Review: Machi Koro

Remember what it felt like to boot up SimCity 2000 (or whatever your favourite city-building game used to be)? Remember how rewarding it felt to build your little spec of land into a venerable empire, able to withstand the wrath of natural disasters? Well, dust off your old mayor’s hat/sash/comically large moustache, because city-building card game Machi Koro is here to bring back all the fun of simulated governance!

The aim of the game is to be the first player to build all four of your city’s Landmarks – Shopping Mall, Radio Tower, Amusement Park, and Train Station. As soon as you have completed your final Landmark, you win the game! Players earn money through establishments. Starting only with a humble wheat field and bakery, you take speedy turns generating income and spending that income on further establishments – in turn expanding your city and making it more profitable.

Turns are quick and the main mechanics of the game are very easy to understand. Each card has an activation number at the top of the card, and an effect down the bottom, plus a construction cost in the bottom left-hand corner.


Turns consist of three phases:

+++++1. Roll dice
+++++2. Earn income
+++++3. Construction (buying establishments)

The active player rolls the die, and if the number rolled matches the activation number on any relevant cards, that effect is resolved. Some cards only generate income on your turn (green), while others generate income no matter whose turn it is (blue), making it important to pay attention to the game, even if it is not your turn. Additionally, some card effects dictate that the player who rolled must give money to other players, based on the effect of their establishment (red). Once all the cards’ effects have been resolved, the active player may buy one establishment.


Activation numbers range from 1-12, but all players start the game with the ability to roll only one die. The cheapest Landmark (Train Station) grants you the ability to roll 2, thus unlocking the potential of all establishments with activation numbers greater than 6. The higher numbered cards tend to provide better rewards, but are more expensive to purchase. Once you have purchased the Train Station, the beginning of every turn becomes a choice. The card effect reads “you may roll 1 or 2 dice”, meaning you always have the choice of rolling 1 instead. As the result of the dice are always summed, by choosing to roll both you are lessening the likelihood of activating the low activation number establishments. Higher risk equals higher reward, but either playstyle can be fruitful. How you try to win Machi Koro is really up to you.

The other three Landmarks also provide useful passive abilities, such as allowing you to take another turn if you roll doubles – adding more weight to the decision of which Landmarks to buy in which order. There may be a lot of possible strategic decisions to make in Machi Koro, but no matter which you make, you are always improving upon your town, and increasing the likelihood of receiving more income, so there is really no ‘wrong’ way to do it, making the game fun, even during a player’s first time with Machi Koro.

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Machi Koro is a rare example of a 2-4 player game that is just as fun with 2 players as it is with 3 or 4. A lot of games that promise to be “2-4 player” games on the box can turn into a disappointing experience for 2 players, as the core mechanics have obviously been designed with more players in mind, and the option of a 2-player mode can feel very tacked-on. This is absolutely not the case with Machi Koro. It functions perfectly no matter how many people you choose to play with.

The artwork of Machi Koro is eye catching. Bright, colourful, and endearing, Noboru Hatto’s lovely designs bring the game to life, transforming the solid mechanics of Machi Koro into a truly memorable tabletop experience.

Games of Machi Koro last about thirty minutes, even when playing in a group of four, and the rules take next to no time to learn. This is an exceptionally solid, fun, and engaging card game experience that is sure to have broad appeal no matter whether you are playing with family, friends, colleagues, or new acquaintances at a con.

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  • Speedy Turns
  • Very engaging
  • Lovely artwork
  • Shallow learning curve
  • Deeply strategic


  • Limited win strategies may leave players wanting


Since first travelling to Japan at the age of fifteen, most of my life has revolved around trying to learn Japanese, and unravel the mysteries of the country’s culture. Gaming ranks just behind this obsession. I enjoy video games – particularly RPGs and Strategy – but my main interest is in tabletop role playing games and board games. Writing ranks third – luckily I get plenty of opportunities to write about Japan and games, so it all works out.

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