Gearworks Kickstarter Preview Preview


When it came to fixing clocks, Silas
was the best around. That is, until an accident upended his life and 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.


Review:


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:

Setup:
To
create the play area, place the 9 Gear
Tokens
(back side up) to form a grid with 4 rows (gear tokens 1-4) and 5
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 4 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
4th or last player in a 4-player game receives 2 sparks), 5 Gear
Cards, and a Contraption Card, along
with a reference card. Each reference card has a unique color in the upper
corner, which is that player’s player color.
Note: In a 2-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.
Rules:
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.
Pass
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 Sparks and also
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 2 Gear Cards for 1
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 space. If both 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: 1 Spark
Replace Gear: 2 Sparks (This allows
the player to play a Gear Card overtop of one already in play, following all placement
rules)
Draw Contraption: 2 Sparks
Re-Enter Play: 1 Spark (Once a player
has passed and it is once again that player’s turn, he may spend 1 Spark to
re-enter 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 5 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 0 extra Sparks, as do any players with 1 fewer Part than the
leader. Players with 2 fewer Parts receive 1 Spark each, those with 3 fewer
Parts receive 2 Sparks each, and finally, those who have 4 or more fewer parts
than the leader receive 3 Sparks. Players may have a maximum of 5 Sparks in
their possession at any time.
The
game ends after 3 rounds, following which players score their Contraptions (4
points for only 1 Part on their Contraption or 9 points for two Parts on their
Contraption), unused parts (2 points per Part not on a contraption), and Sparks (1 point each). The player with
the most points is crowned victorious and receives the illustrious title of
Master Tinkerer. Congrats!
Review:
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
Tokens). Players must manage their hands and resources (sparks) well enough so
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
new-found 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.



Gameplay:
One of the things I like about Gearworks is that every turn feels important. There are times I need to earn a spark, but at the same time I need to thwart my opponents’ plans and regain control of a gear token, or 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, however, it’s one or the other.


Because each decision feels so important–a card could win me the game if played right, or see me end with embarrassing defeat if played poorly–there 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 this is a pre-production copy I was
given, 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 Gearworks. 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 any playable cards in it, there are still ways to stay in the game, from paying a spark in order to draw another (hopefully more useful) card, or 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.)


Check out Gearworks on:




      




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.