Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 14 July 2015

"We built this city, We built this city on a good roll":- Machi Koro

Game Title: Machi Koro

Designer: Masao Suganuma

Manufacturer: IDW Games &Pandasaurus

Year: 2012 (?)

"I remember when all this was wheat fields, we would get up at the break of dawn, farm all day then go to sleep. Back then you'd take your wheat to the bakery, the only one in town, and they'd give you back some bread, and if you were lucky maybe an iced bun! Of course these days you young'uns are spoilt with your shopping mall and your amusement park, bah, no respect for the simple things in life! Of course when I was older they set me to work in the mines you know, that's when things really started changing around here. We stuck gold one day, figuratively speaking of course, and since then this town has been richer than you can imagine. Did I tell you about when this was all wheat fields?"

"Yes Grampa, that was 30 minutes ago"

Machi Koro is a fast paced card and dice game where you try to improve your cities to make the most of dice rolls while, if at all possible, hindering your opponent. Each turn you will roll the die (or both die later in the game), activate the relevant buildings, and then spend your hard-earned money on new constructions. The new constructions generally make dice rolls more profitable which in turn leads to more money and better buildings. Keep going until you have built the best town of all.

Every building has an effect printed in text at the bottom of it, a cost to buy and a dice roll that will activate it. Early on in the game players will be playing with 1 dice so all numbers 1-6 are equally good, but later on when 2 dice start coming into play then cards that activate on a 1 suddenly look less appealing. You'll pay a premium for the cards that can only activate on 2 dice, but then can often have powerful effects. Ultimately you need to buy the 4 special buildings that each player starts with a copy to construct, each building gives you a power once built (the cheapest one allows you to roll both dice if you want to) and the first player to build all 4 wins.

Cards come in 4 varieties; Cards that activate on anyone's roll, which generally earn you less money. Cards that activate on only your rolls, but reward you with more money. Cards that activate only on opponent rolls and usually involve stealing the roller's money. Finally there are the Special Buildings which generally unlock a new power (such as an extra turn on doubles). Some cards activate on 2 numbers which can help balance out their otherwise low power.

The 15 main cards that you can buy during the game, more common rolls will tend to cost you more money.
The game is simple to learn but difficult to master endure. Let's be fair there are some lovely ideas behind this game and the art style is simplistic yet visually pleasing. But the game pretty much runs itself. Machi Koro feels like a natural step between a game like snakes and ladders, where the player's only input is to roll the dice, and a board game as we know it today which requires thought and tactics.  Sure you might plan based on statistics and probability (anyone used to knowing Catan will be able to tell you which numbers are obviously best to buy), yet the game has a frustrating way of ignoring this and letting lady luck spit in your face. I think the issue is that it's a short game, which means relatively few dice rolls overall and therefore a high chance that randomness will obscure the normally expected pattern for a 2 six-sided dice game. 

The 4 cards you need to build to win the game, these have special powers once built which can help exacerbate the runaway leader problem.

The game also has a strong tendency to reward one player above all others, get lucky once and you can afford better buildings, which means you get lucky more, which means you buy more buildings, which means you get lucky more, which means you win. Perhaps this would be less pronounced in a 4 player game, but certainly the 2-player variant feels very skewed. If you want a game for ~8 year olds, who are ready to go beyond childhood games and start thinking about strategy then perhaps this game is the game for you, but I don't think I could in good conscience recommend this to an adult gaming group. The painful thing is I feel that there is a good game in here waiting to break free, but they just didn't get it right.



  1. From what I have heard, adding the Harbor expansion really improves the game play.

  2. I've not tried the expansion, and it may be the case, but I'm a little wary of the idea of buying an expansion for a game that I don't think is that good.There are too many games that start off good and then have great expansions to spend money