Machi Koro ($29.99) and
Love Letter
($11.99) are available at your local board game retailer.

 
I like tabletop games almost as much as I like turtles. When I sit down to roll the dice, draw some cards or move small figurines to and fro, I am filled to the brim with excitement at what may happen next. Am I going to die? Will I build a castle? Will a castle be built upon me?

Machi Koro, however, fills me with dread. Not because it isn’t infinitely fun (it really is), but because I’m usually on the wrong end of a beat-down at the hands of my wife, who can plop down and open up shop before I’ve even ordered my first bagel.

You’re the mayor of Machi Koro, a fledgling city with not a thing in sight save for maybe a wheat field and a bakery. Your duty is to expand the city into a thriving metropolis one landmark at a time. Developed by Japanese game designer Masao Suganuma, Machi Koro is just one of a plethora of Japanese card and dice games taking off in the U.S. as of late.

Love Letter, from designer Seiji Kanai, is another. Rather than build a city, you’re building a relationship with a princess (or prince). Be the last person standing after a quick round of card dueling and receive a token of appreciation from your object of affection. The first to five, wins.

What these games have in common is that they’re fast-paced, leave-no-prisoners types of entertainment, perfect for a night of televisionless fun.

In Machi Koro, players start out with four major landmarks under construction — a train station, a shopping mall, an amusement park and a radio tower — and the previously mentioned two starting landmarks. Other landmarks are separated into small collections. You can purchase a cafe, a family restaurant and a cheese factory, to name a few, and each landmark has a distinct number. Roll that number and reap the benefits, usually money.

Use money to purchase more landmarks. The first player to build all four of the major landmarks wins. Sounds simple, right? The trickery is in the strategery. Do you build multiples of one landmark, which would generate a lot of cash on that particular roll, or do you spread out and offer a plethora of options for your town’s citizens, thereby assuring at least a steady stream of income on every roll?

Trust me when I say that there is no right answer but to see what the situation calls for. If your opponent is well on the way to constructing landmarks, it’s probably best to go for the big pay-out lest you be left behind. Or the opposite of that: Why are you asking me? I lose often.

An expansion, simply called the Harbor Expansion, turns the whole game on its head by adding more major landmarks and randomizing the options available to build, making for a more strategy-driven game than one left to chance. Either version has offered hours of fun and the painful agony of defeat. I’m currently something like 18-2.

In Love Letter, it’s simpler. Players have a maximum of one card in hand at any given time and must play one per turn from a small deck. Cards represent different people, from soldiers all the way up to the sneaky Minister, who all have unique powers.

You can be knocked out in multiple ways and each round typically lasts anywhere from a few minutes to about seven or eight. There are several different versions of Love Letter floating around, but the one I’ve enjoyed the most is a re-creation of the original Japanese with beautiful artwork.

There’s more to card games than Magic: The Gathering, after all, and if Japan keeps sending ’em over, I’ll keep playing ’em.


Chris O’Neal believes it’s time to d-d-d-duel. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.