Machi Koro

Players: 2-4
Ages: 8 and up
Cost: ~$30 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Addition, combinatorics, partitioning
Questions to Ask
    What counts as a "new" way to add to 10?
    Can you find all the ways to add to 5? 6?

Because of this newsletter, I tend to try out games with a frenetic pace. I find a new game, try it a few times to see how fun and mathy it is, and then I move along.

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My kids, however, don't move on as quickly. Sometimes they get fixated on a game I love (like Kingdomino) and I'll happily play a round any time they want. Other times, they insist that I play one more round of a... less engaging game (like War).

Fortunately, my son's latest obsession is a game that falls into that first category: I think it's a great game that combines strategy and luck in a satisfying way. The game is Machi Koro.

How to Play

Machi Koro is a phenomenon from Japan that was brought to the US a few years ago. Essentially, it's a card game where you use coins to purchase properties. These properties earn you more coins, which you can then use to buy more properties!

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I like the game because properties pay out based on the roll of one or two dice. At the beginning of the game you are restricted to one die, so you can only earn money from properties that pay out for rolls of 1 through 6. As the game progresses, you and your opponents can add a second die to the game, which lets you earn money from higher numbers (while also making those smaller numbers less likely to be rolled: an interesting probability problem!)

But the game has more wrinkles than that. There are cards that allow you to steal coins from opponents, trade one of your worst properties for one of your opponent's best, and so on.

The game is over when you've bought all four major properties.

This game is probably a bit too complex to be your child's introduction to board games. But if you've played a few of my prior recommendations, it's much easier to catch on to the gameplay.

Below is an excellent runthrough of the instructions from Watch it Played. Once you watch the video, the game will feel much more accessible.

Where's the Math?

There's a ton of math in Machi Koro. With every purchase of property, you have to think about the probability of rolling a specific number. Not only that, but many cards have compounding effects that can create cascades of coins for you (or your opponent). You must use your resources wisely to build a city that produces the most money possible.

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But I want to talk about a specific area of math that is underemphasized in my view: Coins.

Specifically, Machi Koro has copper-colored coins that represent one cent, silver coins that represent five cents, and gold coins that represent ten cents. This decision has helped me enormously in my conversations with my son about how actual American money works. 

Coins are tricky, y'all! The biggest coin is the most valuable, and the smallest coin is... the second most valuable? What?

And kids really benefit from tactile experiences of counting, trading, and comparing coins in order to engrain the idea that one silver coin can represent the same value as five of these copper ones. 

Now, Machi Koro isn't the only game that helps kids learn about money, or even the best one for that task. There are other games like Allowance or Money Bags that are focused specifically on this idea. 

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But my son still likes the big, valuable coins in Machi Koro, and whenever he gets five 1s, he trades them for a silver 5 coin. And when he has two of those coins, he trades them for a big 10 coin. He is becoming more confident with counting coins through this process, and I can see it pay off when we dump out the tzedakah box and count the value of each denomination, as we did here.

A Brief Complaint

We interrupt this regularly scheduled newsletter for this important announcement:

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My nieces have a version of Monopoly where, instead of earning, paying, and trading dollar bills, you have a debit card that keeps track of your money for you.

WHAT? This is garbage. It's like the game makers were specifically trying to cut the mathematical heart out of the game! 

Buy whichever version of Monopoly you want. Buy Monopoly: The Architecture of Gary, Indiana Edition for all I care. Just make sure you get one with actual dollar bills.

Questions to Ask

An important question to ask your kids before they start buying property is "Are you more likely to roll a 7 or a 12?"

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Any game involving dice has this element of probability, where certain dice rolls are more common than others. But your child might not notice this until, deep into their first game of Machi Koro, they are shocked that they still haven't rolled a 12.

Continue the discussion by trying to list all the ways you can roll to 7 and compare that to the ways you can roll to 12, 11 or even 10.

To focus on the coins, ask "How many coins do you have? How many do you need for your next property?"

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Your kids will likely be keeping close track themselves, but you'll get them doing some basic counting, addition, and subtraction as they realize that they are six coins away from the property that costs 22 coins. 

And of course, you can extend this discussion to real life by asking "Which coin in Machi Koro matches which coin in real life?"

Once your kids make the connection, you can even start calling them pennies, nickels, and dimes while playing.

Check out the game, and remember: kids really benefit from experiencing money physically. Accounting figures on a debit card will never be as real to a kiddo as real life coins and paper.

Click here to buy Machi Koro on Amazon!