A Japanese Board Game Review – Machi Koro

Machi Koro
Machi Koro has a colourful and exciting design

Machi Koro is an extremely engaging game with easy to follow instructions. It allowed interaction between myself and the two other players, and I was most definitely taken on an emotional roller-coaster as each turn passed, either going against or in my favour. Before I delve into the mechanics of Machi Koro, lets look at the origins of this colourful board game.

Machi Koro is a city building game that was created by Japanese game designer Masao Suganuma and illustrated by Noboru Hotta, Ian Parovel and Mirko Suzuki. The game was first published in 2012 by a Japanese game company called Grounding Inc which was originally founded in 2007 by a lady called Mineko Okamura who has an exceptional career history in the gaming world. Okamura worked particularly closely on Astro Boy for Playstation 2 whilst she was at SEGA, before joining Microsoft Games Studio and then later, Grounding Inc.  Currently Grounding Inc’s focus is on developing iPhone and iPad games.

A study was conducted in 2016 to test the emotional reactions of individuals playing the physical board game, desktop computer game and tablet game for Monopoly and Jenga (Y M Fang, K M Chen, Y J Huang 2016, p. 7). It was found that, “the statistic results indicated that satisfaction degree of digital computer games declined in visceral, behaviour and reflective levels when compared with traditional games” (2016, p. 7). The results went on to outline that the general appearance and aesthetics of traditional board games were pleasing upon first impression. Further, traditional board games were found to increase player interaction, influenced imagery and also invoked strong emotional reactions, both negative and positive. These results were found to explain why the advancement in technology and virtual gaming has not forced the disappearance of traditional physical board games. Perhaps these factors also support why gaming companies are seeking to “cash in on this rediscovered interest” (Swalwell 2007, p.265).

Although the digital version of Machi Koro is no longer available (and was previously only available in Japanese before disappearing from app stores), hence impacting my ability to part take in a similar comparison to the 2016 study, I would tend to agree with many of the findings above. In particular, Machi Koro is a very appealing and aesthetically pleasing board game, which influenced my first impression and desire to play it. I also found that the group I was playing with was engaged and was experiencing both the positive and negative reactions, as each turned passed.

Machi Koro Peeps reactions.jpg
Can you tell you won by these sad faces?  In case you can’t, it was me! Wahahaha.

As Mitew and Moore (2017, p1-2) outline, “the modalities of digital games include a heterogenous set of elements such as genre, storyline, play world, play numbers, mode of distribution and so on”. Although Mitew and Moore reference digital games, similar such mechanics also apply to traditional board games. Machi Koro is a board game that can be played by 2-4 people, or up to 5 people if the expansions of the game are purchased. Essentially, each player acts as the mayor of Machi Koro by rolling dice, earning coins and buying property. In order to win the game, you must be the first player to build all of your landmarks, which consist of a harbour, shopping mail, amusement park, radio tower and an airport, all of which are represented through cards. There are also additional cards, which represent four different things:

  1. Primary Industry (blue cards) = wheat farms, ranches, mines, boats etc, which allow you earn money whenever someone rolls the corresponding number.
  2. Secondary Industry (green cards) = shops, services and other business e.g. bakery, flower shop, which allow you to earn money on your turn when you roll the corresponding number.
  3. Restaurants (red cards) = allow you to earn money when another person rolls that number during their turn.
  4. Major Establishments (purple cards) = these cards essentially add a degree of confrontation, where you can earn or essentially take money from other players whenever the player rolls the corresponding number on the card during their turn.

The features of this game that I particular enjoy include the fact that it is easy to learn, that even when it is not your turn, you are still engaged and playing because you may actually be able to get something on your turn. Mostly what that will amount to is coins from another person. This mechanic is very similar to that of Monopoly when someone lands on a particular house that you own. There is also essentially no catch up mechanism in Machi Koro, however you can mitigate your losses through what you spend your coins on. A potential side effect of this mechanic though is that a game can essentially be won very quickly with particular card combos.

The cardboard coins are likely to wear and the numbers are often off centre and not consistent

The artwork on the cards are extremely detailed, and the card material and style appears to be of high quality as they are quite strong. The tokens are however made of cardboard and could easily wear. The design also seems quite last minute and boring, and the numbers are off centre and not always consistent. The board game has a general cartoony feel, which perhaps is a Japanese cultural aspect woven into the aesthetics of the board box and card detailing. This concept supports Mangiron (2009, p. 15) who says that Japanese games normally consist of “culturally odourless products”, however “in spite of this, many Japanese games still contain some traces of Japanese culture…” This is clearly a strategy adopted by Japanese developers and publishers when releasing a game internationally to ensure that they are marketed successfully in Western countries like Australia and the US (Mangiron 2009, p. 1).

The design on the cards is colourful and detailed.  They also reflect high abstraction.

Lastly, as Richard Hall outlined, the degree of abstraction is to what extend a game reflects reality. Machi Koro has very high abstraction, as it does not showcase the reality of the game, which is for mayors to essentially build actual towns. However it does try to create connections through themes like the restaurant cards.

I thought it might also be of interest to add that the reviews of Machi Koro on reddit are overwhelming different. Many people say that it cannot be played without the expansions which are the ‘Harbour Expansion’ and the ‘Millionaire’s Row Expansion’, whilst others simply love it and wouldn’t change anything about it.

All in all, I personally really enjoyed Machi Koro and it is definitely on the list of board games to purchase!



Fang, Y M, Chen, K M and Huang, Y J 2016, ‘Emotional reactions of different interface formats: Comparing digital and traditional board games’, Advances in Mechanical Engineering, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 1-8.

Mangiron, C 2009, ‘The Localisation of Japanese Video Games: Striking the Right Balance’, PhD thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Mastrangeli, T 2015, Machi Koro Review, viewed 17 March 2017, <http://www.boardgamequest.com/machi-koro-review/>.

Mitew, T and Moore, C 2017, ‘Histories of Internet Games and Play: Space, Technique and Modality’, in Goggin G and McLelland M J (eds), Global Internet Histories, Routledge, London.

Swalwell, M 2007, ‘The Remembering and the Forgetting of Early Digital Games: From Novelty to Detritus and Back Again’, Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 255-273.

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