It is difficult to say what exactly Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City is. Based on the award Japanese Machi Koro published in English in 2015 by IDW Games, it is not an expansion to the original game, but a standalone game. Yet nor is it a redesign of the original game as it includes almost no new cards, but instead includes cards and rules from the core set as well as from Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion and Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row. The end result is slightly more accessible and streamlined, but the play remains the same.
In Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City, each player takes the role of Mayor of a small Japanese town whose citizens are demanding landmarks to make their hometown equal to any great city. Starting off with a Wheat Field and a Bakery as his Establishments plus City Hall as his first Landmark, each player will race to build six other Landmark buildings—a Harbour, a Train Station, a Shopping Mall, an Amusement Park, a Moon Tower, and an Airport. The first mayor to do so is the winner!
Play itself is very simple. On his turn, a player will roll one or more dice and compare the result to the numbers at the top of his Establishment cards. If the number rolled matches the number on an Establishment card, it will generate money for one or more players to spend on their turns. If the current player has sufficient money he can spend it to purchase an Establishment or a Landmark. A player can have multiples of most Establishment cards (and gain all of their effects when rolled), but can only buy one card per turn. Where Machi Koro gets interesting is how the cards generate money. There are four types. Blue cards pay out to everyone when their numbers are rolled; green only pay out on a player’s turn; red cards take money from other players when they roll their numbers; and purple Major Establishment cards provide an action rather than a pay-out. Note that red and blue cards pay out even when it is not a player’s turn. For example, the blue Ranch cards pay everyone one coin when anyone rolls a result of a two. The green Bakery pays out one coin on a roll of two or three on the current player’s turn only. The red Café allows a player to take a coin from the current player when the current player rolls a three. The purple Business Centre allows a player to swap one of his buildings with that of another player.
Initially a player will be only rolling one die. If he purchases the Station landmark, he can roll one die or he can roll both dice. This means that range of results is no longer one to six, but two to twelve, and it means that as soon as they are built, a new range of buildings and their dice results are available to him. The cards with ranges above five tend to be more expensive and have more complex effects, especially results for six, seven, and eight. For example, the green Cheese Factory, which costs five coins, pays out three coins for each card the current player has with a cow symbol on it—currently only a Ranch—anytime he rolls a seven. Building the landmarks will also give a player a benefit. The Station allows him to roll two dice; the Amusement Park lets him roll again if he rolls doubles, and so on.
In comparison to the original game, Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City is designed for between two and five players rather than two to four. It reorganises the Marketplace from where Establishment cards can be purchased, dividing the Establishment cards into three separate decks: one for Establishment cards numbered six or less; one for Establishment cards numbered seven and over; and one for the Major Establishment cards. Only five types of Establishment cards are available to purchase in the Marketplace from each deck at any one time and only two Major Establishments. When one type of Establishment card is exhausted in the Marketplace, new cards are drawn until the limits are reached. Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City also replaces the Radio Tower Landmark with the Moon Tower, which allows a player to roll three dice and choose the most favourable two.
Physically, Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City is up to the same standards as the other Machi Koro titles.
Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City plays quickly and easily, though not as quickly as the suggested thirty minute playing time. Perhaps ninety minutes is a more accurate playing time. The primary changes from Machi Koro to Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City are the streamlining of the Marketplace and allowing five players rather than four. It also mixes in, but does not allow to dominate, the effect of the fish-related Establishment cards from Machi Koro: Harbour and the knocking down of Landmarks from Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row. The result is a good game and a good jumping on point for the Machi Koro line, suitable for players aged ten and over. It is a bit light for seasoned gamers and for owners of Machi Koro and its expansions, it does not offer anything new.