Turn gears in your favor to gain the parts needed for your contraptions in Gearworks, an area control puzzler by PieceKeeper Games.
Official: 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes, ages 10+
My Opinion: 2-4 players, 45+ minutes, ages 8+
Delightfully maddening puzzler, direct competition with other players, good math-y family game, not for those who need completion in their games.
In the Box
- 45 gear cards (numbered 1-9 in 5 different colors/styles)
- 16 contraption cards
- 20 wooden sparks
- 9 gear tokens
- 27 parts tokens
- 4 reference cards
I received a prototype version of the game to review, so I cannot speak of the final quality of the components. Some changes may occur before final production.
Gear cards will make up your hand and are played to gain control of rows and columns. They come in numbers 1 through 9 and in five different colors, each color a different style.
Each contraption card shows 2 parts that it requires for completion. You can partially complete the card with 1 part for 4 points, or fully build the contraption with both parts for 9 points, scored at the end of the game.
Sparks are little lightning-shaped resources that allow you to do extra things during the game. I will go into more detail about them below. Sparks are incredibly cute, however I found them to be a tad too small, and therefore difficult to pick up.
The play area is a 5×4 grid (4×4 in the 2-player game), with each row and column awarding a different part to the person controlling it at the end of the round.
At the beginning of the game, 4 gear cards are placed on the play area to start you off. On their turn a player can place a gear on the play area following these placement rules:
- Cards must go in ascending or descending order in rows (adjacent equal numbers are also fine).
- Only one gear of a color can be placed in a column.
When you place a gear card, you turn the gears of the row and column to your player color, indicating that you have control of them.
In addition to playing a gear card (or passing if you’re unable or unwilling to play one), you may spend sparks to gain new gear and contraption cards. Sparks can also be spent to re-enter a round in which you’ve passed, or to allow you to play a gear on top of one already played.
You gain sparks in 2 ways:
- discarding 2 gear cards
- by math (if 2 of the closest gears horizontally and/or vertically adds or subtracts to equal the gear you placed, you get a spark)
A round ends when all players have passed. At the end of a round you will get a part from each row and column that you control. You will then build your contraptions, gain new cards and (possibly) sparks, and reset the playing area. After 3 rounds you add up points from contraptions, unused parts, and remaining sparks to determine the winner.
Gearworks is a maddening puzzle game, which isn’t a bad thing. You are strategizing the best way to play your gears to get the parts you need, but at the same time you have to deal with other players getting in your way, as well as the randomness of cards you’re dealt.
At no point do you feel safe. So much can change with the placement of a single gear card, making it difficult for there to be a runaway opponent. In fact, one game I had a strong lead for 2 rounds, only to lose the game in the end.
Turns early in a round do help shape the direction of play, especially when certain strategies are used. However, nothing is guaranteed. Other players may out-maneuver you, or you may get blocked and never get the sparks you need. Mid-round play becomes intense as people vye for control, and you find yourself puzzling out the best choices, and back-up plans for those choices, for every move.
You are directly competing against other players, and gameplay can become fierce, as there are only 9 parts to gain each round (8 in a 2-player game). This can result in being this close to getting the parts you need, only to see them fall through your fingertips last minute. While the competition is great, it doesn’t feel mean. There is a lot of back and forth making it a fun competition instead of feeling abusive.
You probably won’t be able to complete all your contraptions, and some may only have 1 part on them. This can be rather uncomfortable if you’re a completionist, and very challenging if you’re a child and a completionist. My 10-year-old became very upset with the inability to complete what he started, so if you, or anyone in your family, needs completion, this isn’t the game for you.
Besides personality needs, this game worked well with children ages 8 and up. The random element of the cards helps even out imbalances between player skill, at least in 3 and 4 player games, making it play well in a family with various ages.
Setup is my biggest negative. Guessing the size of each row and column was difficult for me, and I had to use a card to measure distances out. I began wishing for a playmat early on. Luckily there will be a playmat add-on in the Kickstarter. I recommend it if you have a hard time eyeballing measurements like I do.
At first blush this game seemed overly simple, but after playing and taking in the depth that the sparks offer, I’ve come to appreciate its clever design. It continues to be a straight-forward game, but far from simplistic.
Because of the math needed, I thought this would be a great addition to our gameschooling shelf (before realizing it wasn’t a good fit for one of the kids). Even though it doesn’t work for our family, I think it would be a good mind stretcher for families who enjoy puzzles, or want to work on puzzle skills. Beware of kids with low frustration levels, however. The competitiveness and inability to complete contraption cards may be too much for some.
If you like the puzzle feel of Sudoku as well as competitive clashing over limited resources, you should definitely check Gearworks out. This game has simple mechanics and is easy to teach to others, making it accessible to many different people of varying game experience.