Full disclosure: A review copy of Machi Koro 2 was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
There aren’t enough sequel games. There, that’s my hot take. I mean, what would you do if you could do it all over again, but maybe better, this time? Maybe worse? I mean, Near and Far is a clear improvement over Above and Below. Maybe Now or Never is too? Cartographers Heroes (still calling it Car2graphers) is an increase in complexity, so maybe that’s better for you, too. I don’t know! I wonder about these things. Ideally, a game’s sequel (spiritual or otherwise) can be a way to streamline it down to its bare essentials, to improve or tweak what didn’t work, or to try a new theme on and see how it works. When do you do a sequel, and when do you just do a second edition? When do you do an upgrade pack? These are questions I ask, from time to time. But with Pandasaurus’s Machi Koro 2, it’s … pretty explicit that it’s a sequel. 2 Machi 2 Koro didn’t quite make it off the cutting room floor, sadly, but we’ll get by. I reviewed Machi Koro a while back, so let’s see what this adds to the game!
In Machi Koro 2, you’ve got a new budget, new standards, and new card effects, but the dice you know and love remain the same. Also, you’re still all about the Landmarks. It’s three to win. The rules might seem familiar, but a lot’s changed since you’ve Machi’d your last Koro. We’re going to pretend that sentence flowed in print as well as it did in my head. Do you have what it takes to build a wonderful and vibrant city another time?
So this is going to be a bit interesting. You’ve got three decks of cards. First up is the 1 – 6 Establishements:
Next, the 7- 12 Establishments:
Finally, the Landmarks:
Shuffle each deck separately and make three rows. Reveal one card from each deck, placing it next to the deck until there are five cards to the right of each deck. While drawing, if you draw a card that’s already present in the row, place it on top of the duplicated card. This way, you’ll have a row of five cards with no duplicates, though some cards might be stacks of the same cards. After doing so, set the dice nearby:
Give each player 5 coins (the brown ones):
Choose a start player, and you’re ready to go!
To kick things off, Machi Koro 2 is not the same game as Machi Koro. So let’s get that out of the way. They’re similar, but different. For one, there’s a pre-game Initial Building Phase. Let’s talk about that.
Initial Building Phase
For the first three rounds of the game, no dice are rolled. Instead, players can, on their turn, buy any face-up card in the market by spending coins equal to its printed cost, placing the card face-up in front of them. Once you’ve bought a card, if that spot in the market row is now empty, draw a new card to replace it. If you draw a card that’s already present in the row, stack it on the matching card and draw again until you draw a unique card.
Each player may only build one card per turn, and if you run out of money, you must pass. You may also pass if you just don’t want to buy anything.
After three rounds, the game begins with the start player’s turn.
On your turn, you may choose to roll one die or both dice. When you do, if you rolled two dice, add their values together to get the result. Then, all players earn income from their establishments with an activation number matching the result’s value. Different establishments have different activation criteria: some activate on all turns, some activate on your turn, and others activate only on an opponent’s turn. If multiple buildings would activate in the same order, resolve them like so:
- Red cards
- Blue / Green cards
- Purple cards
- Orange cards
If you have to pay an opponent money, move in counterclockwise order, and pay an opponent in full before moving on to the next one. If you run out of money, the remaining amount you owe is ignored. Then, you can build!
If you have no money when you enter the Build Phase, gain one coin. Then, you may buy one Establishment or Landmark card, adding it to your tableau. As with other buying phases, if this leaves an empty spot in the row, refill it by drawing a card and placing it on top of other matching cards (or placing it in the empty space if that card isn’t already present in the row). If you choose to buy a Landmark, they cost (usually) progressively more, based on how many Landmarks you already have. Some Landmark effects apply to all players, not just you, so read the Landmark aloud and read it closely!
Once you’ve completed the Build Phase, pass the dice to the player on your left so that they may take their turn.
End of Game
As soon as one player builds their third Landmark (or as soon as they build the Launch Pad), they win!
Player Count Differences
The big one, here, is that there’s a negative impact to your control over the game as the player count increases. Sure, you may have a perfectly good engine for your rolls, but if you’re the only player rolling two dice, you’re probably going to get screwed, even more so if you’re playing with four. You see, while you’re getting one turn, every other player essentially gets three, in that scenario. To say nothing of if your two dice actually roll something higher than a 6! Naturally, in an ideal game, players would notice that equilibrium shift and change their strategy to avoid rolling if one player was being more obviously advantaged by that setup, but by the time other players notice, it might be too late. That’s a bit of an issue, granted, but it doesn’t come up quite as much in a two-player game, or as players get more experienced with the general equilibrium of a game of Machi Koro 2. This likely means that the game benefits from having players of similar experience levels play together, but also, it generally pushes me towards the lower end of the player count spectrum.
- Try to build an engine that can make you money on most turns. If you’re going to win, the key is likely passive income. You need to be making money every time the dice are rolled, yeah? Grab some cards to reinforce your position and then diversify. At higher player counts, this might mean leaning more towards cards that score on other players’ turns, and at lower player counts, it might mean focusing more on the green establishments that only score on yours. I’m generally a fan of the red establishments, regardless; they help keep the other players humble. Or paying me. Or both, ideally.
- That said, try to zig if your opponent is zagging, or vice-versa. You shouldn’t necessarily go into the game with One True Strategy; stay flexible. The issue largely becomes that if your opponent’s engine is outpacing yours, you need to really make a hard call. Do you turn into the skid and hope that you can capitalize on what yours does better than theirs? Or do you pivot away and start getting cards in a different strata, hoping that their die rolls will make up for the difference? It’s a tough call to make, but if you’re doing the same thing as your opponent(s), well, only one of you is going to win, so whoever’s not winning is making a mistake.
- Figure out how to index on what you’re doing well. Do you double down on types? Do you grab combos that play up cards you’re already buying? Do you just steal money from your opponents because they overindexed on rolling 3s on their turn? There are many different cards that enable many different behaviors. Figure out what’s working for you and try to do more of it.
- How well do you know probability? As with all not-exactly-deterministic die rolling, past performance isn’t necessarily an indicator of future performance. There’s an inherent bias to these kinds of games. If you roll a lot of 5s, you’re more inclined to buy cards that will let you profit from future 5s. That’s a fallacy! Your odds of rolling a 5 on a fair die are always one in six. They don’t get better just because you rolled a lot of 5s already, this game. Watch yourself to make sure you’re not falling into these logic traps as you play.
- There’s a sort-of détente that exists before any player grabs the first card that lets them take money from other players. Whether you’re the first person to break that peace or not is (somewhat) up to you. It probably makes you a bad person, but I could write another three thousand words on the Moral Implications of Negative Player Interactions in Social Gaming Spaces. You’re not here for it, and I’m not paid enough for it. So I’ll settle now with there may be other consequences to being the first player to buy a take-that card, in that you may start a gold rush as players move to buy red cards to account for you having one. That might be more than you bargained for, so be careful.
- Watch out for how Landmarks impact other players; it may not be worth being the person to pick one up. There may be other Landmarks you can take that steal players’ money or give bonuses to you, exclusively. If you take one that benefits everyone, well, that benefit may help them surpass you. Instead, you can be polite and let them buy it on their own, or a snake of Biblical proportions and just casually suggest that that Landmark would really work well with their cards. Again, I’m not responsible for the complex morality of your gameplay scenarios.
- Don’t hold too much money at once, though. There are a lot of cards that punish players for hoarding wealth. On the other hand, if you go broke while other players are robbing you, you just don’t have to pay up. It’s not like student loans. There’s only really one reason to hoard your cash.
- If you want to go all-in for the Launch Pad, I respect it. This is that reason. If you buy the Launch Pad, you win. You can even win with the Launch Pad as your first Landmark (at an unreasonable 45 coins). If you pull it off, you have my respect, and it can certainly happen! It happened once it a game I played because nobody could stop the rich player from getting richer, and then they just had enough to buy the Launch Pad as Landmark #2. It does happen. If your engine is already in good shape, it might be worth just going for it, rather than waiting or buying Landmarks that potentially help others.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like how Machi Koro 2 handles market stagnation and duplicate cards. It’s kind of my favorite thing about the game? It’s essentially an Informed Random Market. Rather than letting duplicate cards that nobody wants junk it up, it has players stack duplicate cards so they take up one slot instead of more. It’s a little brilliant, and it’s not something I’ve seen before, which surprises me. There are still junk piles, granted, but they’re not forming an entire row of garbage, so your odds of getting some fresh cards in there are much better.
- The game is bright, colorful, and inviting, and that really helps get new players interested. But hey, that’s Machi Koro, for you. It’s a very good-looking game, and Noboru Hotta‘s art just really pops on every version of the game. I always liked the cover of Bright Lights, Big City, myself, but this is also a very pleasant one.
- Machi Koro 2 makes a smart move from the start: this time, it allows players to move directly to being able to choose between rolling one and two dice. In the original Machi Koro, you had to build a specific Landmark in order to unlock that ability, so most players … didn’t. They would just stick to rolling one die and letting that be the end of it (and just unlocking that Landmark last). Here, a player sticking to only one die might miss out if the other players go with two from the start (and the Initial Building Phase can make that worrying).
- Similarly, Machi Koro 2 allows players to start with a few buildings and some level of a plan. That’s good! I like that there’s this initial setup phase. This lets players get a strategy in place and see what their opponents are planning. This might make them change things up, or it might help them decide which cards to buy (or buy out from under their rivals). Players’ fates aren’t determined in this initial phase, but there’s a lot of fun strategy to it.
- There are multiple different paths to success, even letting players focus on combos between certain kinds of cards. The combo cards are entertaining (and lucrative, if you can get them to fire). I like that I’ve been able to try things a bit differently every game and generally felt like I was never just sticking to one strategy (though I can feel myself getting a bit stuck in my old Machi Koro ways and trying to stick to one die).
- I also like that the Landmarks get gradually more expensive. It feels better to be able to get Landmarks that fit your strategy, rather than just the four the game decided you should have. Plus, having them progressively cost more can be a bit of a catch-up mechanism (except for the Launch Pad, which, due to its effect, gradually costs less).
- Also, Landmarks (generally) affect everyone! That’s neat. This, in particular, can be a catch-up mechanism, since it might allow players to be benefitted by Landmarks ahead of them buying one that only benefits them, in the moment. There is a Landmark that can only be purchased by players with no Landmarks, so that also is a good catch-up mechanism. It can be a bit hard to remember which fire when, granted, but it’s still a cool feature.
- Launch Pad is a very fun Landmark. It reminds me a bit of a similar card in Space Base that lets you win if you can successfully activate it, but I feel like you need to roll double 6s five times? That kind of “bet it all on black” energy makes the game exciting and puts a target on your back. That’s entertaining.
- As with the classic “Eric hates random markets” rant, there’s an element of card luck to getting certain cards in Machi Koro 2. It’s a bit reduced relative to other random markets, since there are also piles of duplicate cards, but still present. I feel like I come back to this point a lot, but, that’s the thing. If you’re trying to get in on Forests, but you only ever see them come up when your turn ends and the Forest King over there keeps buying them on their turn, you’re basically cut out of a valuable(ish) card. You can’t exactly just will the die to not land on 5s, so, this can be frustrating. Thankfully, the steps the game takes to block market stagnation at least help a bit, since you’re always guaranteed five unique cards in a row, but the random flips may still not work in your favor, which can be annoying.
- At higher player counts, remembering everyone’s Landmarks and how they change the rules for everyone can be a bit of a headache if players aren’t paying attention. If mine ups the value of farms and yours ups the value of flowers and another does another thing, there are a lot of potential overlapping effects firing on each roll, so make sure to keep track of which Landmarks are being used.
- There’s a certain loss of control you can experience over the course of the game, since other players can benefit from player rolls. This could probably be rephrased by a more toxic player as “there’s nothing you can do if everyone else is playing poorly”, but I think it runs a bit deeper than that complaint. Machi Koro is a game of momentum, as many engine-building-type games are. Can you generate a way to keep income rolling in that’s resilient to player interference and spending on buildings to help keep that momentum going? The problem with momentum is that it comes with inertia, and that very real physical force is present in other players’ strategies. If I see that another player tends to make more money when I roll one die, I might think, “oh, I should roll two dice instead”. But I might also think that I’ve already sunk a lot of money into a one-die strategy. That sunk cost fallacy is inertia that can change how I strategize. If you’re a two-dice player relying on that player changing their mind and taking steps that will benefit you, well, they might not choose to, because of that inertia. You have no control over that, and that inability to really proactively impact other players might leave a sour taste in the mouth of players who prefer more control. This is a reason I tend to play at lower player counts; I don’t have to deal with the variability of other players affecting my engine (either for good or for ill). I wonder how much this will come up within the scope of the intended audience, but it’s something I’m curious about.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I’m definitely a fan of Machi Koro 2! I think, for me, the sequel really hits the niche of a gateway game refined by the experience of the original Machi Koro and its expansions. I think this game is a game I can basically teach anyone. It’s still less complicated than, say, Space Base, and I appreciate that. There’s a place in my collection for games that are solid introductions to their genres, and something about the rolling dynamics and probability of Machi Koro 2 is appealing (not to mention it just … looks really fun?). It’s an engaging title, since something can happen, even when it’s not your turn. Yes, of course, if you ask me, I’m probably looking for something a bit more complicated than Machi Koro 2, personally, but the nice thing about it is that I’m still engaged, even when I’m teaching someone this for the first time. It bridges that gap nicely between novelty and experience, and that’s generally what I look for when I use the term gateway game. I want something that can welcome a player into the hobby but still has the potential to be someone’s favorite, and I see that here, with Machi Koro 2. I like it, even if I foolishly try to go for the Launch Pad every game. If you’re looking for a refresh or a sequel or something in between, you might enjoy Machi Koro 2, as well!
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