Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Gearworks from Piecekeeper games.
What is this game about?
Gearworks is a light, fast card placement game in which you are tinkerers scrambling to get the parts you need to build steampunky contraptions. Ultimately, the player who builds the best contraptions will earn the most points and the win. At the beginning of each round, players will receive secret contraption cards that help them decide which machine parts to go for. If they can end the round with one or both of the parts displayed on the card, they can build the contraption and earn victory points. To stake a claim to parts they need, players will need to carefully deploy the gear cards in their hands. The play area for a game of Gearworks consists of a grid where you can place cards in rows and columns, following particular placement rules. Being the player who most recently played a card to a given row and column gives you dominance over those parts of the grid, and the possibility of winning the parts associated with that row and column at the end of the round.
In addition to playing cards and vying for parts, players can earn and spend special tokens called Sparks. Sparks allow players to reenter the game after they have passed, to play a card in their hand on top of a card already placed in the grid, to draw extra contraption cards, and to otherwise manipulate the game to their advantage. While all players automatically receive starting sparks, you can also gain them by discarding gear cards or by "tinkering," which means placing a card on the grid in a space where it equals either the sum of or difference between cards with which it shares a row or a column.
How does it play solo?
Gearworks comes with an automated solo opponent called The Leviathan that plays according to automated rules. Rather than respond to what the player is doing, the Leviathan will act based on cards drawn from the contraption and gear decks. Based on the locations and values The Leviathan draws, it will attempt to make a legal placement somewhere in the grid.
Gearworks is a quick and clever game that I really appreciated. There are a lot of fun, strategic things to do with the cards in your hand, and you'l find yourself constantly checking the board state. Constantly vying for dominance over specific rows and columns is both exhilarating and frustrating, and there are a lot of opportunities to fake your opponents out if you are willing to conceal what you want or even pass and then pay sparks to reenter the round at the last minute. You also have the option of coming on strong right from the beginning of a round and fighting aggressively for the parts you want.
However, my positive feelings about Gearworks come with an enormous caveat. Multiplayer Gearworks is slick and fun. Solo Gearworks, however, is clunky and disappointing. The Leviathan works, but it is not only extremely annoying to run (PieceKeeper provided a flowchart on BGG that is mind-bogglingly complex for such an ostensibly simple game and bot), but also can't give you the excitement of strategically scrapping for control of a row or column, or the quiet pleasure of faking out your friends. I know it feels like the right thing to provide a solo mode for as many games as possible these days, but in the case of Gearworks, the solo mode loses too much of what makes the game fun with other people.
Do I recommend it?
For multiplayer, yes. Gearworks is inexpensive, fun, and a game I'd like to try with my students. For solo? Do not recommend.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars - I love it!
4 stars - I really like it.
3 stars - I like it.
2 stars - It's okay.
1 star - Meh.