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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Machi Koro Disestablishmentarianism

The 2015 Spiel des Jahres nominated Machi Koro is a beautifully simple game that was made all the better with the addition of the expansion of Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion. The expansion opened up the number of paths to victory, whilst countering the core game’s limited number of paths to victory, making gameplay more random, and giving a more satisfying playing experience. Now, the second of the expansions of the Japanese ‘dice and card building’ game published by IDW Games is available in English. The question is, if Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion made Machi Koro better, can Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row—known as Japan as Machi Koro Sharp—do the same?

If Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion took Machi Koro out to sea and back again, then Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row gives an opportunity for the players to gentrify their towns. They can add Vineyards and Wineries, French Restaurants and Member’s Only Clubs, Demolition Companies and Renovation Companies, and more. All of these are new Establishments—there are no new Landmarks in this expansion. Fundamentally, the cards in Millionaire’s Row are more conditional and are as much about demolishing and decommissioning buildings as it is about building them.

The key condition that some of the Establishments work off in Millionaire’s Row is the number of Landmarks that a player has built. So the Green Card ‘General Store’ gives a player two coins from the bank when he rolls it, but only if he has less than two constructed Landmarks and the similar Blue Card ‘Corn Field’ gives every ‘Corn Field’ owner one coin from the Bank when anyone rolls it, but only if each owner has less than two constructed Landmarks. The Red Card ‘French Restaurant’ only activates when the player who rolls it has two or more constructed Landmarks; he must give the owning player five coins. The similar ‘Member’s Only Club’ requires the player who rolls it to have three or more constructed Landmarks; he must give all of his coins to the owning player.

The primary new mechanic introduced in Millionaire’s Row is that of deconstruction and renovation, that is, both Establishments and Landmarks can be deconstructed as well as constructed. Thus the Green Card ‘Demolition Company’ forces a player to demolish one of his Landmarks, though he does get eight coins and he can reconstruct the Landmark later. Establishments are not deconstructed, but rather closed for renovation. Thus the Green Card ‘Winery’ gives a player six coins when rolled for each Vineyard he owns, but then it closes for Renovation. When rolled, the Purple Card ‘Renovation Company’ allows a player to choose one type of Establishment in play and force all of them to close for Renovation, including those owned by other players. The rolling player gets one coin for each Establishment closed in this fashion. Any Establishment that is closed for Renovation receives a Renovation token and needs to be rolled again for the token to be removed. Until the Renovation token is removed, an Establishment cannot generate any income.

Not all of the new Establishments are always beneficial. The already mentioned Green Card ‘General Store’ only benefits a player when he has less than two constructed Landmarks, whilst the Green Card ‘Loan Office’ grants a player five coins when constructed (it is free to purchase), but makes him pay two coins back to the Bank when rolled on subsequent turns. Cards like this are primary candidates for use with the Green Card ‘Moving Company’ and the similar Purple Card ‘Business Centre’ from the core game that enable a player to move an Establishment to another player or swap one of his Establishments with that of another player. Here the ‘Moving Company’ gives a player four coins when he does this.

Lastly, the Purple Cards, ‘Park’ and ‘Tech Startups’, are interesting ways of getting more coins. The ‘Park’ forces all players’ coins to be collected and redistributed equally between all of the players, whilst at the end of each turn, a player can choose to place a single coin on the ‘Tech Startup’. Each time the ‘Tech Startup’ is rolled, coins equal to the number of coins on the card is collected from each of the other players.

The overall effect of Millionaire Row’s cards is to slow game play in two fundamental ways. The first is that many of the cards are designed to slow player down, particularly any runaway leader, the latter always a possibility in Machi Koro, especially if the Harbour Expansion is being used. Second, it increases the number of cards in play and can thus be drawn into the Marketplace, especially if the Harbour Expansion is being used. This can lead to situations where the only cards available for purchase can be two expensive and even when bought, may not generate income for a player. To an extent, this is countered by the free-to-buy ‘General Store’ and ‘Loan Office’ cards, but really this is an issue with Millionaire Row’s that could have been addressed.

Millionaire’s Row adds lots of interesting cards to the play of Machi Koro, but these add complexity and fundamentally slow gameplay down as does the profusion of cards being fed into the Marketplace. The complexity makes Machi Koro more of a gamer’s game than a family game, whilst the overstuffed Marketplace is a problem in search of a solution.