(2014 – IDW Games & Pandasaurus Games)
Last Spring, I was introduced to a little Japanese, city building card game entitled Machi Koro. Designed by Masao Suganuma and published in English by IDW and Pandasaurus Games, this simple card game has become widely popular, showing up in mass market retail stores across the country and is currently being printed in over 9 different languages. For those interested in learning how to play the base game, feel free to check out my review of the original here. For the rest of you, this review will focus solely on Machi Koro’s first released expansion, Machi Koro: The Harbor.
Setup & Gameplay:
The Harbor expansion introduces a new setup process to the game and as a result, changes the way the game is played, instilling a longer run time and a bit more strategy. If you’ll remember in the base game, all Establishment cards are placed in the central play area for purchase and available to players at all time during the game. The designers have chosen to do away with this method of availability with the introduction of the Harbor expansion. All Establishments are now shuffled together, face down, in one large draw pile.
After all Establishment cards have been shuffled into one large draw deck, cards are drawn one at a time and placed in the central play area, until 10 different Establishments are present. If an Establishment is drawn that is already present in the central play area, that card is simply placed on top of the card that is matches. In this way, when a player decides to purchase that Establishment, there will be another one available underneath it. During gameplay, if a purchased Establishment results in a vacant spot in the central play area, then cards are drawn to fill the vacancy until there are again 10 different types of Establishments.
City Hall – As mentioned before, each player starts the game with an active City Hall landmark card. City Hall makes it so that players have at least 1 coin at all times for purchasing new Establishments. Remember, Restaurant establishments are paid before players earn income from their own establishments. Therefore, if a player has had to pay an opposing player for rolling a die facing matching the player’s red establishment, City Hall will still provide him 1 coin to that he can purchase a new establishment with. Wheat Fields, Bakeries, Ranches, Pizza Joints, Hamburger Stands, and Flower Shops can all be purchased for 1 coin. Of course, players can choose to save this coin for later, instead of using it to purchase something this turn.
The Harbor – The Harbor costs only 2 coins to activate and contains an ability that allows a player to add 2 to the total value if he has rolled dice that are valued at 10 or more. Fruit/Vegetable Markets (11-12), Food Warehouses (12-13), and Tuna Boats (12-14) can all be activated by using the ability provided by the Harbor. Tuna Boats specifically are very powerful income-earners, but are quite difficult to activate without the a constructed Harbor.
The Airport – An Airport is the most expensive establishment to construct in the game, costing a whopping 30 coins. However, building an Airport can, to a large degree, speed up the path the victory. If a player with an active Airport chooses to build nothing on his turn, he gains 10 coins from the bank. Of course, this would be in addition to any coins he earned during his turn by resolving his die roll. Being that all other establishments costs less than 22 coins, gaining at least 10 coins on every turn via the Airport can allow a player to quickly construct the rest of his remaining Landmarks. Of course, he’ll need 30 coins to construct an Airport. A tough task without building some of his other Landmarks first.
Flower Orchard – The only 4-valued card in the base game was the Convenience Store (green) which allowed a player to gain 3 coins, but only on his own turn. The Flower Orchard not only adds another 4-valued establishment to the game, but since it is a primary industry (blue) it earns coins for the player on anyone’s turn.
Mackerel Boat – The Mackerel Boat is fairly cheap to build, costing the player only 2 coins and gains the player 3 coins on anyone’s turn when an 8 is rolled. This is a massive reward for such a small fee, however the Mackerel Boat will only resolve when the player has a completed Harbor landmark.
Tuna Boat – Tuna Boats are expensive (5 coins) and aren’t active unless resolving a value of 12, 13, or 14, but can be quite rewarding. Unless a player rolls double 6’s, the only way to activate a Tuna Boat is for a player to have a completed Harbor when he rolls a 10 or 11. Remember that the Harbor allows the player to add a value of 2 to a roll of 10 or more. When a Tuna Boat is activated, the current player will roll two dice. If the player with the Tuna Boat also has a completed Harbor, he will gain coins equal to the total value rolled. This amount can be multiplied if the player has multiple Tuna Boats.
Flower Shop – The Flower Shop is tied directly into the Flower Orchard establishment mentioned earlier. While very cheap (only 1 coin) and containing a value (6) that is rolled quite a bit during a game, coins gained by the Flower Shop is conditional on being able to supply the shop with actual flowers. When activated, the player gains 1 coin for every Flower Orchard they own in their city. So you may want to rethink loading up on Flower Shops unless you have a healthy stock of Flower Orchards.
Food Warehouse – Other than the Tuna Boat, this is the only other establishment that has a value of 13 or more. The Food Warehouse can be very rewarding for players that have focused heavily on building restaurant and food establishments (red) in their city. When activated, the Food Warehouse awards the player two coins for every restaurant and food establishment he has in his city.
Sushi Bar – The Sushi Bar is another establishment that requires a completed Harbor to activate. Since it only activates when a 1 is rolled, the Sushi Bar is really only valuable early on in the game before player’s have completed their Train Station, allowing them to roll two dice. However, if activated it can gain the player 3 coins from the player that rolled the dice. It can be a great way to get quick jump on opposing players early on.
Pizza Joint – The Pizza Joint is a fairly straightforward establishment. Only costing 1 coin to build, the Pizza Joint will gain the player 1 coin when an opposing player rolls a 7. It’s cheap but won’t gain the player a ton of income, unless owning multiple joints.
Hamburger Stand – The Hamburger Stand is a direct replica of the Pizza Joint, the only difference being that it activates with a roll of an 8 instead of a 7.
Publisher – Conveniently sporting the IDW logo, the Publisher establishment activates on a 7 and costs a pricey 5 coins. However, it can gain the player a lot of income in that when activated, as it gains the player 1 coin for each restaurant/food establishment and every retail location his opponents own.
Tax Office – As with real life, the Tax Office can be the most frustrating and income awarding establishments based on which side of the die roll you are on. When an 8 or 9 is rolled, if the player owns a Tax Office, he is allowed to take half of the coins from each opposing player, as long as they have at least 10 coins total. This can be a menace for players attempting to stash away enough money to buy the higher priced Airport, Radio Tower, and Amusement Park landmarks. At the same time, a few tax collections can vault a player ahead if rolled at the right time. More than any other establishment in the game, the Tax Office may force players to spend their money while they have it, at least below the 10 coin mark.
The base game of Machi Koro came with 15 unique establishments and 4 unique landmarks. So it’s fair to say that the Harbor expansion adds quite a bit with the inclusion of 10 unique establishments and 3 unique landmarks. These new establishments help to spread out some of the options available to players when choosing amongst cards with the same value. For instance in the base game there was only one 7-valued establishment (the Cheese Factory), where there are now three (the Cheese Factory, the Publisher, and the Pizza Joint). It’s always a good strategy to own as many different valued establishments as possible in order to increase your chances of activating one with the die roll, but with the addition of these new establishments, players have more and more options available to them.
The activation abilities of the establishments themselves, are for the most part a bit more powerful than those found in the base game, though this balances out by the fact that a lot of them are conditional and/or expensive. As mentioned earlier, the Sushi Bar is great early on in the game, but becomes almost nonexistent once all player are rolling two dice. The Mackerel Boat, Tuna Boat, and Food Warehouse are all dependent upon an active Harbor, while the Flower Shop can’t function without a present Flower Orchard. It’ll be interesting to see if future expansions follow this same conditional path. It would be neat to see that players can take various paths to building their city, the Harbor path being the first one.
While the establishments themselves bring a lot to the game, the major addition to the Harbor is not these cards themselves, but instead to change to how the game is played. The new rule-set for drawing establishments into play rather than have them all available at once, not only changes the choices available to players, but also strengthens that games runtime, balance, and strategies. While I loved the original, many games of Machi Koro ended before I felt I could really get started on my city. And if one player leaps ahead early on, it can be quite difficult to catch up strategically. You basically were dependent on die rolls to help you out in that regard. But now, with only 10 different establishments available at any one time, players will need to make a choice which establishments are more important to them at that point in the game. Do you buy a Tuna Boat during the first few turns knowing that you won’t be able to activate it for awhile, just because you’re worried that it might not surface again during the next 10 rounds? Or do you take a Café now in order to gain income early on in the game? The more popular establishments will go fast, but there’s always the Business Office to help steal those establishments from the opponent.
A majority of expansions include additional components that increase upon those already found in the base game, while introducing a few separate rules for those components. With its Harbor expansion, Machi Koro goes beyond in that it doesn’t simply add rules, it completely changes how the game is played. And for the better. Before Machi Koro was a fun, little gateway game that I could introduce to new players at game night, or use as a quick, filler. It was great in that sense and saw a lot of play at the table. However, with the changes made with the Harbor, the game has stretched its legs and become much more. Who would have figured that such a small rule change would add a good amount of strategy and lengthen the game to the main event at game night. It will be hard to convince me to play Machi Koro without the Harbor again, and my bet is that any fan of Machi Koro who includes the Harbor with theirs, will feel the same.