Invention is a perfect area for aspiring designers to check out when coming up with games. It naturally lends itself to the kind of progression you’ll get in a game – starting with little, you slowly build up your brand new idea, developing it until you have a final product. Take something like Minion Games’ Manhattan Project as an example of how it can be done well, where you get a true feeling of beginning with nothing but soon build yourself up into a major nuclear power. Worker placement also feels like a natural genre to use because – after all – isn’t inspiration 90% perspiration? Get those workers doing their thing and you’ll be on your way to success in no time, surely.
A new game that mixes these elements is currently being produced following a successful Kickstarter campaign and though Gear & Piston won’t officially be available until Essen 2013 it can currently be played over on Board Game Arena. It’s a charming little affair set at the dawn of the automotive industry but rather than looking at the work of the more successful innovators of the time, players assume the roles of inventors out to make a quick buck and please their very pushy investors. Jukka Höysniemi’s upcoming release through LudiCreations doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a mean little game in there.
As I mentioned, Gear & Piston is a worker placement game that’s played out in a very familiar style. Attempting to build a brand new vehicle using whatever you can invent or scavenge, each round begins with players placing their workers on one of the board’s areas. The Patent Office and Junk Yard both allow you grab tiles that will contribute to your prospective automobile (though those Junk parts have a tendency to be rather volatile), while a visit to the Back Alley can give you an edge over your competitors. Actually putting together your various parts requires placement in the Workshop but as you might expect, there’s only going to be a limited amount of spaces for you to all fight over.
Eventually you’ll have enough parts to create your Frankenstein of a vehicle. There are a few necessary requirements – wheels, of course, somewhere for folks to sit, steering and a power source – but these can also be exceeded to make things even more awesome. Who says that you only need two axles on a car? Such conventions can be chucked out of the window as you race to finish the 6×2 grid of tiles that will make up your invention. A close eye must be kept on what you’re making though, as certain demands from the investors need to be met in order for you to score the most points. A comfortable ride can be as important as the fact that your motor won’t explode…
Three different power systems can be used in the game – petrol, steam and electricity – adding a bit of curiosity and strangeness to the proceedings (after all, an electric car is such a preposterous suggestion, isn’t it?). Once you’ve selected which route you’re going down, you’ll be fighting for all the compatible pieces and so Gear & Piston does suffer a little from the “do what no-one else is doing and you should be OK” syndrome that effects many worker placement games. However, that’s far from a major criticism; this is actually a very solid and entertaining game that acts as a great entry point into the genre.
Points are awarded at the end of play for the relative success of what you’ve built – how far it can travel, how comfortable it is, that kind of stuff – as well as how well the expectations of the investors have been met. As always, the highest total wins, but with games taking only a short while there’s always time to scratch everything and set up for a second go as you bid to improve on the last time.
Having only had experience with the digital version, I obviously can’t comment on the quality of the components or final print of the game, but from a “how it plays” standpoint I can safely say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gear & Piston and will certainly be picking up a copy at Essen this year. The graphical style is charming and eyecatching, echoing the greys and browns you’d expect from a game that focuses on tinkering about in workshops, but still managing to be bright and clear. Everything is language independent too, meaning that a crib sheet to help remind you of what the various symbols mean is all you really require to play.
I’d put this at the level of being a bit of a step up from the usual gateway games – after all, there’s a fair bit more to keep an eye on in Gear & Piston when compared to something like Carcassonne, but with a group of even vaguely experienced players you’ll be grand. With promises of high quality production coming from LudiCreations, this could be one of the buzzworthy games of Spiel.
Gear & Piston will be available at Essen Spiel 2013 and will be published through LudiCreations. Designed by Jukka Höysniemi, between two and six can play with games taking around thirty to forty minutes. If you fancy taking a look at it well in advance, visit Board Game Arena where you can play a beta build of the game right now!