Board Game Review

Big City By The Sea (Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Expansion Bundle)

This review is also nautically available on Zatu here!

The city is a million times better than the countryside. Trust me. I’m from a city originally and there’s an atmosphere, an ambience, to the whole experience. No two people are the same, but you’ll see the same folk on the daily commute. The day and night are completely different and there’s a good and a bad side to every street. It’s a spectacle of beauty and a thing to fear at the same time; knowing how to stay on its good side is something learned through experience, and is possibly the reasons country folk fear it. The countryside on the other hand is tame, safe, and calm. There’s an undeniable beauty to it, but its atmosphere is nothing to the city’s. Could it depend on your heritage and upbringing which make you prefer one or the other? Who knows… But that atmosphere, and evil, can be replicated in The Harbour and Millionaire’s Row, the expansions for Machi Koro.

Machi Koro is a game oriented around building a small town, and opening several landmarks in order to win. That, I’d argue, is to the limit of a countryside. Machi Koro’s expansions, Millionaire’s Row and The Harbour, bring that pleasant countryside town into a bustling big city! These are combined in Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Expansion Bundle, the perfect companion to Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Edition.

What Is It?

Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Expansion Bundle is the combination of both The Harbour and Millionaire’s Row expansions for the original game. It introduces large valued plastic coins, new landmarks, and more. However, the most notable addition is the scope for a fifth player! Something the game didn’t need, but was highly welcomed. The expansions integrate effortlessly into the standard game and require no extra set up other than what’s normally expected. If you’re not familiar with Machi Koro as a whole, we highly recommend you check it out! (Not only to educate yourselves, but because it is a quality game with easy access!)

The Harbour alone adds two new landmarks and ten new establishments for players. These are oriented around the business and affluence a harbour adds to any city, including several boats, a sushi bar, and flower oriented businesses. Millionaire’s Row introduces 14 new establishments centred around the preferences of the well off. Vineyard? Check. Member’s Only Club? Check. Demolition Company? Check. All the bases covered. It also includes renovation tokens, which close establishments until their next activation.

How It Feels To Play

Machi Koro’s two expansions are different within their own respects. We have played them separately and together, and we have to admit… having the whole package provides superior gameplay. It forces you to run the game with a random establishment deck, and ensures you play to the situation, not a strength! It’s unusual to prefer a game when you aren’t playing comfortably, but it relies more heavily on situational awareness this way. Sure, you can run your usual plan and pattern, but it won’t do you any favours if the cards you need don’t appear.

We didn’t find the expansions increased the time it took to end the game. The new establishments only meant more opportunity within activations, not more stuff to do necessarily. It opened up the game and gave option without dragging on longer, and it also meant you had more scope to adjust to a play-style with the cards available. The artwork of the expansion is very Machi Koro. Without seeing the symbol in the corner to identify its expansion root, you’d assume they were part of the game all along!

The Harbour

The Harbour’s additions require some clear cut decisions to be made with which landmarks you open first. The harbour allows you to add two to dice rolls of 10+, and the airport allows you to gain ten coins every turn you don’t purchase. Sure, it sounds like the airport breaks the game, but it’s not without its downsides! For starters, it costs 30 coins, which is the most for any attraction. Secondly, it relies on no purchases being made, meaning it may become your only source of income. We found poor reliance on it resulted in short lived glory and long term frustration. The harbour however allowed you to escape certain situations and was also the best way to activate higher costing cards. The downside? Very little. It costs next to nothing and was a go to for early use with two dice!

The establishments provided in The Harbour expansion also left little to be desired in our opinion. Nothing was wasted. Very little was unusable. Several cards rely on having a plethora of one type of card, much like previously, however these link better with established cards. The Food Warehouse for example gains coins based on the number of food establishments owned. The Sushi Bar allows you to gain coins from another player if you own a harbour. The final notable addition is the tax office, a horribly wonderful card! You get half, rounded down, of all player’s coins if they have more than ten. The reason we don’t think it’s awful? Well… you only get one each, and everyone has the potential to buy one. And with its activation being on an 8 or 9, it’s going to get snapped up quickly!

A Head Start?

As a guaranteed starter for all players, there’s an extra landmark with this that’s always activated. The city hall! A card that allows you to collect a coin before buying if you have none. It removes the monotony of earning nothing and having nothing early on, and ensures patience is paid off. There really is no downside to this, we found it was more of a game corrector. Something added to remove the drain and dead time on turns, a perfect addition! The final addition worth mentioning is the extra coins. Beforehand, you didn’t need a 20 valued coin. With this, you do. You simply do. Especially when the tax office is in play, or when the airport is raking cash in! It seems cosmetically simple, but it’s not.

Millionaires’ Row

Millionaires’ Row focusses on the more… exquisite establishments when comparing the base and expansions. It’s more oriented around the things that are the staple of higher living. The Ritz and such. All the things that Hollywood portrays as elegance and culture in the movies. So I was highly disappointed to not see a Nando’s establishment card in there. However! The theming across the cards is clear and it’s heavily influenced by the finer things in life.

The secondary industries available from this expansion are centred more around real estate and wine. Interestingly, there’s also a lot of risk through some of these cards! Some take a lot of patience as they’re on the lower end of probability, and some are a clear cut danger. The loan office for example gives an immediate 5 coins and costs nothing. The downside? It’s activation requires you to pay the bank back, and there’s no easy escape. There’s also the tech startup, a card that allows you to place coins on it on your turn for equal return on activation. However, with it being a 10 activation you may be flogging a dead horse. But then again, it suits the theme of big money and runs that investment vibe.

Keep It Vicious

The most powerful card, in our opinion, is nasty. Pure nastiness. It’s a restaurant, so a card that impacts another player, and it allows you to take all their coins should they have 3 landmarks open! We always have a mutual agreement as players that if it is bought, then the gloves are off. We go full aggressive play. It’s the only way to balance it! There’s also one major establishment we’d argue is a game changer. The park. Something that sounds super harmless… but isn’t. This bad boy takes everyone’s coins, all of them, and redistributes that wealth equally.

We didn’t feel either of these cards broke the game, really. Their activations have specific conditions and are on the high side. We found that by the time anyone was using these for purpose, the game would be on the home straight. Using these outside of that dragged the game out longer and caused more vicious play, which wasn’t a bad thing, but it definitely changes the tone of the game!

Both At Once?

Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Expansion Bundle’s contents can be run separately and simultaneously. In fact, it feels like they should be! Some of the cards in Millionaire’s Row require 12-14 dice results, however anyone familiar with dice knows the max from two dice is 12. Who’d have thunk it? We ran them separately once we’d played them combined, and that could be why we feel together is better. It didn’t feel slow or disappointing, but it wasn’t as dense.

Without both expansions, there was a void where you were expecting specific cards to appear. Certain results were expected to trigger activations that weren’t in play. Knowing they were missing made you longing for them. They’re both substantial enough to be an expansion alone, and they worked well and made the game more interesting. However, the original Machi Koro 5th Anniversary box has more than enough space for all the cards in the expansion too. And the set down to separate cards can be arduous. Having the game as a mix set of cards and running on having eight out at once made set up quick and ensures the game was dynamic.

In a Nutshell

Machi Koro as a game is a solid engine builder. Simply put… You buy stuff, it makes you money, you buy more stuff. The expansions are a little bit more of what you love, but with different theming and elements. There’s more take-that aggression with Millionaires’ Row, and more development and option with The Harbour. As I’ve said, I think both these expansions are solid enough to stand on their own, however I don’t feel I could play Machi Koro with just the one. In fact, I feel it would be missing something without either! The only reason I would remove the expansions would to be to make it more accessible to a complete beginner to board games. Anyone with any understanding of how some games work would pick up Machi Koro quickly, and the expansions would only add to that experience. If you’re a fan of Machi Koro, or are looking for an easily accessed engine builder, this expansion is a must! Just keep an eye out for parks… they’ll take you down!