Review: City of Gears

Designer: Chris Leder, Daryl Andrews
Artist: Anthony Cournoyer, Chris Leder, Tyler Myatt
Publisher: Grey Fox Games
Category: Worker Placement, Route Building
Players: 2-4
Price: $53.92 Amazon.com

City of Gears is a steampunk-themed game of worker placement and engine building. With very high production quality, this game uses classic euro mechanics in new and interesting ways. Though it looks complex at first glance, its gameplay is intuitive and streamlined.

Review

Right out of the box, City of Gears looks like fun. With tons of plastic bits, cool custom dice, and a stylized steampunk aesthetic, it begs to be played. The goal of this game is to earn the most points, and players do this by exploring tiles, making machine connections, and cleverly managing their resources.

To set up the game, players create a 3×3 grid of face-down tiles. Every person has their own tableau board, which is placed along one of the edges of the grid, like this:

Each player’s tableau begins with 3 available robot workers, and 3 more that may be purchased during the game. Everyone receives 3 starting dice and a “Converter” gear piece in their color.

A player begins her turn by rolling her dice to generate the game’s 3 resources: steam, cog, and zap tokens. Her Converter allows her to change any 2 resources into any single resource, which helps to mitigate some of the dice chance.

With these results, the green player earns a steam, a zap, and her choice of a steam or cog token.

Once the player has earned her resources, she may activate any tiles on which she has workers by paying the listed costs. Activating a tile grants a helpful bonus—this could be extra resources, free points, or an ability such as a special worker movement. On the first turn, activating a tile won’t be possible since no workers will have moved yet, but as the game goes on, multiple tiles may be activated in a single turn. To give an example of how an activation might look:

The tile above has no resource cost to activate, but a worker is required (this is the case for every tile in the game). Since the current player (green) has a worker present, she may choose to activate the tile. If she does, she earns the reward listed at the bottom: in this case, free resources, but she must destroy the worker. A different tile might require her to spend, say, 2 steam tokens to earn its bonus.

When the current player has activated all the tiles she wishes, she may perform actions. These can include spending movement/resource tokens to move workers, purchasing new workers, knocking opponents’ pieces off the board, or creating “gear links,” which are one of the coolest parts of the whole experience.

Gear links connect adjacent tiles and offer players extra activation perks. In order to move a worker from one tile to another, a player must first establish a gear link between them. Notice in my previous example that the green player’s tableau shares a gear link with the tile being activated—this link had to be in place before the worker could move onto the space. In a sense, gear links act as a sort of “bridge,” allowing workers to move around the board. Gear tokens are drawn randomly from a bag; I’ll explain why in a moment.

As players develop a series of these tile connections, they can start earning “link bonuses.” If an activated tile shares a link with a tile that was NOT activated this turn, the current player earns the linked tile’s bonus, in addition to the normal reward for activation. I realize that may sound confusing, so here is a visual example:

Suppose the green player has established a link between the Scrapyard and the Stock Market tiles (as indicated by the gear in her color). On her turn, she activates the Scrapyard, earning its reward and losing her worker in doing so. Since the Stock Market is linked to the Scrapyard, but was not activated this turn, the green player earns its link bonus as well: a cog token, as shown at the top of the tile. With this extra benefit, she has earned 3 resources from the activation, instead of only 2. Players can earn link bonuses from multiple, “chained” tiles with a single activation.

If a player draws a gear piece and does not wish to add a link to the board, she may instead flip it face-up to reveal its unique special ability. (This is why gears are drawn blindly—their powers differ from one to another.) The bottom of each player’s tableau has spots for 5 special powers. To illustrate:

Here, we see that the green player has some gears on her tableau. One allows her to earn victory points if she foregoes rolling all her resource dice, and the other grants her an extra game-end scoring opportunity.

This is an aspect I really like about City of Gears—players must decide between building out their tile connections to earn big payouts and beefing up their own tableaus to make game operations easier or more efficient.

When the final tile is revealed, the endgame phase begins. Each player receives an extra die to use, and 4 white “Opening Day” tiles are added to the bag. Play continues until 3 of them have been drawn, and then the game ends. To determine final scores, players examine each tile individually—the player who has the most combined workers and connections on the tile earns its listed point value. These points, combined with those accumulated during the game, determine players’ scores, and the person with the highest score overall is the winner.


City of Gears is exactly the kind of euro-style game I enjoy, in that it breaks the standard mold of the genre. Instead of feeling like a dragging, isolated optimization puzzle, it is interactive, amusing, and fast-playing. Its emphases on resource management, route building, and worker placement will feel familiar to any gamer, but its clean design makes it accessible to folks with limited tabletop experience.

The game’s production is excellent, with copious amounts of colorful dice and plastic goodies. The rulebook is brief and straightforward, so new players should be able to dive in quickly. Graphically, the game looks lovely on the table, and there is something really cool about using the gear bits to connect the tiles. Everything in the package just looks and feels well-crafted.

City of Gears runs about 45-60 minutes, so it’s easy to play multiple rounds back-to-back. Since each game uses only 9 of the 21 tiles, players will strategize and interact with the board in new ways each game. To that point, the strategy is quite dynamic—players can play the “aggressive game,” spending their zap tokens to remove opposing pieces, the “insulated game,” building up their own engines, or the “expansion game,” trying to link as many tiles as possible. All approaches have their own merits, and players will have fun trying out a variety of tactics.

The game has a nice arc to it. Like many euro games, players spend their first few turns just getting the ball rolling, but once they do, they can accomplish quite a bit in a single turn. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome; turns move rapidly enough that the final tile will be revealed much sooner than players might expect. Once the Opening Day gear pieces are added to the bag and players get their extra dice, things really ramp up.

City of Gears is an excellent “gateway-plus” game. Though I left out a few details above for fear of being too verbose, the core system is nice and easy: roll dice, place gears, move workers, do cool stuff. With fun, thematic gameplay and awesome production quality, there is a lot to love here. If you are looking for a solid euro experience that plays in under an hour, I highly recommended picking this one up!

A review copy was provided by Grey Fox Games.

The Bottom Line

City of Gears is a standout game of 2018. Beautifully manufactured, cleverly designed, and a ton of fun. Highly recommended.

 

8.9