Theme and What is it?
Gearworks finds you in your workshop, tinkering on various clockwork contraptions. Careful placement of gear cards allows you to claim different parts. Can you make the right plays and build your contraptions? Or will you find yourself with a bunch of less useful parts.
Gearworks is a game of card placement for one to four players. Players will be trying to place numbered gear cards into a grid to claim parts for their clockwork contraptions. To set-up the game, the starting grid is randomly seeded with one gear card per row and column. The various parts are assigned to specific rows and columns. Each player is given a Tinkerer, each of whom have a special ability usable once per round, and the game begins.
On a player’s turn, they must play a gear card or pass. When playing a gear card into the grid, they must follow two placement rules: there many only be one of each color per column; and rows are filled in either ascending or descending numerical order (determined by the second card played in a row). Cards of equal number may be placed next to each other. If a player’s placement is such that any two of the four nearest cards in each orthogonal direction can be used in a mathematical equation of addition or subtraction to yield the value of the card played, that is called “tinkering” and produces a spark for the player. For example, I play a 1 and there is a 3 above me and a 2 to the right and 3 minus 2 equals 1 so I have therefore tinkered.
Sparks are useful to extend your playing options and may optionally be used at any time as part of your turn. To gain sparks you may either tinker, as stated above, or discard any two gear cards. You may then use sparks for multiple options. One spark can allow you to draw a gear card or reenter a round in which you have previously passed and two sparks can allow you to replace a gear card in the grid or draw a new contraption card to work towards.
Whenever a legal play is made to the grid, players rotate the gears at the edges of the matching row and column to their placement, to match their player color. At the end of a round, players collect all parts whose gears are still matching their player color. It is also at this time that they reveal a contraption card and build it, either in part or in full. Any revealed contraptions and parts from the current round will be set aside. They will be worth victory points, but cannot be interacted with in future rounds. Whoever has the most overall parts becomes the new leader and players with fewer parts than the leader may gain a number of sparks to head into the next round with a slight advantage. At the end of three rounds, the game is over. Unused parts are worth two points, contraptions are worth either four points for partial or nine points for fully complete, and unused sparks are worth one point. The player with the most victory points is the winner. Gearworks also includes variant rules for a solo game.
Gearworks has a nice look to it on the table and the steampunk setting mixed a puzzle-like placement mechanisms drew me in for a closer look at Origins 2018.
Game Build Quality
Gearworks comes with 45 gear cards (numbered one through nine in five colors), 25 contraption cards, 1 Leviathan card for solo play, 4 Tinkerer cards, 4 reference cards, 1 solo reference card, 9 gear tokens, 27 parts (three each of nine parts), and 20 sparks. The cards are all of good thickness with a nice finish. They will hold up well to repeated plays. The tokens and parts are punchboard tokens and have a good thickness as well. The spark tokens are wooden meeples.
The art in Gearworks creates a wonderful steampunk aesthetic. The Tinkerer cards are probably the most colorful, with their player color as a background and good full torso images the interesting people featured in the game. The contraption cards feature steampunk designs in a blueprint style. The gear cards are more basic, with a simple colored gear on them, but the colors still pop and they are easy to read.
Age Range & Weight
Gearworks is a game of hand management and strategic card placement. The box indicates ages 10 and up and that is solid starting point. The placement rules are relatively simple, but learning how to play strategically and claim the parts you need requires a bit of tactical thinking. The sparks and player powers offer a few options to help you if you find yourself without a lot of options, but it could be frustrating for younger players so I would not go too much younger than the recommendation.
Gearworks is a lot of game in a relatively small package. The rules are simple and straightforward and allow the placement mechanisms to drive the difficulty. At its simplest, Gearworks is a game about playing as many cards into the grid as you can while limiting the options of your opponents. However, when you focus your efforts on the specific parts you need for your contraption, you realize that Gearworks actually offers some area control with claiming parts from the grid. Trying to maximize the number of parts you claim in a given round, while also wanting to make placements that allow you to tinker and earn sparks adds quite a bit of depth. You also want to be thinking about your potential future plays so you don’t find yourself making plays that neither claim parts nor qualify for the tinker bonus. Managing your personal spark economy can make or break a game. I found Gearworks to offer just the right amount of brain crunch and with a 30-45 minute playtime that might actually shrink with repeated plays, plus good options for 2-player and solo play, it’s certainly going to be hitting the table a lot. I cannot wait to see what else is coming from Piecekeeper games.