The world of steampunk is rich, open-ended and entertaining enough to provide settings for all kinds of games, and City of Gears (Grey Fox) feels like a worthy addition to it. Blending worker placement, exploration, area control, engine building and even 'take that', there’s a lot to consider. The rules are simple, but depth in this game by Chris Leder and Daryl Andrews comes from the modular board consisting of nine squares chosen from over 20 unique tiles, as well as 40 different developments to combine. The variations really do ensure that games will play out very differently each time but if you’re looking for absolute balance every time, you’re unlikely to find that.
The first thing you do on your turn is roll dice to see what combination of the three resources will be available to you. The luck begins here, and continues to be a major factor throughout the game, with some developments being significantly better than others and some tiles being much more advantageous than others to find outside your factory. In a four-player game, it should be possible to balance this out by players targeting the strong (zapping their workers) and giving the weak a chance. In a two-player game though, one-sided luck will lead to a one-sided game. Arguably though, since it’s a relatively short game (less than an hour), you don’t need to worry too much if things don’t go your way.
Area control games often struggle to find a satisfactory ending that avoids the final player having a significant advantage, and City of Gears uses an interesting mechanism in this regard. Once the board has been explored, four white gears are added to the gear bag, and the game ends as soon as three them have been drawn. This can take a long time in a two-player game but happen very quickly with four players. You may want to house-rule on this to rebalance according to your group’s taste. Still, all that the end-game affects is who gets to optimise their board position best (ie: score most points); the fun of the game mostly takes place prior to this, so you could focus on enjoying playing it and choose not to worry too much about the final score.
Much in the game is spot-on: the artwork (by Anthony Cournoyer, Chris Leder and Tyler Myatt), the components, the player boards with player aids incorporated, all do their jobs brilliantly. The concept is executed well, with exploration and discovery being integral, exciting parts of the game. With so many variables, each game will be very different and have its own strategies, and not all will be as fun as each other. More often than not, though, you’ll have a great time, especially if you’re not too worried about actually winning: after all, it’s the spirit of discovery that counts!
(Review by Matt Young)