Gearworld, by Fantasy Flight Games, is a board game set in a post-apocalyptic world that has managed to crawl itself back to a sort of steampunk sort of existence. Various tribes are trying to eke out a living in the harsh environment, scraping together enough resources to build skyworks, hoping to draw favor with those that live in the floating cities above.
Fantasy Flight Games was kind enough to send a copy over (along with other games) so we can grow the board game library for the CMON Expo. I’d wanted to try this game before, and so I saw my chance and decided to give it a review.
So grab your goggles and armored top hat, it’s time for another TGN Review.
The game is sort of a cross between Settlers of Catan and Risk in that players are trying to gather resources to build various developments, trading with one-another in case they’re short what they need, but the game has much the same feel of Risk when it comes to players controlling areas of the board. The components are pretty standard for games from Fantasy Flight Games. The game board is nice and thick with stout folds that look like they’ll hold out after repeated use. The plastic game pieces are hard plastic and remind me a lot of Risk pieces. And it wouldn’t be a FFG game without tokens and Gearworld has two sheets of them to punch out. There’s a single D6 included as well, since you’ll only ever need 1 at a time.
Set up is fairly quick for the game. First you shuffle up the Production Tokens (the pieces that will create resources) and take turns placing them out on the board, face-down, with only 1 token per spot. Not every space on the board will get a Production Token. After that, the Tokens are flipped up. Then players take turns placing their plastic figures out on the board a-la Risk, claiming territories for themselves. After that, the game is essentially set up and the first round can begin.
Each turn goes through 5 phases. All players will go through the phases in turn, each player doing Phase 1, then each one doing Phase 2 and so forth. The 5 Phases are Build, Production, Trade, Transport and Battle. The D6 comes in at this point, as the Production, Trade and Transport phases are what’s called “Dynamic Phases.” When a Dynamic Phase is about to start, the First Player rolls the D6. On a 1-4, the phase happens. On a 5, the phase doesn’t happen and it is skipped entirely that turn. On a 6, the First Player can choose whether that phase happens or not. This rule makes the game less a purely mathematical thing and can really change how the fortunes and momentum of the game are moving.
The various phases are fairly straightforward. In the Build phase, players are able to use resources to build Developments. To do so, they must have the required resources all in the same location. From there, it’s as simple as removing the resources tokens from the space and replacing them with the Development token. There are some restrictions about how many Development tokens you can have in a given location. Only one Development token of a particular type can be in a space at a given time. So if a space already has a Weapon, it cannot get another.
The Production Phase is the next phase and is also rather straightforward. In this phase, each player produces resource tokens on their Production Tokens. If the Production Token already has a Resource Token of the same type in their space, then they don’t produce another one. So while there is no limit to the number of resource tokens in a particular spot, a Production token won’t make more if there’s already one there.
Next is the Trade Phase. This is the phase that feels most like Settlers as each player can make as many trades as they want with any other players they want, as long as that other player is willing to trade. The only stipulation is that the two players must have at least two space on the board that are adjacent to one-another. Players can make whatever types of trades for resources they want, as long as the other player agrees. Resources are taken from anywhere controlled by the players trading and may be placed in any place they control, so it’s common to see people saying, “I’ll trade you a gold for a gold” just to move that gold to where they want (this is even shown as an example in the book, so the game designers knew this was going to happen).
Next comes the Transport phase where players can move resources and developments around areas they control. There are multiple ways of transporting tokens, including by foot, riverboat, ocean-going ship and horse, but no matter what type used, a player can only do one Transport move during their turn. It’s actually hard to move stuff around in your area and this can really limit where your resources are right when you want them. Though, since this is an effect that happens to everyone, it balances across the board.
The final phase is the Battle phase. This is where the game feels like Risk again. Attacks are no random, though, as no dice are involved. Battles are purely mathematical, various elements giving both to either attack or defense. Both attacking and defending players can form alliances with neighboring areas controlled by other players in order to raise their numbers. Attacking players can also bring up to two Spearheads with them into battle. Spearheads are elements such as boats or horses or weapons from places not directly adjacent to the target space but within movement range. The defender automatically gets bonus defense for every adjacent space they control, plus any sort of weapons or other developments within them. If the Attacker’s total is equal to or more than the Defender’s, then they take over the space. Unlike Risk, though, were you can keep attacking until you decide to stop, in Gearworld, you only get two successful attacks before your turn is over. If you fail your attack, nothing bad happens to you, either. You simply fail to take over the space you were attacking and can’t attack that exact space again. If you don’t feel like making a second attack, or if you fail in two attack actions, you can choose to do a Transport action, resolved exactly like in the Transport phase instead. So even if the Transport phase is skipped due to it being a Dynamic phase, every player will get a chance to perform a Transport action in the Battle phase.
The game continues in that order until either one player is left or a player makes 3 Skyworks.
Gearworld combines elements from two of the classic board games, Risk and Settlers of Catan. Players who enjoy those games would do well to pick up this one. It has the trading and resource management of Settlers but the map-taking elements of Risk. You can win the game without ever making a single attack, potentially. If there were any downsides, it would be that while the game can be played 2-player, you really lose out a lot as you’re probably not going to want to do any trading, which is a major portion of the game. Also, it’s not a game you’ll sit down and start and finish in an hour. Expect an afternoon’s gaming experience for this one. Other than that, Gearworld brings a steampunk twist to war/trade board games.