Unplugged: Machi Koro (Boardgame)

One of my teenage son’s favorite games is Machi Koro. (Very) briefly, it is kind of like Monopoly with no board, but people can collect income for properties even when it is not their turn. The game is fast and fun, and I highly recommend it for family gaming and it is just now returning to store shelves over at Target (it’s continued to be available in game stores for some time.) Someone looking for a lighter-weight game to play during the pandemic should find Machi Koro an excellent choice.



Machi Koro
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
Ages: 10+
Players: 2-4 (*5 w/harbor expansion)
Time: 30 mins


In Machi Koro, players spend cash to obtain property cards. The cards then pay out an income dependent on the roll of the dice at the start of each player’s turn. Thus, the flow of the game is for a player to roll the dice, collect income, and then buy an available property. The dice are then passed to the next player, and the game continues. There is a set of special “Landmark” cards for each person granting special powers when purchased. The first person to purchase all their special cards wins the game.

Obviously, the heart of the game is deciding which cards to purchase when. Each card keys off a specific number rolled. For example, there may be a card that grants $3 when a player rolls a five and another card that activates when a 7 is rolled. There are essentially four types of cards in the game. The first type grants an income to a player whenever they roll that number on their own turn. The second type grants an income if that number is rolled by ANY player, allowing someone to collect income even when it is not their turn. The third type of card is a nasty one. They allow players to steal from the active player if their number is rolled. A fourth card type is the purple cards. These typically are expensive, have rather expansive powers, and players can only have one of each type. Finally, there is the set of special “Landmark” cards players need to buy to win the game.

These Landmark cards tend to affect how the game is played. For example, players start the game rolling only a single die. Cards paying out for rolling a 1 or a 3 are typically cheap and only pay out small amounts. However, building a special card will allow a player to choose between rolling one or two dice. Cards that pay out on a 7 or more tend to be more expensive but also pay out higher amounts. Thus, players will typically (but not always, depending on one’s strategy) choose to roll two dice in the later stages of the game. Other Landmark cards increase the value of specific other cards, grant another turn if doubles are rolled, or even allow players to reroll one of their dice.

Machi Koro is a great family game. The rules are straightforward, and most of the interesting bits are explained on each individual card keeping the initial rules explanation short. Players can earn money on any player’s turn so every roll of the dice is interesting. Due to the nature of the more expensive cards paying on 7+, the game ramps up as time goes on, giving players a nice feeling of accomplishment over the arc of the game. Finally, the game doesn’t outstay its welcome. It is rare for games with experienced players to last much more than the listed 30 minutes or so. There is some conflict with the “nasty” cards but they aren’t required for a solid strategy and are not targeted in any way, preventing players from being able to directly pick on one another.

Expansions: The game sold well enough for the publisher to put out a couple expansions – The Harbor and Millionaire’s row. They are now available together as a single “expansion” under the apropos name of Machi Koro: The Expansions. The Harbor, in particular, adds in everything you need for a 5th player. The expansions add a nice feature. In the base game, all the possible cards in the “store” are available at any time. When playing with the expansions, only a few cards are revealed at a time. This has the dual purpose of adding in a new level of consideration – which card is best at this moment, and making things slightly easier for new players as they have a much more limited set of options from which to choose. The Harbor adds in two more Landmark cards, which extends the game a bit since now players have to purchase six cards to win instead of four.


Kid Factor:
Some cards have special rules, but most of them are keyed off of symbols and colors. Green activates on one’s own turn, blue on all players, red only on other players, etc… There are only a few purple and landmark cards that have more complex features and they could be easily learned. The game plays well even with the younger set as the decisions of one player are note going to greatly hamper the others – one player is probably not going to gain a big advantage by another player making oddball decisions. I like to pull this game out at elementary gaming nights so it should be fine going down to ages 8+, even lower if the player has some other gaming experience.

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