Tabletop Review – Machi Koro Harbor Expansion

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machikoro_harborexpansionMachi Koro, a city-building, dice rolling game that garnered great anticipation and quickly became a favorite of mine now gains the tweaks to its rules that make it standout hit for me. About 10 days ago I stumbled across the Machi Koro Harbor Expansion at my favorite FLGS, Enchanted Realms. I was aware of the expansion and had been looking forward to it, but hadn’t realized that it was already available. I quickly snatched it up, but didn’t have the opportunity to give it a try until last night.

The Harbor Expansion builds upon the rich variety of the base Machi Koro game, adding 13 Establishments / Major Establishments and 3 Landmarks, as well as a 5th player and purple 20-coin tokens. The new rules dramatically change the way the marketplace is stocked; previously all the establishments were arranged in roll-ordered stacks, now a draw deck of all the establishments shuffled together, stocks 10 unique roll-ordered marketplace stacks and restocks any stack that is exhausted during gameplay. This effectively makes strategic establishment combinations more difficult to come by as only 10 of the 28+ establishments are available for purchase at any given time. I know this change has irked some people as it was a radical shift from the original rules, but I think it provides significant improvement to the gameplay by eliminating the almost mechanical progression of establishment purchases that some strategies would have. It forces players to gauge to a greater degree the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and build to a dynamic strategy that I believe is more in line with the spirit of the game’s concept. I commend the designer, Masao Suganuma, for making such a significant change to the base rules.

The rules change has one shuffling the establishments which bring to light a problem than many are encountering, including myself – the Harbor Expansion cards can differ in size to the base game cards by about 1mm in both length and width. This makes shuffling the cards difficult at best and impossible for some. The US publisher, IDW, has acknowledged the issue and note that it is more prevalent with early adopters of the base game as during production they switched manufacturers. There is lively discussion of the issue on Boardgamegeek, but aside from the random few that have received responses or more rarely, replacement cards, the issue seems to be largely ignored by IDW. Speculation is that the volume of those affected have generated a sizeable queue for IDW to be sifting through, and thus they have been extremely slow to respond. The other notable discrepancy is that it’s not a given that the expansion cards at the ones that are the wrong size, regardless if it is the expansion or particular edition of the base game that has the issue, it would have been nice if IDW had identified the issue and prepared for it before the community became a pitchfork toting mob. Hopefully a resolution is made available soon. Inquires for this issue can be made to moc.gnihsilbupwdinull@semag. While I will make my own inquiry on a resolution to this, I will also likely just sleeve the whole set of cards to mask the differences.

machikoro-harbor-tunaboatcardThe new Establishments / Major Establishments mostly follow the mechanics and rules of the cards from the base game, so one can ease into playing the expansion without any extensive review of the new cards. The expansion also increases the duration of the game with new 2 Landmarks to build (The Airport and The Harbor), and one prebuilt (City Hall). I have found The Airport to be nearly a game-breaker. While it is the most costly Landmark, at 30 coins, it also pays out 10 coins on any turn that one choses not to build. After building The Airport one could easily wait for the coins to roll in and quickly amass the needed resources to build the other landmarks. Once someone builds this, one can be certain that the endgame is not far off. The Harbor is an interesting landmark, it is the least expensive landmark, costing only 2 coins to build, but is necessary for some associated Establishments to function. For example, one can buy the Tuna Boat Establishment anytime it is available, but it is only active if one has built The Harbor. The prebuilt City Hall Landmark is a bit of charity to the player with no money and pays out 1 coin when the coffers are bare.

I have really enjoyed playing Machi Koro, and the rules changes made by the Harbor Expansion in addition to the new varieties of cards have topped my expectations for the game. It is no more difficult to play with the expansion rules, just a bit different if one is already used to the original rules. It still exudes simplicity, but also now entices players to be more selective in their establishment purchases and more cunning in their strategy. If it were up to me, I would require that the Harbor Expansion be included with the base game, I believe it to be that pivotal a component to the overall Machi Koro experience.

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