but often, in the end, the luck of the dice will decide who wins. There are couple of different strategies to use, and you can control your variance: do you choose cards that produce on as many numbers as possible, or will you build up huge profits for a particular roll – building up for a heavily loaded roll of seven is tempting. If you hate games with a strong luck element, stay away from Machi Koro.
Abstract or thematic? The card art is cute, and the game makes some thematic sense, but it’s no simulation.
Solitaire or interactive? Not particularly interactive, but there’s a limited pool of buildings, and some buildings steal money from other players. Targeting someone and being mean on purpose is hard, so there’s no good way to beat the leader.
Players: 2–4. I find the game enjoyable on all player counts.
Who can play? This is one of those unassuming little gems that will shine on just about any occasion. I made a set of cards in Finnish, so my seven-year-old son can play (being able to read the card texts is helpful, but not required). I’m looking forward to playing this with my parents, and I’ve already had good success with this with my gamer friends. This game works well in any situation where a short and a light game is welcome.
Length: 30 minutes. The end game can sometimes drag a bit when it’s just a question of who rolls the correct numbers first, but usually the game is soon over when somebody gets lucky enough.
What’s to like: Simple game idea, very easy to teach, cute art, everybody likes this.
What’s not to like: The game is heavy on luck.
My verdict: Let’s start with the bad news: the game is at the moment unavailable in English. Hopefully there’s a proper English edition soon. The Japanese version is available.
I’m a big fan of Machi Koro. This easy game moves along quickly and offers interesting if a bit light decisions. Building your city is fun, and the die-rolling offers excitement. The strategic depth is quite enough for a quick and easy game like this: will I build couple of cheese factories and hope to score 20+ coins with a roll of 7, or should I buy some mines and score 15 coins every time somebody rolls a 9? The way the game works in every occasion is a big bonus for me, I’ve really enjoyed playing the game with my son.
I’ve yet to try the expansion – I’ve got a Finnish version of the cards done and ordered from Artscow, but I haven’t received them yet – but it seems to add a bit more meat to the game, while keeping the complexity moderate and only making the game slightly longer.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Machi Koro gets Enthusiastic.