Reviewed by Herb Levy
GIZMOS (CMON, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 40-50 minutes; $34.99)
The current focus of our educational system is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) so it is no surprise that a Science Fair should attract a lot of attention and be highly competitive. And so it is in the latest Phil Walker-Harding design where players attempt to create the most impressive – and valuable – gadgets or, in this case, Gizmos!
Players are trying to create the biggest and best “gizmo” by gathering all sorts of Gizmo cards. These cards come in three levels and each deck is shuffled with a “pyramid’ formed of 4 Level 1 cards, 3 Level 2 and 2 Level 3 cards completing the display. (20 Level 3 cards are randomly removed from the deck so there is some variability created regarding which of these most valuable cards will be available each game.) Cards will be built by using “energy” represented by marbles in four different colors: red (for “heat”), yellow (electrical), blue (atomic) and black (battery). All of these cards are worth Victory Points; some will generate additional VPs too. (Victory Point tokens that may be earned through them are placed aside for the time being.)
Getting the required energy means constructing an “energy dispenser”, a three-dimensional cardboard contraption. (Instructions are included.) Once done, there is a holding area in the back (into which all of the marbles are tossed) and a trough where six marbles will randomly slide out, available to be chosen on a player’s turn. (This is a delightful component which adds a certain randomness as to what types of energy will be available on a turn. Even better, once built, the dispenser only needs to have its upper “corral” used to hold the marbles removed and placed flat. The rest of the dispenser fits snugly into the box insert.)
Each would-be scientist in the game receives their own player dashboard (which also serves as a play aid as it lists the actions available each turn) as well as a starting Gizmo card (a level 0) which is placed in their File section. Starting with a randomly chosen first player (who has a tan dashboard), play begins.
On a turn, one of four actions may be done: Pick (choose one of the six marbles in the trough and place it in your “holding area”, basically a “doughnut” where marbles can be stashed without having them roll around or off the table), File (take one Gizmos card in the display and place it alongside your dashboard into the “archive” area), Build (return the required energy marbles needed to build a particular Gizmo to the back of the dispenser and add the built card into the proper dashboard area) and Research (draw cards from a Level of your choice as per your ability and choosing one – or none – to either immediately build or place into your archive).
All Gizmos have a cost (noted in the number and color of marbles needed) as well as a Victory Point value but come in different varieties, each with its own advantages. Players start with being able to hold up to 5 marbles, file a single Gizmo and research 3 cards. Upgrades will allow you to hold, file and research more. File cards let you file AND choose a marble to add to your supply (sometimes a blind draw from the back; sometimes a marble of your choice from the trough). Depending on the card, Converters will double the value of a particular colored marble or allow you to treat a specified color marble as wild! Pick cards allow you to get more than one marble on a turn. Build cards give all sorts of bonuses for purchasing additional cards of specified colors which may be more marbles or even Victory Points.
Play continues until either someone has built 16 Gizmos (including the start card) OR a total of 4 Level 3 cards have been built. (These cards have a tan background so are easily differentiated from the regular Gizmo cards.) That round is completed and all Victory Points from Gizmos built and Victory Point tokens earned are totalled. The player with the highest total wins! Tie? Then the player with the most built Gizmos wins. Still tied? Then the person with the most remaining energy (marbles) is the victor. Still tied? Then the tied player farthest away from the start player gets the nod.
As Gizmos are built, chain reactions are created where one action leads to a number of bonuses. This engine building is what makes the game so involving and fun. Sometimes, you just have to pick one marble and let it go at that. But you need to keep your eyes on potential chain reactions so that one turn results in multiple effects. Not only is it perfectly permissible to have one action trigger multiple cards, skillful players will make sure they set themselves up so this happens on nearly every turn! That is imperative to be able to win.
The iconography used on the cards can be a lot to take in at first. Fortunately, after a play or two, they make perfect sense. (There is an entire sheet included in the game for easy reference too.) Good use is made of color as they are bright and there is no confusion over red/orange or blue/green as can happen in so many other games.
This is not the first time the use of an everchanging marble array has been used in a game. This dates at least as far back as Derek Carver’s Showbiz (self published by the designer under the Prestige Games imprint back in 1985) and, more recently, with Potion Explosion (Horrible Games/CMON, 2015). It certainly works well here. In terms of difficulty, Gizmos has a similar weight to Splendor (Summer 2014 Gamers Alliance Report) which means it can serve as an excellent gateway game.
Phil Walker-Harding has compiled an impressive resume of game design over the last few years. His talents have yielded Barenpark(Summer 2017 GA Report), Sushi-Go (Spring 2016 GAR) and Sushi-Go Party (Summer 2016 GAR), Imhotep: Builder of Egypt (Summer 2017 GAR) and more! This incredible design energy makes Gizmos yet another fine addition to this burgeoning list of quality games with strong appeal to gamers across the board! – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Summer 2019 GA Report articles