Off the Shelf #4: Gizmos

We’re back with the fourth edition of this series where I reconsider games on my shelf. The next one is

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Gizmos is a 2-4 player engine-building game designed by Phil Walker-Harding and published by CMON. What you’re trying to do is build a lot of machines quickly and efficiently, and this is accomplished by drafting energy in order to pay for available cards that will make later machines easier to build.

I got this game for Christmas in 2018, and have only played a few times since then, the most recent one in 2020. It’s definitely a game that has a lot of table presence because at its center is dispenser that releases the marbles (or energy spheres, as the game calls them) you’ll need to construct your machines. This dispenser only releases six marbles at a time, and quite honestly looks like a gumball machine to me.

Each player gets an energy ring and a dashboard to start the game. The dashboard helps you to organize the cards you get in the game, and the energy ring is there to keep your marbles from rolling off the table. Players also get a starting gizmo which goes under the file section of their dashboard. You’ll create a gizmo draft pool in the center by drawing four Level 1 gizmos, three Level 2, and two Level 3. These are laid in a kind of pyramid in the center of the table.

On your turn, you’ve got four choices, all listed on your Dashboard.

  • FILE: Take a gizmo from the center and put it to the side of your Dashboard (your Archive). Replace the gizmo in the center from the matching level deck. You start the game with the ability to only have one gizmo in your Archive.
  • PICK: Take an energy of your choice from the dispenser and put it in your ring. You start the game with a limit of five energy you can hold at once.
  • BUILD: Build a gizmo from the display or your Archive by paying the appropriate energy.
  • RESEARCH: Draw 3+ cards from a level deck (depending on your research amount), then choose one to File or Build. The others are discarded to the bottom of their deck. You might not want to (or be able to) File or Build any of them, in which case you can discard all of them.

As you build cards, you’ll unlock upgrades that can increase your limits, give you discounts, or unlock other abilities that trigger when you do certain things. So it’s possible to set up big chain reactions that can get you a lot of stuff.

You play until someone has at least four level 3 gizmos, or 16 total. Once everyone has had the same number of turns, you score your gizmos to see who won.

Gizmos in play

The first thing you have to talk about when you talk about Gizmos, I guess, is the energy dispenser. It’s a big cardboard box to hold the marbles, with a hole at the back, a track underneath, and a gutter at the front that will display six marbles. It’s definitely the gimmick of the game that will draw people in – there’s absolutely no reason at all that they couldn’t have used cubes in a bag for this. But the marbles give it that extra visual kick that’s going to set it apart from other engine builders. It does kind of look like a big gumball machine in the center of the table, so I tend to refer to it as such.

Of course, the big concern when playing with marbles is them rolling around the table. The energy ring is a pretty simple and brilliant solution – just pop em in this circle, and they won’t go anywhere. The cardboard is pretty thick, so this is a very successful deterrent. Less successful is the track underneath the gumball machine. Marbles will sometimes fall off of this before they are dispensed, so when you pick it up in the end, you may have to also pick up some runaway energy. You could do it midgame, but then you risk losing more if the track gets jostled.

Overall, the energy dispenser is pretty effective, and more interesting than a bag of cubes would be. But it’s still a gimmick. This is CMON after all, and they always seem to have to be as extra as possible.

Moving on to actual gameplay, your action choices are always limited to four – File, Pick, Build, or Research. Research seems like an action you’d pick if you have nothing else you want to do. There are no cards that add to your Research actions (though you can upgrade how many cards you draw). However, the File or Build you do with this action can trigger other stuff. It’s just an action where you can fish for good stuff.

I feel like Pick and Build are the most often used, though File is a good one for reserving a card that someone else might snatch from you. File is also the action you get a starter Gizmo for, allowing you to draw a random energy when you reserve a card. This is a way to help you get something to start out. Grab an interesting card, get a starting energy, and work from there.

The cards you build help establish your engine. You want cards that will work together well so you can do a lot of stuff on a single turn. As you get going, you want to try to make sure you’re always doing actions that aren’t just going to accomplish one thing. Maybe you build something that allows you to do a Pick action, then you Pick a particular color that allows you to get a random energy. And so on. Building up these combos is one of the most fun parts of the game.

I’m going to stop a moment to talk about AP. Analysis Paralysis. This is basically the inability to make a decision. There’s typically a lot of overthinking involved in this. You’ve probably witnessed it, or even experienced it yourself, and not just in games. You’re faced with a bunch of options, you feel like you have to make the absolute best one, so you look at every conceivable choice, narrow it down to a few, critically examine those, narrow it down to a couple, pick one, look back at all the other options to see if you’ve made the right choice, change your mind, start the process over again. If you’ve ever seen The Good Place, it’s basically Chidi Anagonye. (If you’ve never seen The Good Place, go watch it. Great show.)

Some games are more prone to AP than others. You find it a lot in games that are turn-based, and where your choice pool grows as the game goes on. Gizmos is such a game. You’ve only ever got the four action options, but in the beginning, it matters less what you do. As your engine grows, the little microdecisions within those four options become more important. If I Pick, what should I Pick to make my engine run the most efficiently? What should I Build? Should I File instead? And so on. AP is really a people problem, but Gizmos is a game that doesn’t do much to combat it.

Still, this may be a bigger problem with the higher player counts. I’ve only ever played this with three or four, so I wonder how it would go with just two. BGG says three is the best player count for the game.

To wrap up, I think Gizmos is a very good engine building game. The marbles are cool, but even beyond that, the game is good. There’s lots of ways your engine can develop, and setting up those big chain reactions is a lot of fun.

The gumball machine. Er, energy dispenser.

As I do this Off the Shelf posts, I’m trying to rank the games as I go. I really struggled with my ranking for this one, but I think it just edges out Morels to become the new #1 game (out of only four posts). I’m going to add a post to the top of this page so you can see how the rankings are playing out as I go through these posts because I don’t think I’m going to want to list every single game every time.

Anyway, that’s that. Thanks for reading!

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3 comments

  1. I recently fallen in love again with this game after playing it on Boardgame Arena. I played it twice in 2020 and then never again and it kind of lost its lustre. After playing it on BGA, I found myself anxiously awaiting my turn again.

    I got it played twice at OrcaCon and it is definitely high up there again.

    Great review!

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