As the dust settles on another Essen and the packages that people had to send out by mail because they’d be boned on Excess Baggage fees finally start arriving, we’re now in that beautiful post-event comedown. Sure, we have rough voices and con-crud, but we also have the joy of unboxing and punching out stacks of new things to play with. Of course, the best thing – admit it! – is getting to show off the fact that you managed to get your hands on one of those hard to get titles that other people are now desperate to get their hands on. Games like Patchistory from Deinko that sold out within fifteen minutes of the show’s first day or pretty much anything from the teeny Japon Brand booth. Something like… oh, I dunno… Machi Koro?
Designed by Masao Suganuma and published through Grounding in Japan, a handful of English language copies made their way across the ocean to Germany. Now, I admit that there is a little showing off in this write up – I was surprised that I managed to get my hands on a copy – but I really wanted to put forward how bloody good the game actually is. Players are creating little cities represented by cards, of which there are fifteen different stacks that can be bought and added to your area. Beginning with a couple of buildings and a small amount of cash, each turn sees the active player rolling dice and hopefully gaining income from what has been built. Get more money and larger, more valuable buildings can be bought, hopefully continuing the cycle. A player wins once they manage to flip the last of four cards that represent construction sites in their city – each player has the same four – but these can be done in any order and will each grant you a permanent ability once they are paid for. The Station, for example, lets you roll two dice if you choose to, hopefully triggering some of those much more valuable abilities that exist on the higher numbered cards.
Players will initially only roll a single dice though with the result determining where the money goes each time. The cards are split into different colours, with green ones bringing in the cash just for you, but blue cards generating income no matter who was responsible for rolling. Most cruel are the red cards, often forcing huge payouts and depleting your hard earned cash in a stroke. The final colour cards, purple, are a little different though; where you can have multiple copies of all other building types, you may only have one each of these special, more powerful constructions. Once the effects of the roll have been dealt with (and it can trigger a few different buildings), the active player gets the chance to buy one of the cards that are available or flip one of the previously mentioned construction sites. Play then moves on to the next person.
Machi Koro is simplicity itself – initially at least. It’s only once you have a couple of games under your belt that you realise there’s a bit more to consider when playing. Each of the building types is given a symbol that effects or reacts to others that you have laid out before you. Coming up with combinations is key to maintaining a healthy income, but it’s not entirely reliant on just what you happen to have in front of you. Those cards that pay out on other peoples’ rolls are incredibly useful, so even when it’s not your turn you’re always looking out for what your opponents are doing. Thanks to this sweet little mechanism, Machi Koro has pretty much no downtime. Add in the fact that it plays in around thirty minutes, even with a maximum of four players, and you’re just adding more and more to the positives column.
Of course, there are criticisms, but they are very minor – with only fifteen building types available, you could grow weary of the combinations that can be built. Some people have even claimed that the game is ‘solvable’, but frankly I reckon you’d have to play Machi Koro into the ground to get to that level. Grounding Inc have actually produced an expansion deck for the game that was available as Essen in even more limited numbers, but was Japanese language only – however, the existence of such a deck of cards shows that adding more to the experience is a simple(ish) matter. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t pick it up…
No matter. The base set will give me plenty of pleasure – it’s been played a fair few times over the last couple of weeks and every time has been a joy. Yes, there’s a bit of luck involved thanks to the rolling of the dice but when you’re also able to pull in cash on other peoples’ turns that’s not too much of an issue. Also, the game doesn’t sell itself as this hardcore simulation – it’s light, fun and cute as all get out. This beautiful blue box shines out like a beacon on your table, drawing people in to get involved in a game. With explanations taking mere minutes, you can throw yourself into playing in no time at all. Yes, it’s going to be a nightmare to actually find a copy at this moment in time that you can play, but rest assured, there are plenty of companies who expressed interest in publishing the game in a larger print run. Have patience. It will come. And when it does, you will want to add a copy to your collection.
Machi Koro is published by Grounding Inc / Japon Brand, and was released (in its English language edition anyway) at Essen 2013. Designed by Masao Suganuma and with art from Noburu Hotta, copies are currently changing hands for a lot more than the 28 Euro it sold for at the show…