Phil Walker-Harding has always put inventive use of interesting components at the forefront of his designs. Just look at the chunky wooden cubes in Imhotep or the cute cards in Sushi Go!, passed around the table like fishy treats on a conveyor belt. So when you see his latest game, Gizmos, centrepieces a cardboard dispenser that feeds different coloured marbles to the players, you know it’s not just there for pure novelty value.
Of course, Gizmos doesn’t need those 52 sparkly little balls. The four colours represent different kinds of energy (heat, electric, atomic and battery power) which players collect to build their titular contraptions. The dispenser feeds them out in random order, with six marbles on view all the time. So they could easily just have been a deck of 52 cards, with the top six face-up on the table, to be collected as sets. But that wouldn’t have been as fun, would it?
There’s a joyful palpability to Walker-Harding’s neat little engine-builder, which will certainly appeal to younger players, and his intuitive, easy-to-grasp mechanics are sure to make this a family favourite (despite the 14-plus age recommendation). Turns whizz by quickly and there is hardly any downtime as each player selects one of four possible actions, all handily detailed on the player dashboards.
You can pick one energy marble from the available six (and then experience the tiny, childlike thrill of seeing a fresh marble automatically roll down to fill its place). You can select a gizmo from the nine on display to build and add to your tableau – assuming you can pay the cost in energy. You can instead research, which means drawing a number of gizmo cards blind from one of the three decks (levels one, two and three) and choosing one to keep. Or you can file, which means grabbing a gizmo you can’t afford and archiving it to construct later – a sure way to frustrate another player’s plans, if you’re feeling take-thatty. Sounds simple, right? Almost too simple?
Well, once you start stacking up those gizmos and their abilities begin synergising, things get more complex – in an appealing way. The gizmos come in a variety of types, including converters which mean you can count one kind of energy as another, and upgrade gizmos which allow you to increase your energy storage, the number of cards you can research and boost that all-important archive. Others, meanwhile, give you bonus marbles when certain colours are picked up; or victory points when certain kinds of gizmos are built; or perhaps inflict a rest-of-game penalty in return for a massive reward come the final victory point tally.
It can become quite tough keeping track of how your various gizmos’ abilities chain together – and chain they do, in some long and complicated ways towards game-end – so there is potential vexation to be found in realising you’ve forgotten to, say, claim a reward for building something from your archive, despite having remembered to convert your red energy marbles to blue energy to pull off the build in the first place.
But that’s just the nature of the game, and it fits the theme well, with each inventor’s workshop filling up with more and more connected contraptions in some crazy, headspinning Heath Robinsonian manner. Plus, Walker-Harding couldn’t have presented it more thoughtfully and carefully, from the choice of action-explaining icons to all the handy info provided by the dashboards. Ultimately, there is no excuse here for losing one’s marbles.
A joyful, light-strategy engine-builder from the man behind Sushi Go! and Bärenpark. It won’t change your gaming life, but it’ll certainly make it a bit more fun.
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 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.