(2014 – Pandasaurus Games, IDW Games)
For many, Settlers of Catan was the gateway game that introduced them to the ongoing, endless depths of the board gaming hobby. Among many of its interesting mechanics, including trading and civilization building aspects, was the way in which dice were used to gain resources. Players controlled various numbered areas of the board, and were awarded the specific resources tied to these areas when the matching number was rolled on a die. It was a unique mechanic for its time and one that almost every board game enthusiast is now familiar with.
In 2012, Japanese game designer, Masao Suganuma took this simple, yet beloved mechanic and created a city building card game, entitled Machi Koro, which was fully revolved around owning cards with numerical values, and resolving those cards when the rolled die facings matched. This Summer, the US will finally see an English translation of the game, being published through Pandasaurus Games.
In Machi Koro, players take on the role of mayors, slowly developing their individual towns, in the attempt to be the first town to complete four major landmarks. Each newly constructed building will supply the player with a certain way to earn income. When the dice are rolled, the number listed on the building cards that match the number rolled will activate, thus the special action available to that particular building will resolve. Players can earn income on their own turn, on other player’s turns, and also may have to pay money to other players depending on the types of buildings in each player’s town. Eventually players will have enough income to build a new gorgeous landmark, which contain powerful special abilities. The first player to build all four available landmarks, wins the game.
– Landmark cards (Amusement Parks, Radio Towers, Shopping Malls, and Stations)
– Industry Establishment cards (Wheat Fields, Ranches, Forests, Mines, and Apple Orchards)
– Market Establishment cards (Bakeries, Convenience Stores, Cheese Factories, Furniture Factories, and Fruit & Vegetable Markets)
– Restaurant Establishment cards (Cafes and Family Restaurants)
– Major Establishment cards (Business Centers, Stadiums, and TV Stations)
At the beginning of the game, each player’s town starts with a Wheat Field (Industry) and a Bakery (Market). When a player rolls a 1, all players receive 1 coin for each Wheat Field in their town. When a player rolls a 2 and/or a 3, that player (and only that player) receives 1 coin for each Bakery in their town.
Each player also places the four Landmark cards, facedown in front of their town area. This shows that these Landmarks care currently under construction. As players earn enough income to build these Landmarks, they will flip them over and have access to their special abilities. As mentioned before, once a player is able to complete all four Landmarks, they have won the game.
All of the various Establishments that will be available for construction during the game are placed in the central play area for players to purchase. Each Establishment type has a value at the bottom left corner of the card. Players must spend this amount in order to purchase the new Establishment and add it to their town. During setup, it’s usually best to place the Establishment stacks in order by their cost amount for easy reference.
Finally, each player receives 3 Coins and the remaining Coins are placed in an area near the Establishment card stacks. These Coins will make up the communal bank. Plastic tokens were supplied to represent the coins for this preview copy, but I would assume the finalized published coins will show the 1, 5, and 10 values for reference. Also, the card layouts should not change much at all, as they are the same layouts seen in the original Japanese release, just with English text. After setup, the player area should look something like this:
In Machi Koro, players will complete an individual turn, then play will continue clockwise to the next player. Each turn consists of three phases; the Dice Phase, the Income Phase, and the Building Phase. Let’s take a look at how each of these phases work.
1.) Dice Phase – At the beginning of a player’s turn, he will roll either 1 or 2 Dice. At the beginning of the game, each player is allowed to roll only 1 Dice on their turn. The Station landmark, once completed, will allow a player to roll 2 Dice on their turn (though the player can still roll only 1 Dice if they choose). Other landmarks, such as the Radio Tower, will allow a player to reroll his Dice.
2.) Income Phase – Once a player’s Dice have been rolled, income will be awarded according to the numbers on the Dice, and the numbers listed on Establishment cards in players towns. There are four types of Establishment cards, and each card resolves income differently:
Industry Establishments are blue, and consists of Wheat Fields, Ranches, Forests, Mines, and Apple Orchards. When a number is rolled matching a number listed on one of the Industry Establishment cards, all players that have that Establishment in their town earns coins.
For instance, Player A rolls his Dice and rolls a 2. Ranch cards match this 2 facing, thus any player with a Ranch in his town, will earn 1 Coin. Player A has a Ranch, therefore earns 1 Coin. Player B has two Ranches in his town, therefore he would earn 2 Coins (1 for each Ranch). Even though it is not currently Player B’s turn, blue Industry Establishments in a players town allows him to earn income even on other player’s turns.
Market Establishments are green, and consists of Bakeries, Convenience Stores, Cheese Factories, Furniture Factories, and Fruit & Vegetable Markets. Unlike Industry Establishments, when a number is rolled matching a number listed on one of the Market Establishment cards, only the current player will earn income for that Establishment.
Using the previous example in which Player A rolled a 2 and earned 1 Coin from his Ranch, we can see that Player A also owns two Bakeries. Therefore Player A would earn 2 Coins from his Bakeries on this turn (1 for each). This would mean, by rolling a 2, he would gain a total of 3 Coins on his turn (1 from his Ranch, and 2 from his Bakeries). All other players have Bakeries in their towns, however because it is Player A’s turn, and because the Bakery is a Market Establishment, no other player could gain Coins from their Bakeries during Player A’s turn.
Restaurant Establishments are red, and consists of Cafes and Family Restaurants. Any player that has a Restaurant in their town will earn income directly from other players when those players roll the number printed on the Restaurant card.
For instance, Player B has a Family Restaurant in his town. If Player C was to roll a 9 on his turn, he would be required to pay Player B 2 coins. If Player B happened to have two Family Restaurants in his town, Player C would be required to pay him 4 total coins for rolling a 9.
Major Establishments are purple, and consists of Business Centers, Stadiums, and TV Stations. Players are only allowed to have one of each of these establishments in their town. Therefore, while a player can have multiple Wheat Fields and Cheese Factories, he can never have more than one Stadium. Major Establishments require a 6 to be rolled in order to activate, and will allow for unique abilities that can only take place on their own turn. Let’s take a look at each:
– When the Business Center activates on that player’s turn, he can choose to trade one non-Major Establishment card with a non-Major Establishment card from another player’s town.
– When the Stadium activates on that player’s turn, he will receive 2 coins from all other players.
– When the TV Station activates on that player’s turn, he can take 5 coins from any player of his choice.
3.) Building Phase – After players have earned income and resolved the establishments in their town, the active player can choose to build 1 new establishment by paying its cost and placing it in his town area from the central supply. Players could instead choose to complete one of their Landmark cards, by paying its construction cost and flipping the card to its active side. Each active Landmark card will provide bonuses to a player that will assist in being able to alter the way his Die is rolled, even providing a player with multiple Dice (which will be needed in order to resolve establishments with the printed numbers “7-12“). Remember that once all Landmarks have been completed by a player, that player has won the game. So players will need to strategically choose which order to construct these Landmarks, for their particular uses during the game.
The Amusement Park
– The Amusement Park will cost a player 16 coins to build. Once constructed, if the owner rolls doubles on his turn, he can choose to take another turn.
The Radio Tower
– The Radio Tower will cost a player 22 coins to build. Once constructed, the owner can choose to reroll his Dice once every turn.
The Shopping Mall
– The Shopping Mall will cost a player 10 coins to build. Once constructed, the owner is allowed to earn an extra coin from his own Bakeries, Convenience Stores, Cafes, and Family Restaurants.
– The Station will cost a player 4 coins to build. Once constructed, the owner is allowed to roll 2 Dice on his turn for the rest of the game. This will almost always be a player’s first choice of constructed Landmarks.
Machi Koro manages to merge a dice revolving, action mechanic with city building, all packaged in a quick and light 20-minute filler. Players will find it important to balance the various types of establishments in their towns, making sure to have some that will provide income on everyone’s turn, some that will earn income on their own turn, as well as some that will allow them to take from other players. As with any prospering city, the focus here is on efficiency. Coins do not equal Victory Points in Machi Koro, instead they are simply used for monetary purposes of constructing other and larger establishments. The player that is most efficient with his income and can complete a couple of his Landmarks earlier on in the game will have the inside advantage.
With no game board and being mostly card-based (save for the coins tokens and dice), Machi Koro is easily transportable for vacation trips, or even the workplace break room. The Japanese cartoon-style artwork is reminiscent of that found in Animal Crossing, and each establishment contains its own unique animation. While the game would play just as well without the stylistic drawings, the artwork lends itself well in representing the light-hearted and fun elements that emerge during gameplay.
Machi Koro provides enough decision making for players to feel in control of the construction of their individual towns, while also implementing a risk/reward element in taking a chance on which die facings are rolled and how the establishments resolve. It’s a simple game for new players to pick up and learn, and will especially appease fans of Settlers of Catan that enjoy its dice rolling/resource mechanic, while also looking for a more portable, filler-oriented game.