Machi Koro, the dreaded review. A game that I really wanted to like, but hated.
Players: 2 – 4 Best with: 4
Age: 10+ GN Age: Child
Game Type: Card Game Time: 30 minutes
Publisher/Year: Pandasaurus Games / 2013
Game Play: Engine Building, Blind Stinking Luck
Score: out of 12
Machi Koro is a game with so much wasted potential. On the surface it seems like a perfect family game. It is easy to learn, with a fun theme, and a cute pop art design. The game is quick to play and the strategy is simple enough for a child to learn but varied enough that there is no guaranteed path to victory.
Unfortunately, the game play is broken with an abysmal game mechanic. Half of our Game Night Family hates this game. The other half kinda likes it, except for that broken game element. My oldest put it best, “I hate this game, and it’s even worse when I’m winning because it makes me feel like an asshole.” Put that quote on your box top, Pandasaurus, I dare ya.
Let’s start with the good stuff. The concept and the theme are cute. You are the mayor of the city of Machi Koro. Your job is to grow your city until it is the best Machi Koro of all. Of course, the other players are trying to make their city even better than yours, and do it quicker than you too.
Each player starts with two businesses (a wheat field and a bakery), 3 coins, and four (unbuilt) landmarks (train station, shopping mall, amusement park, and radio tower.) To win the game you must be the first to build all four landmarks. Throughout the game, you must buy more and more businesses that will hopefully earn you enough coin to buy those landmarks.
There are 15 different businesses to buy. Each one has a different effect and this is the best part of the game. Some businesses pay you on your turn, some on anyone’s turn and some only on another’s turn. This means that each dice roll is engaging for every player. So many games involve just waiting for your own turn, that we really love this innovation.
On each turn, you roll a single die. If you own a business that matches the die roll, then you receive income. If you own more than one of the same type of business than you get paid for each one. Part of your strategy is deciding whether to create a monopoly of one business type or to spread out your portfolio to get paid on multiple die rolls. At the start of the game, your earned income is small, but as your city grows, so does your bankroll.
One of the first Landmarks you will buy is the Train Station. Its cost is low and it gives you the ability to roll either one or two dice. This opens up a whole new realm of businesses to buy and earn from. The problem is that you’ll never get to enjoy playing with any of them. The game is heavily unbalanced toward low level play. So much time is spent rolling a single die that it is rarely cost effective to purchase the higher businesses. And once someone manages to buy just a few of them, the game is effectively over and will be won within 3 or 4 turns. The other Landmarks also have bonus abilities but you’ll barely have a chance to use them either.
This brings us to the absolute worst part of the game; the effing purple cards, the “major establishments”, and the stupid sixes. These cards completely break the game and they make the game irrelevant, vindictive, and just plain horrible.
The problem is that there are 3 purple cards and they all activate whenever you roll a six. And all three cards allow you to steal directly from the other players. No other cards and dice rolls do this. Every other die roll will activate only one (or two) business type and never to the detrimental effect of a six. In a four-player game, the player with all three “Major Establishment” properties will steal 11 coins and the best property from any player. And then he gets to use those coins to buy whatever he wants. It is an overbearing swing in fortunes.
This makes every other strategy in the game useless. The moment one person buys a “Major Establishment”, the game becomes a race for everyone to buy them. And then whomever rolls the most sixes wins the game, without question and without fail. There is no strategy, there is no defense, and there is no fun.
This is readily apparent in a two-player game. My wife rolled a 6, stealing seven coins from me and taking my single best property (an Apple Orchard). Then she used my money to buy an expensive Landmark. By the time I rolled a six, I could only take back what she stole and I couldn’t even buy anything because she’d already spent all my money. And then she did that three more times to my zero. It was ridiculous and completely pointless to play. I have not been so angry at a game in years. The game sucks.
In our first game with the kids, no one rolled a six and the game was a ton of fun. The kids had a blast and immediately wanted to play another round. However, the second game was all sixes, and it was a complete shit show. One was crying, everyone was miserable, and I was furious with the game (again) and I won!
There are a few variant rules that are supposed to fix this issue, but they only delay the inevitable. The game will always degenerate into an abysmal failure. And I still want to like this game! I’m told that there are expansion packs that fix this issue. My response is, “Screw you!” I’m not going to spend more money to fix something that shouldn’t be this broken to begin with. This isn’t Microsoft Windows!
I only agreed to give this game a score of 5 because my wife and youngest son still like the game and I refused to give it a 6 out of principle. Buy this game at your own risk and only play it with major house rules that limit the power of those stupid sixes!
As always, there’s a big difference between hating a game because you lost, and hating a game because it sucks, and Game On!