Machi Koro Legacy
Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 45 mins
Setup Time: 4 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Right off the bat I’ll say, Machi Koro Legacy is a delight. If you have any suspicion you might like it I can pretty much say for sure that you will. It is bright, lightweight and as kawaii as an amigurumi bunny rabbit helping an elderly tortoise find love. It’s a fairly faultless product and might be the example of what will be the future for Legacy games, which is odd, because I’m not entirely certain it really is a Legacy game.
Gameplay wise, Machi Koro is as simple as they come. You have some buildings which trigger when certain numbers are rolled on dice, when your buildings trigger you get coins (or other benefits), you can use coins to build new buildings, first person to build a set of special very expensive buildings wins. Some of the buildings trigger if its your turn, some whoever’s turn it is, some of them gain their coins from the bank, some from other players. And that really is about it. Its light, fast and frothy and was a hit originally as much for its now fairly ubiquitous kawaii version of a Japanese town, the fun that could be had from your doom being bought about by the triggering of a cheese shop should not be undersold.
The nature of the beast is that it’s a game based on chance, there’s a lot to mitigate that chance and the balancing around rolling one or two dice is interesting, but it is chance in the end. Games are quick and fly by, but that can mean that there’s not the number of rolls needed to really flatten out outrageous luck. That just is Machi Koro though, its baked into the DNA and you either take it or leave it and you’ll probably know already if you’re okay with that or not.
So, for the Machi Koro faithful, is it worth owning this if you own the original? On balance I’d say yes. Firstly, if you own the original with all the expansions it can suffer a little bit from bloat, while the new set both introduces a bunch of new rules, mechanics and buildings while feeling much more contained and balanced. Its sort of like the tardis, bigger, but it doesn’t feel it. Secondly, excuse me for a second…
The remaining part of this paragraph contains a teeny tiny spoiler. I really don’t think it will ruin your enjoyment of any part of the game and its not a plot spoiler, but it is technically a spoiler so if you want to keep your experience pure as can be, skip to the next bit.
Secondly, in original Machi Koro all games start with players rolling one dice, then they earn the right to roll two. The upshot is that the buildings that trigger on 7+ can be significantly better and the game has a structure like a sort of sling shot race of some sort, you run until you can get onto two dice, then slow down, then run ahead again. A couple of games into the Machi Koro Legacy unlocks the power for players to roll one or two dice as they choose, from the start of any given game. The result is that at its core Machi Koro Legacy is a very different game from Machi Koro, its not a race, rather it is a legitimate tactical choice to remain on one dice all game, building evenly across six numbers rather than planning a bell curve around the seven mark. Players can start with buildings that trigger on 7s and 8s and never touch the 1s and 2s (particularly satisfying to those that curse leaving behind useless wheatfields) or they can start low and stay low and either is fine. Its interesting and it makes playing Machi Koro Legacy a genuinely different prospect to playing Machi Koro. If I had to define it, Legacy seems, ironically, a little more like building a town as opposed to winning a race. The Legacy version is a tiny bit more relaxed and allows you so think and spread out a little more, as opposed to simply building up the numbers until you’ve covered the spread and then just building up funds.
One small thing, for some reason the buildings in Legacy didn’t seem as characterful to me. This may be because the nature of a Legacy game is that the shape of things keep changing. As such, they never came up often enough to become favourties or in jokes for me. This is purely a taste thing, and the game is totally jammed with character and cuteness otherwise, but I never gained as much affection for the buildings themselves as I did in the original set.
Minor quibbles then. There’s not a strong sense of individual difference in the game, I’m building my town and you’re building yours, but there’s going to be very little to tell them apart other than cosmetic differences. This is an understandable thing since the other pure VS Legacy games (Risk and Seafall) have a nasty avalanching effect that makes playing later games potentially pointless or unpleasant, which this does at least avoid. Despite that there is a minor advantage that is not available to players jumping into a campaign which might want to be house ruled. New rules are added in a little deck of cards that works pretty well, but I imagine it makes them very hard to keep track of, there is technically one minor lost rule due to doing this, but its easy to fill in for and you’d have to be a little pedantic to even notice it.
The thing is, Machi Koro Legacy is in many ways a perfect Legacy game. I can promise you that if you like Machi Koro you will like it, and even that its worth owning both sets. It has everything the original has and more. What’s more, and I’ll categorise this out below, but I can tell you that it has literally none of the flaws levelled at Legacy games, you will see every single bit of the game by the end, you will own all the components and cards that you started with, and you will have a game you can play infinitely. The rules are taught in little bitesize pieces in the manner that Charterstone attempted, but frankly, better. I would say that there is a decent chance that this the future of Legacy games.
Which is why I’m going to come back to my original point that I’m not certain it really is a Legacy game. My final set of Machi Koro is going to look more or less like your set, certainly there will be no differences you could see from more than a foot away. The campaign tells a lovely story, one that is totally in keeping with the game and that I can say is honestly just delightful, but its not entirely my story. I don’t look at my Machi Koro set and see a card, or a lack of a card and think, ‘Oh, remember that, that’s where Bill did that amazing thing’. This is probably a good thing, I have a good, balanced and enjoyable game because of it. A Legacy game though is like a weather-beaten adventurer, he’s not pretty any more, not since he lost that eye to a bear during a bar fight in Minsk, but damn, he’s got some stories. A Legacy game has a face that only a mother could love, which is fine, because if you own it, you’re its mother. The game that you build with a Legacy campaign can be unbalanced and unfair because that lopsidedness is part of its charm. The Legacy campaign of Machi Koro builds a really good game, and it gets value out of that building process, I watched the pieces slot into place and it was lovely, but its more like choosing paint options while watching your car being made in a factory than building a hot-rod in your shed. As I say, this version of Legacy has a hell of a lot to say for it, and it might be that the version of Legacy I consider to be interesting is one for a niche hardcore that might be considered a failed experiment, but I can’t help hankering after it. We might never get another Pandemic Season 1, or something better, but Machi Koro Legacy isn’t really trying. It’s a flawless game that’s extremely loveable, but for that reason I don’t really love it. Maybe that’s wrong, I love it, but I’m not in love with it.
I will try to standardize my Legacy reviews by using several categories: Legacy Presentation, how does it physically present its Legacy aspects during the game; Legacy access, what level of elements can players reasonably expect to unlock through play and what will be lost; Life length, specifically re-play value before, after and during the campaign mode; Advancement satisfaction, whether the upgrades given to players during campaign mode come at a rate that feels worthwhile; Rules Progression, whether added rules slot in naturally or come and go at such a rate that players never manage to settle into play; Group consistency, how necessary it is to keep the same gaming group from game start to end and Storyline, Legacy games generally present an overarching story which can be successful or not.
Legacy Presentation: A simplified version of the standard, using a set of 6 boxes and a legacy deck. No window unlocks. No rulebook stickers, but lots of very nice new components.
Legacy access: It is actually impossible not to see everything that the game has to offer, there will be nothing that you didn’t at least see and unlock.
Life length: Once the campaign is complete you have a fully playable and very good game of Machi Koro that doesn’t suffer at all from being Legacy built which allows you to go back and forth or mix and match from almost anywhere in the campaign.
Advancement satisfaction: This is one area where the game falls down. There is very little player advancement and while the game as a whole grows there isn’t much of a sense of players driving it.
Rules Progression: Extra rules are excitingly unexpected without feeling left-field. Presented on cards rather than rulebook stickers, there was only one minor lost rule that I could see.
Group Consistency: Players can drop in and out of the campaign fairly freely. There is only one aspect that leads to a minor disadvantage and if one player drops out for a long enough period to matter house ruling a catch-up is simple and obvious.
Storyline: Genuinely delightful and cute as can be. Utterly in keeping with the tone of the game generally and as such very satisfying.