21 September 2020
Tidy, happy, robots
The future is spotless, we are told by a subtly threatening cartoon Roomba on the cover of Mechanica. This is the threat throughout, as small cleaning robot in the rulebook offers us this helpful tip: “ankles are the most accessible part of the human body, but the jugular is the most vulnerable!”
But this isn’t a game about killer robots, it’s about efficiently producing an army of them in exchange for cash, and therefore points. Mechanica is a lovingly designed game that uses its box and inserts to make it near enough possible to set up the game by taking the lid off.
The game itself is an engine builder, each turn players buy upgrades from the marketplace and slot them into their player board jigsaw. These do things like upgrade the robots going through them, create extra lower quality robots, gift wrap for more points, and so on. Each robot moves along a track at the start of the turn until it reaches a hole. Players start with one fabricator (which creates basic robots) and one truck, these can also be upgraded and added as the game goes on. Forks can be used to create complex machines where a robot is upgraded to the highest level, duplicated, then broken down into multiple smaller mid-level robots which are then sent on various further upgrade paths.
It’s a really clever and, dare we say it, clean, mapping of how we model this kind of conveyor belt engine working in our heads. It’s also got some of the better Eurogame thrills in the sense of trying to keep quiet when the item you want comes up in the market. As the market (a spinning wheel that sometimes bins components in a satisfying way) reduces the cost of components each turn, getting exactly what you need can be very pleasing. A kind of just-in-time fulfilment we can all get behind.
While there are frustrations of the 'I should have put that elsewhere' kind, Mechanica offers a very pleasing puzzle distraction. Sometimes, like all market games, the strategy you entered with can’t be completed by what is available, but that’s all part of its enjoyable friction. The only major gripe with the game is that sometimes there’s a bit too much ‘sorting out change’ whether that for robots or the coins. You can feel a bit silly running the machine and then realising all those bits you just put back in have generated again by the next cycle. It’s obviously a key part of the game, but it does feel a bit like tidying up. If you can live with (or are unreasonably excited by) this clean-freak level of ‘everything in its right place’, then Mechanica is your game. For the rest of us, it’s a solid recommendation.
By Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? YES
A really strong, if occasionally fiddly, engine builder that makes you feel like you’re building a real machine as you go. A cleverly designed, tidy, box.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Chocolate Factory…
Similarly non-combative, Mechanica also lest you build a pleasing conveyor belt of upgrades, even if they’re not quite as sweet to the taste.
Designer: Mary Flanagan, Emma Hobday, Max Seidman
Time: 45-75 minutes
WHATS IN THE BOX
- 4 Factory boards
- 15 Blueprint cards
- 4 Vaults
- 13 Truck tiles
- 10 For tiles
- 27 Improvement tiles
- 24 Basic tidybots
- 24 Plus tidybots
- 24 Deluxe tidybots
This review originally appeared in Issue 43 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.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products