Monday, August 22, 2016

A Better Take on an Old Classic

Kids across America were, at one point in our lives, around the time where Sorry stopped being fun and Yatzee was still confusing and mildly dumb, introduced to a classic board game; a game that ended friendships. A game that strained familial relations. One of the first games (outside of Chess) with minis and a currency. A game introduced by a parent or a grandparent with a sly grin on a rainy evening. That game:


And then one day, after you beat your younger sibling for the ten-thousandth time, after your uncle or dad beat you for the 100th time, and after you got introduced to games like this and this, you realized that Monopoly got one thing right: it put the MONO in monotony.

I really used to love Monopoly, and we own several copies of several different variations (from regular to Junior to Bugs Bunny to Empire). But as I have said before, we live in a golden era of table-top and board games. Never before has there been such a massive variety of games of various complexities, each one relaying less and less on randomness (though that random roll is still of high importance) and more and more on strategic or cooperative thinking.

Monopoly relies so heavily on the randomized die-roll that there is a point in a game at which victory is unequivocally certain for one player and defeat unavoidable by the rest. The holes in the gameplay become apparent, and the strategy, unlike chess, is fairly straightforward. Though it is possible to win without the vaunted Boardwalk-Park Place bank-breaker, those properties are key, and those properties go to the person who rolls the right rolls, largely.

For those of you who tire of Monotony's monotonousness, but you really want a game wherein property, property value, and a race to build income-rich monopolies are exciting, allow me to direct you to:

Machi Koro!

Cards and "coins," that's all the game is. No meeples or minis or game boards. The cards are arranged in numeric order (numbers on the top of the cards), and each small stack of cards is either a resource or business. Thus, every player gets a chance to have access to resources, but the resources are finite and a player could easily corner the market, so to speak.

Every turn, each player  - up to 4 players - rolls one or, later, up to two dice. The die roll "activates" a resource for whomever controls it...sort of like landing on a property in Monopoly. Some resources pay everyone, some pay the person who rolled it, some make the person who rolled it pay.

What do you do with this money?

Either buy more resources or business in your burgeoning little town in order to make more money, or save your money to buy 1 of 4 landmarks (a train station, a shopping mall, an amusement park, and a radio tower....why those 4 things somehow signify an advanced city, I'll never know, but it matters little). Every player starts with all 4 landmarks "under construction." The first player to buy all 4 landmarks wins!

As you can see, there are several similarities to Monopoly, including the accumulation of properties and wealth, making money off of other players who roll your property, and even buying-up the scarce resources (from wheat fields to bakeries to restaurants and cafes). There still exists even the ever-essential-in-gaming randomized die roll. But beyond that, the similarities end. There is complex strategy in which resources you buy and when to build - or not - your landmarks. Do I buy all the 3 &4, 7 & 8 die roll resources, or a gob of 1 and 2, 11/12 resources? can I win simply by making people pay me, or is there a balance?

Our growing little towns...the race is on between Dom and I!
Here's the key: this is very family-friendly. My 8-year-old twins understand the rules, and understand the basics of the strategy well enough that Dominic was within 1 coin of getting the 4th landmark before I did. All 3 of us had 3 of 4 landmarks within just a few turns of one another. It was a close game, but nobody got blown-out. There are winners and losers, but the losing players are bankrupted and beaten into submission; it's a race, and it's a close one, even if your resource and business cards are scant. Its replayability is very high; we played 2 games in a little under an hour.

There are 2 expansions out for the game as well: Harbor, an Millionaire's Row. More variation, more cards, more landmarks, more game, same easy theme with fun illustrations.

This isn't your father's Monopoly, and that's just fine. Family-friendly, kid-friendly, and quick and easy enough that if you have people over for a game night, they'll be playing in no time and even have a shot as a novice at winning.


  1. I hate Monopoly with a passion, so Machi Koro sounds cool. Jay and I played one of the Carcassone games (which I can't seem to find), where you claim and develop the land within the city walls. I want to say the game ended when the players scored a total 100 points, and the winner was who scored more than anyone else. I quite enjoyed that. --Larry

  2. Hey Larry!

    Machi Koro is a really well-conceived game. There's a nice, subtle strategy for the adults, but the rules and gameplay are such that my 8-year-old twins each came within one card and a couple coins of beating me, which was really satisfying for them.

    We love Carcassone. I'll do a writeup on that one for sure!

  3. Excellent review! I have recommended it to several people all who have loved it. Solid recommendation on a solid game!