City of Gears review


23 July 2019
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city-of-gears-60243.jpg City of Gears
Clockwork, not hard work

Buy your copy of City of Gears here.

For a game that looks and runs like clockwork, City of Gears has plenty of electrical spark running through it.

Behind its steampunk appearance is a fitting mechanical meshing of gameplay. There’s the management of resources as players roll dice to gather steam, gears and electrical charges. Gears can be spent to connect up the central nine-by-nine grid of city tiles (randomly placed during setup and revealed as they’re explored), creating bridges for meeple-like workers – powered by steam or more potent electricity – to travel along and extend their owner’s network of tiles. The gear links double as a way of activating ability combos on connected tiles when resources trigger one location’s ability, granting the chance to reap bonus resources and victory points along a well-constructed web. Gears also feature an optional ‘development’ ability that can instead added to a factory, building up an array of bonus actions and scoring opportunities that gently expand the initially simple loop.

What begins as a relatively docile expansion out of your factory quickly becomes a scrappy tussle for control of each city tile. The robotic workers can zap rival automatons into a pile of scrap, sending them back to the factory and forcing them to traverse the board once again. Zaps can also be spent to destroy the gear links connecting tiles, cutting off rivals’ valuable networks. With workers and gear links determining ownership over tiles – and their victory points – at the end of the game, City of Gears’ latter half can be surprisingly blood– erm, oilthirsty. Luckily, getting zapped isn’t a game-ending setback, so the heated competition never feels cruel.

The comfortable combination of spending dice results, expanding your presence on the grid and activating tiles zips along surprisingly quickly – playing on the standard board (a low-conflict option for bigger groups is included), the endgame can come around before you know it. The random nature of the sudden finish – which is triggered by pulling three white gears from the bag, and immediately ends the game – can be a bit jarring, especially as multiple (or even all three) white gears can be pulled on the same player’s turn, leaving little chance to react or make good on certain scoring requirements.

While the randomness of rolling dice and drawing gears is deftly balanced in the rules – two unwanted resources can be converted to any one alternate and saved for future turns, and gears must be drawn together and can only be used once per turn for a gear link or factory development – City of Gears can still occasionally fall prey to the luck of the draw. The blunt conclusion means that a lucky scoring bonus drawn in the last few turns can suddenly swing the game in a player’s favour, while the limited number of resources still makes duff rolls frustrating to a degree.

These small and shared frustrations pale in light of the game’s well-considered mixture of points-gathering and player interaction, leaving the cardboard machinery running smoothly with nary a hitch. It’s wrapped up in an impressive presentation that provides the pleasure of plonking the chunky plastic gears into star-shaped holes along the edges of the tiles to link them together – although the iconography used to denote certain development effects could be clearer at points.

City of Gears is a well-oiled machine built with dependable parts. It might not feel like the freshest experience on the tabletop, but there’s a certain charm to its sheer reliability as an enjoyable, if not outstanding, hour of gaming. 

MATT JARVIS

 

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PLAY IT? – PROBABLY

City of Gears is as solid as they come, combining conventional route-building and scoring with a surprisingly heated level of player interaction towards its slightly jarring end. Like its clockwork visuals, it’s an experience you can count on to run dependably, even if there are more modern-feeling successors out there.

Buy your copy of City of Gears here.

Designer: Chris Leder, Daryl Andrews

Artist: Anthony Cournoyer, Chris Leder, Tyler Myatt

Time: 45 minutes

Players: 2-4

Age: 8+

Price: £55

 

This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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