Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City… Shine Bright Like a Sequel

Base Game Review

Player/s: 2-5

Play Time (Box): 30mins

Play Time (Goof): 30-60mins

Producer/s: IDW Games & Pandasaurus Games

Designer: Masao Suganuma

 

I knew this day would come. I had just always hoped it wouldn’t have to be me, Geoffrey ‘Goof’ Devereaux who had to tell the story. I wish it had been someone else. A distant descendant who uncovered the truth about their family. But here I am, about to utter the words.

My family has a dark secret.

A secret so terrifyingly embarrassing, we keep it under tight lock and key. No one outside the family knows. But our children do. They talk about it in hushed whispers under the cover of dark. Afraid they’ll be caught speaking the truth which is better left unspoken.

My family has a sick obsession, with Hay Day.

Seriously, we’ve all even spent money on this shit. We have a neighbourhood. We play derbies! I had to give it up. It started to get a bit much for me when Charlotte, my Step-mum Tracey, and sister Molly had timers set on their phones to know when to harvest their crops. Someday soon I’m sure they’ll join me in the 12 step program to beat HDA (Hay Day Addiction).

Having said this, I’ve managed to use my family’s love of the cute farm animals to get them to try out Machi Koro. The artwork and feel is not dissimilar, despite a lack of the animals themselves. But the flower shops, wheat fields, general stores – I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one day reskinned to Hay Day: The Card Game. So maybe there is a silver lining to this tale of woe.

Between the versions of Machi Koro I’ve had eighteen plays. And I’m going to play it again. This isn’t bad when you factor in how many games I need to play to generate new content, and the average lifespan of a game. I’m going to be talking today mainly about Bright Lights, Big City. But a lot of this is going to apply to the original as well.

In case you didn’t know, Bright Lights, Big City is a sort of sequel to Machi Koro. It’s kinda a semi-deluxe edition with a selection of cards from two of the expansions.

Your starting village

 

Gameplay (8/10)

I’ve been thinking a lot about luck lately (nice bit of early alliteration). See, I’ve always felt luck has an important element to play in gaming. I don’t like it when you look at a situation and know without a doubt you’re going to lose. If there’s even a glimmer of hope from a lucky die roll or a perfect card draw, it creates a level of excitement in me. But luck can also be incredibly frustrating.

Most of us have had a game of Magic: The Gathering where you can’t draw the land you need. Or the game of Star Realms where the combination of cards you’ve purchased just aren’t coming up in the right order. But I think luck is most noticeable when it comes to dice. The reason for this, I think, is the difference between the instant result at the end of the dice roll, and the much longer result of seeing how your deck plays out.

Machi Koro is a tableau building game. You’re not creating a deck, you’re creating a play area in front of yourself. And when you purchase cards you choose from cards with different triggers which represent different numbers on the dice. In a way, this is your luck mitigation. Do you spread yourself out thin and try to score off as many rolls as possible? Or do you bank it all on a couple of numbers so when they come up you’re swimming in money? (Do you have to hold your breath under a pool of money? I imagine not. I imagine it would probably just crush you).

I do like the different strategies in Machi Koro. And I think the additional variety of cards in Bright Lights, Big City strengthens each of them. I’ve often fluctuated my strategy between plays and still managed to win above average. Some games everyone’s playing somewhat peacefully, other games it can get downright nasty with all those red cards on the board (usually when my little siblings start purchasing them). What this indicates to me is there are multiple valid strategies. Last night I bet it all on the number 7 with my cheese factories. Felt a little bit like I was shooting craps.

I really like the general pacing of Machi Koro. I think it might work best at three players because things keep moving but the variety of strategy remains really high. And the separation of the decks- from where you can purchase any of the cards to a 5-5-2 model in Bright Lights, Big City where you’re having to respond to what comes out- actually makes the game ridiculously better. This small change in layout changes so much about the game it blows me away. The flow is nicer, the strategies before more interesting. The town of Goofsville approves.

The engine building in Machi Koro is really fun for me. It’s quite basic, with just a couple of different combinations which work really well. The change in marketplace format to the 5-5-2 model talked about above means having those basic combinations allows for deviation in strategy after a couple turns when you see what’s coming up. BL,BC hasn’t tried to be too clever. It’s done what it does well. And hats off to IDW and Pandasaurus for recognising smooth gameplay is sometimes better than excessive convolution.

Can more games please take note of the separation of the decks? The split between higher numbered cards and lower numbered cards is awesome! The amount of times I’ve played a deck (tableau) builder and been stuck in a never ending slog of being unable to purchase a card which will benefit any of the players is honestly silly. By separating the decks out, you just don’t have this issue. If you don’t purchase a card in Bright Lights, Big City, it’s generally a choice you make because you’re saving your money. Not because you literally can’t.

The addition of the City Hall in Bright Lights, Big City is an awesome design choice. What frustrated me about the base game, and a lot of other games out there, is when luck leads you to being able to do absolutely nothing on your turn. By giving players just one single coin if they have none, it keeps them playing. It keeps them moving forward. Overall not a huge leg up, you can easily score upwards of 30 coins in a single roll once you have your engine working. But this single coin keeps all players engaged. I wouldn’t call it much of a catch up mechanic, but it helps.

Back to my earlier talk about luck; Machi Koro, regardless of the version, has a problem with runaway leader syndrome (I wonder how many fake gaming related illnesses I can create in one article). Once a person has their engine up and running and scores off it once or twice, if no one else has managed to score theirs well it’s basically game over. The problem here is it’s not game over… it’s at least four or five turns off of being over which just sorta makes the other players resent the game a little bit. We’ve had the occasional close match, but I’ve had way more matches end with good people in bad moods. The ideal time for a game to end is simultaneous to when it’s guaranteed. If the game stretches on past this point the fun level significantly drops.

The 5-5-2 I was talking about looking more 5-2-5

Pros: +Different Strategies, +Pacing, +Separation of Decks, +Smooth Gameplay, +Engaged

Cons: — Runaway Leader Syndrome

 

Theme (8/10)

Here’s the thing. For all of the glaring flaws and frustrations of Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City – I kinda love it. And I honestly believe the feeling of building a town from a wheat field and a general store into a thriving metropolis is the reason for this. It’s generally satisfying. I’ve even worked on several voices while playing with the Juniors which have had us all telling stories and giggling while throwing dice.

The feel of Machi Koro – the opening up of new shops, the fact you need a harbour to make boats and sushi restaurants viable- It’s excellent how much it manages to accomplish with basic concepts.

I find myself getting lost in the tale of my city while I play. It’s true there’s not a lot of time between turns, but if there’s ever a break in the flow for whatever reason I look at the small population in front of me and imagine when the new restaurants started opening up, when the farmland expanded, when the TV Station came to town. The mechanics don’t even require you to think like this, but it just naturally flows from what you’re doing in the game.

When you’re done, it feels like you’ve watched a city form from grassroots. Some cities will be more focused around restaurants, café’s, and sushi bars. Others around industry. Sometimes I’ve had a large focus on flower orchids and supermarkets. Last night it was all about dairy farming with a couple local Pizza Joints. I think any other theme on the Machi Koro set of games wouldn’t have grabbed me as much as it has.

The energy around the table, ESPECIALLY when playing with the Juniors, is infectious. The excitement the kids get when the number they wanted comes up, or the “AWWS” of frustration are amazing (pro tip for playing Bright Lights, Big City with kids who need a shorter time to their games would be to remove some of the larger landmarks).

Pros: ++ Building a City, +Infectious Junior Energy

Cons: None

 

Production (6/10)

Maybe it’s because I’ve had the opportunity to play the original Machi Koro game, but has anyone else noticed the components in Bright Lights, Big City completely suck? They’re awful to shuffle, they damage easily, and honestly they feel like I bought a slightly upscale print and play version from a store (I like print and play but they generally don’t cost me $50).

I imagine this is why despite so many extra cards from the original, Bright Lights, Big City costs exactly the same price. To the point where Charlotte and I had to consider what we valued more. Whether we should just buy the original set and purchase the expansions we wanted individually. We decided to get Bright Lights, Big City for a few reasons.

Firstly, while I’m complaining about shuffling the cards, it’s not exactly a deck builder. You tend to shuffle each deck once so you can forgive this element (I can’t, I’m a reviewer and a man with likely undiagnosed OCD specific to Tabletop Games. But as a consumer, sure).

Secondly, the card backs clearly identifying which group they belong to makes cleaning up a breeze. The differentiating colours, the clear labels. The original didn’t have these.

Thirdly, I looked through the expansions, Millionaire’s Row and Harbour, and what fat they decided to trim when putting Bright Lights, Big City together seem to have been the right move. There was nothing in there I was honestly excited about and felt it was worth getting the original over. Maybe this will be different for each person looking at them, but if you want my advice it would be to put up with the lower component quality and get BL,BC. As much as the component quality is pretty appalling.

Throughout this review I’ve mentioned the feeling and vibe you get while playing the Machi Koro games. This wouldn’t be the same without the artwork. I really enjoy it. It’s light hearted. It’s in keeping with the theme and enhances the vibe. It’s hard for me to imagine the artwork looking any other way.

Pros: +Card Backs, Streamlined Expansions, +Artwork

Cons: –Component “Quality”

 

Conclusion

Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City is one of those games Charlotte and I will often enjoy after a busy day. It’s not nail biting competitive, but it’s more interesting (in my less objective opinion) than Tsuro or Tokaido. There’s a lot of game in a relatively small box.

I give Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City:

7/10

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my Mayor Goofsman voice in front of the mirror.

I got my copy through Tabletop Wonderland

Tabletop Wonderland are offering readers of The Goof Review a 10% discount off of your first month to their subscription service! Just use the code GOOFREVIEW10

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