Jun 24, 2015

[Games] Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion

So I've previously written about how we got into Machi Koro initially and how much we enjoyed the game. It has a pretty solid concept behind it, but at the same time the whole dice element can make things pretty random at times. But in the long run the game plays itself and it makes for good fun. Admittedly this game was somewhat overshadowed by our being introduced to Splendor, but that's a different story entirely.

But then we have Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion, the first expansion for the game and one that drastically changes the rules. Beyond the bonus of now being able to support five players instead of four, the core gameplay in itself gets turned around with such a simple addition to the rules.

And while you can argue that the original Machi Koro experience was well enough on its own, this expansion nicely adds a new level of difficult that makes every game feel a lot more unique versus before. And I'm really impressed that the designers managed to accomplish so much with just the addition of a few cards.

Synopsis: Machi Koro: Habor Expansion was created by Masao Suganuma and was originally released in Japan in 2013. The English version published by IDW was released last year and this adds to the original game to allow for a fifth player.

Like most card game expansions, this set naturally adds new cards into the mix of things - in this case it adds 82 cards to support a fifth player and of course for the expansion itself. There are whole lot more red cards that steal coins from players but also some surprising new green and blue locations as well. But those are just surface changes and if that's all that had changed, things wouldn't be all that different.

First, the set adds two new landmarks for players to build - the Harbor and the Airport. There's also a City Hall landmark that all players get already built and it gives the player 1 coin on any turn when he or she does not generate any income through the die roll AND does not have any coins at the time one would normally purchase cards. The Harbor is now the easiest to build since it only costs $2, but then the airport takes a lot more with a $30 price tag.

Second, the game does not lay out all possible cards for purchase like in the first game. Instead, players will deal out cards from the deck until there are ten different types of cards on display regardless of how many of each card was revealed. Thus the options are a lot more limited and so players will have to content themselves with whatever is revealed during this process. And this is repeated every time there are less than ten types of cards on display.

This one mechanic has the most impact on the game and it drastically changes how you play. Before you could develop a potential strategy even before the game starts since all cards are available for purchase. Now one has to wait and see what cards are revealed and then the big question of whether or not you can afford any of them. A lot of times I've found that the sheer number of cards in the two-dice range (values 7 and up) significantly limit your growth in the beginning (since you can only roll one die before getting the Train Station), and thus I see why they had to give players City Hall.

The titular Harbor is a clever card that allows a player to add "2" to his or her roll provided that he rolled at least a 10. And yes, this means that you can now have a roll as high as "14" and there are cards that fall within this range. Well, more specifically there's the blue Tuna Boat card, which requires the player to roll two dice and the owner of the Tuna Boat gets that much in coins. The red Sushi Bar card is a pretty lethal card that only triggers once you've purchased the Harbor but it steals coins on a roll of "1".

The expansion was clearly designed to make rolling two dice feel all the more special versus just rolling a single die, as was a common strategy in the base game. The new cards all nudge players into this or that direction and waiting two long in the one die range almost always ends up being a losing strategy, in my experience so far.

Things feel even more challenging in a 5 player game since it takes so long before it gets back to your turn. Once red and purple cards are in play, it becomes very possible to lose all your income on another player's turn, thus leaving you with nothing when your turn to roll finally comes along. We're all still adapting to the changes the game have introduced into the mix of things, but this set has certainly revitalized the game in a significant way.

Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion may not be for everyone, but for the most part I really like what it adds to the game. Other players may disagree, but I think it adds a nice dimension of variety that the game needed to remain interesting. Thus the expansion gets 3.5 dangerous boat cards out of a possible 5.

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