Updated: Jun 1
Mechanical Beast is an intensely challenging yet versatile tile-laying puzzler from Side Room Games. The premise is that the 1–4 players are engineers inside a giant sentient robot that is 'self-improving' and is out of control. The robot has modified its internal structure so you can no longer rely on blueprints: you have to explore. You're looking to find the Control Room so you can shut the robot down but you then need to escape, rescuing en route all the people you've encountered on your exploration.
Set up involves seeding various special tiles in the 72-tile stack. In the game's solo and co-operative modes, players each have their own engineer meeple but they can alternatively use a shared android meeple. On your turn you can move your own or the android meeple any distance through unlocked already explored rooms and you can use either your engineer meeple or the android to explore (reveal a new tile, placed next to an open door) or operate gears on your tile to rotate or slide tiles that have previously been laid.
Many of the tiles contain one or more locked doors. When your exploration reveals a tile with a locked door, that door blocks movement (if your exploration moved you through it, it blocks your return the way you came) and you have to place out a people meeple. The game shifts a gear when the Control Room is found because at that point, the robot begins to 'collapse': every time the players' meeples and android leave a room empty, that room is removed. To win, you need to get all the player meeples to an exit while rescuing all the people meeples that have been revealed. You can continue to explore (lay out more tiles) while trying to escape but this further exploration is immediately halted when the Lockdown tile is revealed.
Kudos to designer Ben Morayta because this all makes for a well-paced but highly challenging game. You'll need to use the various types of gears you encounter in order to manipulate the tile layout if you're to have any chance of success, and some players will find it initially hard to get their heads around how to use the gears to best effect. Rotating tiles that are already been placed out can also be physically a little fiddly, but it's well worth the effort because you'll have a real sense of achievement if and when you manage to solve the puzzle and beat the game. In the unlikely event that you find the game too easy, you can step up the difficulty by treating 'glass doors' as locked rather than open. Good luck with that!
For us at Board's Eye View, Mechanical Beast is at its best as a solo game. It works, of course, as a fully cooperative game but it can be frustrating when another player takes an action (particularly a gear action) that others consider suboptimal. This can make the game overly susceptible to 'alpha player' syndrome, where one bossy player ends up trying to dictate everyone else's actions. If you find that's a problem, then the rules offer the option of playing a semi-cooperative mode, where you still have to meet the collective victory conditions but the win goes to the player that rescues the most people meeples. Alternatively, Mechanical Beast can be played as a competitive game: there is no android but each player has two engineers and they are in a race to get both to an exit after the Control Room has been found. This involves very different dynamics to the solo and cooperative modes, adding to the play value of this clever box of tricks.
Mechanical Beast is due to launch today on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign.