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Gearworks Kickstarter Preview

When it came to fixing clocks, Silas was the best around. That is, until an accident upended his life and he couldn’t work for months. Finally able to function properly again thanks to a newly installed prosthetic limb—full of moving parts that clicked and clacked with each finger movement—he found a job with a local workshop.

Before his accident, Silas only needed to make a subtle clue that he needed a particular part for his contraption. At his new place of work, however, those parts were in high demand, and it wasn’t uncommon for other tinkerers to sabotage their colleagues’ work and steal the parts for their own projects.

As a former master of the trade, Silas wanted to impress the workshop owner by what his hands could do, not by how few repairs his fellow tinkerers could make in a day. But, without another source of income, Silas stepped into the workshop on his second day of work, gritted his teeth, and plotted ways to take the spare parts his coworkers had stashed around and use it for his own contraptions. And if by so doing he also found favor with the workshop owner and his colleagues let go, then so be it.

Quick Look:

Designer: Kirk Dennison
Artists: Sheryl Chieng, Yorgo Tsalamanis, Jason Flack
Publisher: PieceKeeper Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Gearworks. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


As tinkerers in a workshop, players vie for the favor of the workshop owner by fixing a mysterious clockwork machine. Through clever use of hand management, card placement, and a unique twist on area control, players gain Parts by fixing components on the clock and use those Parts to create imaginative contraptions to be used as victory points at the end of the game.

Because knowing how to play is a key part of knowing if you will like it, the following section describes setup and gameplay. If you would prefer to read my thoughts on Gearworks without a description of gameplay, feel free to jump towards the bottom of this review for thoughts, insights, and my overall rating of the game.

Rules and Setup:

To create the play area, place the nine Gear tokens (back side up) to form a grid with four rows (gear tokens 1-4) and five columns (gear tokens A-E). This forms the grid on which players will play their cards. Note: Leave room enough for a card to be played on each space on the grid.

Using your new grid, take the top four cards of the shuffled Gear cards and place them on the grid in the following locations: B1, A2, D4, and E3. These cards are what players will be working with (and around) from the very first turn.

The grid should look like this after the four cards are placed.

Each Part has a number or a letter on it. Place each Part next to its corresponding Gear token on the outside of the grid. Each player takes a Spark (the fourth or last player in a four-player game receives two Sparks), 5 Gear cards, and a Contraption card, along with a reference card. Each reference card has a unique color in the upper corner to denote that player’s color.

Note: In a two-player game, remove Gear cards 8 and 9, remove Contraption cards with the “E” part, and remove Gear Token “E”, along with its corresponding Parts (this gives a 4X4 grid instead of the 4X5 grid used in a 3-4 player game). Lastly, place 4 Gear Cards on the following spaces on the grid: A2, B1, C4, and D3. All other rules apply.

Players take turns playing, and each turn requires the player to take one of two actions: Play a Gear Card, or Pass.

Play a Gear Card
Playing Gear cards is the route to victory. Doing so can give the player extra Sparks, as well as necessary Parts for the various Contraptions. However, there are placement rules, and this is where the brainpower comes in.

Placement Rule #1: There can never be more than one type (color) of Gear card in the same Column (A-E).

Placement Rule #2: Gear cards in each row (1-4) must either be in ascending or descending numeric order, or be equal to the number on the card next to it once played.

Once a card is successfully played on the grid, the player who played that card rotates the Gear tokens of the row and column where that card is located until that player’s color is pointing down the column and across the row to where the newly placed card resides. At the end of the round, players receive Parts for every Gear Token that has their player color pointing into the grid (down the column or across the row).

If the green player plays the "3" in row 1, column A, then the Gear Tokens 1 and A would be rotated so that the green color is facing in towards the grid. This shows that the green player now controls row 1 and column A.

Sometimes, your hand size is small and there’s just not much to do with the cards currently sprawled out on the table. That’s where passing comes into play. If you can’t play—or choose not to—you may pass. Passing essentially forfeits a player’s turn, but as long as at least one of the other players doesn’t pass before it becomes the passing player’s turn again, that player may opt to pay one Spark to jump back in the round and play a card. This can be useful when all of a player’s cards are unplayable in the current setting, but another player played a new card which changed up the layout, making it possible to play again.

If, however, all players pass in a row, then the round ends.

Optional Actions
At any time during a player’s turn, that player may choose to gain and spend Sparks. Sparks can be a game changer, so it’s always nice to have a few on hand. The easiest way to gain Sparks is by discarding two Gear cards for one Spark.

Another way to gain Sparks is by how a player places his or her Gear card, which also includes a little math. (Stay with me, non-math types. It’s not as scary as it sounds). After placing a Gear card, look at two of the nearest adjacent (not diagonal) grid spaces. If both of those cards either add or subtract together to equal the number on the card just played, voila! That player is rewarded with a fancy new Spark.

Using the same example as above with the green player playing the "3" Gear Card, take the nearest two gear cards (in this case the "8" and "5") and either add or subtract their values to equal the value of the card just played. Since the card just played was a "3," then 8-5=3. Huzzah! You get a spark!

Likewise, players may spend Sparks on their turn to further their advantage. Here are what players may spend Sparks on, along with their cost:

Draw one Gear card: one Spark
Replace Gear: two Sparks (This allows the player to play a Gear card over top of one already in play, following all placement rules)
Draw Contraption: two Sparks
Reenter Play: one Spark (Once a player has passed and it is once again that player’s turn, he may spend one Spark to reenter play, thus allowing him to play another card)

Once all players have passed in succession, the round ends.

End of Round
When the round ends, players take one Part for each Gear token they control (i.e. that Gear token shows their color pointing into the grid). These Parts are used to complete Contraptions, which will grant players lots of points if completed. Once all the Parts have been taken, the grid is cleared and all Gear cards (not including those in the players’ hands) are shuffled together. Then, each player receives a new Contraption card, 4 new Gear cards are placed on the grid in the same manner as in the original setup, and each player receives five more Gear cards (up to a maximum of 8 Gear cards per player). Extra Sparks are then handed out according to how far behind the players are. This is based off the player who has the most Parts in their possession (i.e. the "Leader"). This player receives no extra Sparks, as do any players with one fewer Part than the Leader. Players with two fewer Parts receive one Spark each, those with three fewer Parts receive two Sparks each, and finally, those who have four or less Parts than the Leader receive three Sparks. Players may have a maximum of five Sparks in their possession at any time.

The game ends after three rounds, following which players score their Contraptions (four points for only one Part on their Contraption or nine points for two Parts on their Contraption), unused parts (two points per Part not on a contraption), and Sparks (one point each). The player with the most points is crowned victorious and receives the illustrious title of Master Tinkerer. Congrats!

Theme and Mechanics:

The steampunk theme in Gearworks comes across well in the artwork and components, which certainly helps add to the gameplay, but it’s the actual mechanics that are what set this game apart.

I’m a fan of area control games, but I’ve never seen one like this. Every time a card is played, it triggers a new controller of an area (or in this case, Gear token). Players must manage their hands and resources (Sparks) well enough so that they can sabotage someone else’s efforts to control a certain Gear token, thus rewarding them with the highly useful Part attached to it at the end of the round.

The catch-up mechanic is a helpful incorporation, in which players are rewarded extra Sparks depending on how far behind they are at the end of a round. I’ve seen this comeback mechanic breathe fresh life into a player who thought she was going to lose miserably (she ended up winning by more than a few points), but I’ve also seen it snuff out all hopes and dreams of players who were in the lead before the extra Sparks were awarded. That being said, there is a lot of thought that goes into playing this game, and while players may use their newfound Sparks to pull ahead, finding that perfect spot on the grid for your card can be even more important than one or two extra Sparks. Winning in Gearworks takes careful consideration of not just which card to play on your turn, but to try and out-guess and out-maneuver your opponents so you’re not left high and dry when the rewards are given out at the end of a round.

One of the things I like about Gearworks is that every turn feels important. There are times I need to earn a Spark, thwart my opponents' plans to regain control of a Gear token, and play a card that will make it more difficult for them to play on a particular row or column. Sometimes, I can do all at once; other times, it's one or the other.

Because each decision feels so importanta card could win me the game if played right or see me end with embarrassing defeat if played poorlythere will be times when a player's turn will take longer than you're willing to wait. That, of course, is the nature of many a board game and can be solved with a little prodding. 

I felt engaged during everyone's turn, because I needed to focus on what was happening so I would know how to counter their move and turn it into something good for me. Games took anywhere from 30-45 minutes, and none of them ever felt like they took too long. I'd say it's a good length for the game.

Artwork and Components:
From the box art to the Gear cards themselves, the artwork in Gearworks helps set the tone for the game. The detail in the art looks to have been taken seriously; for example, the little smudges of grease on the Gear cards are a nice touch for the aesthetic.

Gear cards (top) and Contraptions (bottom)

The components, too, are quite nice. While I was given a pre-production copy, the components are made of thick cardboard, the cards are sturdy, and everything looks very well made. Even if no improvements are made following the Kickstarter, I wouldn’t be disappointed with these components.

These Sparks are made of good, solid wood.

The Good:
Explaining Gearworks to new players is easy and straightforward, yet there’s a depth to the strategy one might not expect at the outset. I found each game I played to be quite engaging, and since there are so many different cards and combinations to play, no session—or round, for that matter—felt the same.

Gearworks has a Sudoku-esque feel to it, of which I most highly approve. That’s not to say, however, that one must enjoy Sudoku to enjoy it. Rather, Gearworks takes the brain-burning of Sudoku and mixes it with the strategy of area-control games to create a hybrid that’s a great fit for both math enthusiasts and those, like me, who suffer from arithmophobia.

Even when your hand doesn't have any playable cards in it, there are still ways to stay in the game, either by paying a Spark in order to draw another (hopefully more useful) card, or by paying two Sparks to overwrite another card already on the table. This can completely turn the game around when all seemed lost just a turn previously.

The Bad:
Without a play mat, the grid can be a little difficult to put together, as there’s nothing keeping the rows and columns straight. This is more of a problem during the beginning of a round when there are relatively few cards on the table. Still, it’s a minor concern, and one that doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the game.

Final Thoughts:
Gearworks brings new flavor to the world of area control games, and it’s one that will stand the tests of time. I’m a fan, and the more I play, the more I appreciate the unique gameplay it brings to the table. Gearworks not a re-skin or an old idea made new, but rather a fresh take on an common mechanic that gamers of all preferences will enjoy.

Players Who Like:
Folks who are a fan of sudoku, card games, and area control games may find Gearworks to be right up their alley. (One might also say, this game would "tick" for them.)

I am giving Gearworks 8 out of 10 super meeples.

Check out Gearworks on:


Gearworks is on KICKSTARTER between now and December 5, 2017.

About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He’s a copywriter, social media manager, videographer, freelance blogger, and writer of science fiction and fantasy. When he’s not writing, Benjamin loves to lose himself in the wonderful world of tabletop games, especially those with a rich, engaging theme. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Gearworks Kickstarter Preview Gearworks Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on November 14, 2017 Rating: 5

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