Machi Koro and Why We Love Building Towns So Much

Posted by Hayley Mullen on

Society: We live in it. At least, if you're reading this article you probably do. Being social and pack creatures, humans have formed societies and civilizations for thousands of years, culminating in the towns, cities, and communities we have on planet earth today. It's what we're best at as a species, making it no surprise the number of games all about creating your own town or civilization. This week, we're honing in on one of those games, popular in its own right: Machi Koro. It's a town-building game that is mostly luck-based, unlike other popular strategy building games. Machi Koro is Japanese and literally translates to "Dice Town", as your town will be built up based on your dice rolls. It's pretty easy to learn the rules and has high replayability, as well as many expansions and a sequel which we'll discuss later on. Make sure to read until the end to get a special discount code for Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Edition.

For now, let's get into the gameplay and how it works. The premise of Machi Koro has all players become the new mayor of the town, making it their responsibility to build it up into a bustling society. The game allows up to four players and takes around 15-30 minutes to play a full game. You'll start out with a wheat field and a bakery as your only cards and three coins, which are used to buy Establishments that all have effects triggered by certain dice rolls. You'll also get four Starting Landmarks: the Train Station, Shopping Mall, Amusement Park, and Radio Tower. Completing all four of these is how you win the game, so it's a race against other players to purchase them first. They start face-down (or Under Construction), and when you complete them their special effects can help you for the rest of the game.

Turns in Machi Koro go in clockwise order. A turn consists of a player rolling the die (or two dice) and seeing which effects activate based on the roll. Then, the player will collect whatever income possible from their resulting roll. After this, they can choose to construct an Establishment using their income. The types of Establishments come in four colours: Blue cards are Primary Industry (such as the wheat field), which trigger when the total rolled is a 1. This would mean the wheat field's effect activates, which is that the player can get one coin from the bank on anyone's turn.

Having multiple of the same card will trigger it multiple times, which is a viable strategy to getting money. Green cards (Secondary Industry, activated with a 2 or 3) allow players to get income from the bank on their turn only, while Red cards (Restaurants, activated by a 3) have players take coins from the player who rolled the 3. Finally, Purple cards (Major Establishments, activated by a 6) allow players to get income from all players, but only on their own turn.

If multiple cards are ever activated at once (which may happen more often than you think!), Red cards will always trigger first, followed by Blue and Green, then finally Purple ones. Furthermore, if a player owes money to multiple other players at once, the payment is processed counter-clockwise. If said player doesn’t have enough coins, the first player counter-clockwise to them gets the full amount, and the second player gets whatever is left, with the rest being forgiven/exempted. This is a very specific but helpful clarification to have. Let’s hope you don’t end up in that situation!

Players must decide which Establishments will bring in the most money for them and find the quickest way to finish their four Starting Landmarks. Hoarding money and buying nothing new in hopes of saving up for the Landmarks will quickly prove how important investment in your town is. When your town grows, it benefits everyone, most of all you, the new mayor deciding which projects get funded. A great lesson from Machi Koro here: money spent on societal resources and public amenities is never money wasted.

So that’s the basics of Machi Koro. But what about the expansions? How well do they improve upon what makes the game great? Many players have praised the Harbor expansion, released in 2012. Its premise is that election season is upcoming and big changes are needed to secure your re-election as Mayor, meaning a cleanup job of the town’s Harbor. The game introduces new Establishment cards of all colours, including new Blue Primary Industry cards such as a Mackerel Boat and Flower Orchard, Green cards like the Flower Shop, Red Restaurant cards like a Sushi Bar, and Purple Major Establishment Cards such as a Publisher. Three new landmarks are also added, expanding the town and gameplay length, and extra cards from the original Machi Koro are provided to allow for a 5th player. Many players hark that playing the base game with the Harbor expansion is the best way to experience Machi Koro, because who doesn’t love a coastal town?

Millionaire’s Row (released in 2014) is the second expansion that brings an air of class and regality to your dice town, as well as more risk and reward. Red cards such as the Member’s Only Club allow players to steal all of the roller’s coins if they have three or more landmarks constructed. The Purple card Park redistributes all coins amongst all players on the holder’s turn, making your chance of success dicier depending on how you roll the…well, dice. Other additions include Loan Offices, Wineries, French Restaurants, and even a Tech Startup, all with their own unique effects that make gameplay markedly different from the original base game.

If you still want more Machi Koro, there's Machi Koro Legacy and the recent sequel, Machi Koro 2. People just can't get enough of building/creation games. In fact, there seems to be a town-building game out there for every person out there. Some just enjoy slotting in pieces and seeing it grow, while others want control over every single detail. Video game Animal Crossing: New Leaf was so widely praised because of its new ability to add structures and installations across the player's town, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons expanded upon that tenfold with its island-building mechanics. Board games like Tiny Towns, Santa Monica, and 7 Wonders are all popular games focused on building societies and seeing them thrive. The entire Civilization series is indulging this desire to oversee the expansion of humanity.

So why are we continuously drawn to games that let us create life and prosperity? Is it human nature, the insatiable urge to build and improve with our own hands? Is it the fulfilling feeling of success and pride in what we've managed to make? Maybe it’s the simple fact that we are creatures designed to live together and constantly improve for the sake of bettering ourselves. Collaboration and coexistence is where many of our most beautiful creations come from. Perhaps in a better world, we could all create the things we dream of, alongside one another instead of against. For now, Machi Koro is a great way to whet that desire for creation and expansion in an easy and fun way, and you get to steal from people while doing it. Seems like a great deal to us.

Use discount code Hayley22 on our online store to get a 20% discount on Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Edition. Valid for one week.

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