Cheese Factory FTW!--A Review of Machi Koro


Today Firestone reviews the Spiel des Jahres-nominated Machi Koro, a hit card game from designer Masao Suganuma and published by Pandasaurus Games. 

Each player is a mayor, trying to grow the city of Machi Koro into the greatest city of them all. 

The Components

108 cards

78 coins in three denominations

2 dice


The Setup

Each player starts with one Wheat Field and one Bakery, along with four Landmark cards that start on their unbuilt side. Then give each player three coins, and determine a start player. 

There are two ways to set up the cards. The original game setup has you dividing the cards into stacks of the same type, and then putting them in order from lowest dice requirement to the highest. So every card is available all the time--until a stack runs out. 

The variant setup (and the setup introduced in the expansion) has you shuffling all cards together, and creating a display of 10 unique cards. You just draw them off the top, and if it's a duplicate, you put it on the stack of that kind, and if it's unique, you create a new stack. Once you have 10 unique stacks, you stop, and if a stack is depleted in the game, you draw a new card until you get a unique one. 


The Gameplay

You do three things on your turn:

  1. Roll dice
  2. Earn income
  3. Buy buildings

And that's it!

First you roll the dice. At the beginning of the game you'll just roll one, because the two buildings you have pay off on a 1 or 2. Later, if you build the Landmark card Train Station, you can choose to roll one or two dice. 

Then, cards may or may pay off. Every card has a number (or numbers) between 1-12 on the top that tells when that card pays off. There are four different colors of cards, and they each pay off slightly differently. 

  • Blue: These cards pay off on anyone's turn when someone rolls that number. 
  • Green: These cards only pay off on your turn when you roll that number. 
  • Red: These cards pay off when someone else rolls that number--you get to take coins from the lucky roller. 
  • Purple: These trigger on your turn, but you take coins from other players rather than the bank. In the base game all 6 cards are purple and all purple cards are 6s. 

Cards pay off for everyone--if it's the correct color--and if a player owns multiple copies of a card, the effects are multiplied. Then the player can buy either a card from the display, or build one of the Landmark cards (you can build them in any order you want). 

The Landmark cards are:

  • Train Station: You can choose to roll 1 or 2 dice.
  • Shopping Mall: Certain establishments earn +1 coin. 
  • Amusement Park: If you roll doubles, you immediately get to take another turn. 
  • Radio Tower: Once every turn you can choose to reroll your dice. 

 Play continues clockwise until someone builds his or her fourth Landmark card. 

The Verdict

First, I dislike the original setup rules. It gives the game a very short shelf life, and people just sort of follow the path they like best. It's not like Dominion, where nearly every game is different, so you're forced to try different tactics. The layout for Machi Koro is exactly the same every game, so unless you choose to try a different tactic, you'll just buy as many Cheese Factories and Farms as possible (or whatever your chosen route to victory is). 

So I always play with the variant setup (which is, as I said, the regular setup with the expansion). Yes, it's not perfect. Since you're dealing with the luck of the draw, sometimes you'll buy an okay card, and a great card will get flipped up. That just happens. If you don't like it, don't buy the last card of a stack.

I like how you can decide how you want to play the odds: Do you buy a broad spectrum of numbers so that whatever you roll you're going to get something? Or do you specialize and spend many turns getting jack squat. But when that number finally hits...hoo boy!

Of course, it's all based on dice, so sometimes the numbers are going to be way, way, off. But I think that's why it works as a fast, fun filler. 

At the end of the day, I never play this in my game group. But I do play it with my family. A lot. It's one of my 7-year-old's favorite games. It's like a light mashup of Settlers of Catan and Dominion, but I'm 1 million times more likely to play Machi Koro with my family than Settlers or Dominion. 

And it's easy to explain and play, so I can bring this our with nongamers. In fact, I think this is now on my short list of gateway games. It's a perfect Spiel des Jahres nomination. 

Firestone's Final Verdict--Machi Koro has too much luck to play with the game group, but I really like playing this with the family and nongamers. It's fun, plays quickly, and includes people on everyone's turn. The fact that it's newbie-friendly means it's making it to the table quite often. What more could I ask for in a game? 

Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Machi Koro? Do you prefer the original or variant setup?