Back in the mid-1800’s America had the gold rush, well here in board game land we have the cheese rush. Many a Machi Koro player has scooped up multiple ranches in the hopes of building themselves a glorious dairy empire. No idea what I am talking about? Well I’ll do my (e)damn best to get you up to speed.
Terrible cheese puns aside, what is Machi Koro? Remember how horribly long and boring games of Monopoly can be, but how buying property and rolling dice is really fun? Well Machi Koro is a game dedicated to rolling dice, buying buildings and having fun. You take the role of Mayor for a quaint town in rural Japan and to win the game you need to build 5 specific landmarks.
All your potential property expansions are laid out in front of you so you can plan exactly how to grow your town. There are 4 colours of building in Machi Koro and each one give you money under different circumstances. Green buildings gain you money on your turn, blue building on anybody’s turn, red buildings steal money from opponents on their turn and purple buildings steal money from others on your turn. Each establishment has a number of the top. Wheat fields have the number 1 on them and are blue, therefore every time somebody rolls a 1 you are going to get a coin. Cafes have a 3 are a red, so each time an opponent rolls a 3 you get to take one of their hard-earned coins. Once you have rolled and hopefully gained some capital, then comes the buying.
The cost of each building is the bottom left and is indicated with a little coin. You may only buy one thing each turn. That means either one of your game winning landmarks or a new business for your town. Knowing when to invest in a landmark and when to grab a new property is important. However, saving money is dangerous. You hard saved coins could very easily end up on the other side of the table in just a few dice rolls. Although, you savings could swell if you invested wisely in blue or red cards. It is all left to the fates.
To some degree that is true, but you can mitigate this. Remember earlier I made a point about cheese factories and how there is a dairy rush in this game? That is because cheese factories pay out when you roll a 7 and 7 is a magic number. This is because when rolling 2 dice, the number 7 is the most common result. In order to reduce your dependence on luck you need to pick the buildings in your town wisely, but this can just become a bidding war over cheese factories and their only resource, the ranch.
You see, certain cards like the cheese factory need other cards in order for them to pay out. Cheese factories earn you money depending on the number of ranches you have. If you own a cheese factory, but no cows to power them then no cheese fo you.There are a few other cards like this that require other cards in order for them to be profitable and each will spit out great heaps of money, but the cheese factory is definitely the most reliable.
Machi Koro is a good game with lots of options for you to expand your town. Do you want income on everybody’s turn? Well then, blue cards are your best bet. Do you want to steal everybody else’s money? If so, red cards are where it is at. Just want to roll some dice and get some cash on your own turn? I’d go with green cards. Normally players will go for a mix of colours and numbers to maximise their income. However, no matter which tactic you choose the cheese strategy is generally going to win. It makes the game unbalance and just less fun. The person who has the best start and can get the largest number of ranches and cheese factories is probably going to win. And it is a shame because otherwise Machi Koro would be an excellent game.
Wait for it…
Fret not, for there is an answer and it comes in the form of an expansion. Machi Koro: The Harbour expansion to be exact. This addresses the dairy free-for-all by adding new cards, a fifth player, new landmarks, but mainly by changing a few of the basic rules of the game. Instead of laying out all the cards in front of the players and allowing them to decide how to develop their town, now you only have at most 10 random establishments to choose from.
This alters the entire structure of the game. You need to plan for what is best now and cheese factories may never even appear in your game. The game changes from a rush to get certain powerful cards, to choosing which establishment is going to get you money for the current state of the game. It is an excellent and welcomed edition. And this turns Machi Koro from a good game with some balancing issues to a superb game.
I fully recommend Machi Koro and Machi Koro: The Harbour, but I will say that to see its full potential you do need the expansion. Gone are the days of playing endless games of Monopoly as Machi Koro plays easily in an hour with 4-5 players and it is exponentially more fun.