A to Z Gaming: Gearworks

We placed gears to fix a clockwork machine while gathering parts to create our own inventions in Gearworks, the next game in our A to Z game-shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Gearworks
Players: 1-4
Time: 30-45 Minutes
Designer: Kirk Dennison
Artist: Sheryl Chieng, Yoma, Jason Flack
Publisher: PieceKeeper Games

Gearworks is a card-laying game where players are placing gears in a grid in an attempt to control the rows and columns containing the pieces they need to complete their own inventions. The grid presents a puzzle, with players needing to carefully plan how to play their different types of gears following the placement rules. It’s a bit like sudoku gone steampunk.

The game is set up with a 5×4 grid (4×4 in a 2-player game) and four starting gears – one in each row. There is a gear marker for each row and each column which correspond to the parts that can be collected at the end of each round. Players get a tinkerer, a hand of five gear cards, a contraption card that they’re working on, and a spark.

Gearworks is played over three rounds. Each turn, players must either play a gear into the grid or pass. To play a gear they must follow the simple placement rules – the color of the gear must be different from any others in that same column and the numbers must be ascending or descending in each row (cards of equal value can be next to each other).

When they play a gear, they turn the gear markers in the corresponding row and column to their color, giving them control of those until someone else plays a card to that row or column. The player can then “tinker” – they check the nearest gears in each direction (up, down, left and right) and if any pair of those cards can be added or subtracted to get the value of the just-played gear, they gain a spark.

In addition, players can use their sparks on their turn before or after playing their gear. Spending a single spark will either let players gain an additional gear card or will let them back in the round after they’ve passed. Two sparks will allow them to replace a gear – placing one from their hand on top of an existing gear in the grid following placement rules – or will gain them another contraption to work on.

Finally, players can also use their tinkerer’s special ability on their turn – but only once per round.

The round ends when all players have passed successively. At the end of the round, players check to see who controls each row and each column and awards the corresponding part to the controlling player.

Players then play their parts onto contraptions – they’ll get points at the end of the game for completed and half-completed contraptions. All parts are set aside until the end of the game – they can not be used to complete contraptions in the next rounds.

The grid is then reset for the next round, with the played gear cards shuffled and four new ones dealt into the grid. Each player gets another five gear cards to add to any left-overs from the previous round. Finally, there is a catch-up mechanism where players behind the lead (the player who has collected the most parts) will gain sparks depending on how far behind they are.

The game ends at the close of the third round. Players total up their points – 9 points for completed contraptions, 4 points for half-completed contraptions, 2 points for each unused part, and one point for each unused spark. The player with the most points wins.

I picked Kickstarted Gearworks after seeing a play-through highlighting the sudoku-like puzzle central to the game. I’m a huge fan of logic puzzles, so this one seemed like it was right up my alley.

And I do really like the puzzle part of the game. There are a lot of decisions about which gears to play into which row and column. Of course you don’t know where other players will lay their cards, but there’s a fair bit of strategy to reserving high or low cards, or holding back certain colors for later in the round.

The downside for me, though, is that it’s not great as a 2-player game. I’ve found the same thing in other games where the main mechanic is area control, and this one is no different. When there are more players, there’s more going on with players all going for control of different things. However, when it’s just two player, areas just oscillate between the two or each player goes after the one or two things they need. It’s just less interesting.

We haven’t gotten this out with more than two players, and I’m curious how that will change the game.

How is it as a 2-player game?  Gearworks is okay as a 2-player game, but I find the area control part (which is the main mechanism) not very interesting with just two. There is a slightly different set-up for the 2-player game, but I don’t find it enough to make the game compelling.

How about the art and component quality? I really like the art, especially on the contraption cards – I’d frame a piece of this in my game room! The gear cards are good-looking too, and I like that each different color gear has a different shape as well. The gear pieces that show who controls each row and column are great, chunky wooden markers.

One downfall is that you really need a grid for the main play area. These are available as an add-on, but there should have been something included. We ended up using some spare game parts I have on-hand to mark where each card would go (as seen in my pictures).

Will this stay in my collection?  Maybe? Need to see how it plays with more players. Based on just our 2-player games I don’t find it compelling enough to keep on my shelf.

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