PLAYlist 41: Gizmos | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, October 31st, 2020  

PLAYlist 41: Gizmos

Jun 21, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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Imagine you’re Doc Brown. Not Doc Brown after he’s invented the flux capacitor and shoved it into the cool, stainless steel body of DeLorean, but the Doc Brown that Marty meets when he time travels back to the 1950s. Remember? The nutty, wide-eyed one who wears that humongous, funny-looking mind reading machine on his head. That’s basically who you’ll be playing as in Gizmos.

Gizmos is a new engine-building game from CMON and designer Phil Walker-Harding. (Walker-Harding has been something of a superstar within this column as of late; his excellent Imhotep was the subject of our most recent column entirely by coincidence, and his soon-to-be-expanded bear-stacking game Barenpark was covered in an earlier entry.) Within the game of Gizmos you and up to three friends will be playing as several of the world’s brightest inventors, competing to concoct the best contraption at the Great Science Fair.

It’s never quite clear just what the Rube Goldberg machines you’re building are intended to do, but they’re pretty silly in nature. The artwork on the cards presents a range of wild devices which look like the sort ofsci-fi nonsense you’d see hanging inside the TARDIS in a Doctor Who episode, with many that are just outright silly – say, a hamster wheel hooked up to giant engine. The team of artists supplying the card illustrations do a great job of conveying Gizmos’ light, goofy theme, but their work is understandably going to be overshadowed by the big, gumball-machine like structure spitting out plastic marbles at the head of the table.

The marble dispenser is Gizmos’ undeniable centerpiece. It’s certainly the first thing people will take notice of on the table. While they could have instead used a bag of tokens (or deck of cards) and shoved the whole thing into a much smaller box, it’s a lot more fun to drop your hand into the dispenser and grab a marble like you’re a human crane game. There’s also a really satisfying feeling when the first set of marbles rolls onto the display, accompanied by a faint clack-clack-clack noise, the same sound you hear after inserting quarters into a barroom pool table and the balls are released into their track. Sure, the dispenser may be a gimmick, but it’s a bit of production value that makes the game so visually and tactilely enticing.

On each turn, you’ll be performing one of the several actions on your personal player panel, most of which concern gaining or spending the game’s multi-colored marbles. The 52 plastic marbles (or “energy spheres”) which fill the dispenser act as the game’s main currency. You’ll be collecting them and later cashing them in to purchase gizmo cards which are spread out in three tiers in the middle of the table. At any given time you’ll have access to four level one gizmos, three of the more expensive level twos, and only a pair of top-end level three cards. When a card is purchased, it’s replaced with another random card from a corresponding deck. Each player is given a cardboard ring which can only hold so many marbles at a time, so you’ll need to frequently spend marbles to make room for more. There are four different colors of marbles which the cards require in varying amounts—much of the challenge in Gizmos comes from trying to gather the right colors before the card you’re eyeing is snapped up by an opponent. 

And what do gizmos do, you ask? Well, first and foremost they’re your primary method of scoring: each card has a listed point value in their top right corner, typically corresponding to the number of marbles you paid for it. (The game ends when a player either has 16 purchased gizmos, or four of the elite-tier ones, and then players’ scores are tallied.) The more exciting thing they do, though, is grant you bonus actions whenever you trigger their specified conditions. Once there are a few cards in your personal play area, these conditions will trigger off one another and occasionally kick off a chain reaction. This is where the real fun lies in Gizmos.

Let’s say it’s your turn, and you purchase a blue gizmo from marketplace area. There’s a card in your panel which says that each time you purchase a blue gizmo you get to pick a marble from the visible area of the dispenser. So, you grab a red marble and add it to your supply—but then, because you have another gizmo card which triggers whenever you pick a red marble, you get to draw another at random from the to, hidden area of the dispenser. And now you’ve taken three actions in a turn where you’re normally able to only take one, putting you ahead of your opponents. You'll feel like you did something really cool. You'll insist the other players start calling you “Slick Daddy the Gizmo Guy.” Or not. It’s your gaming group!

These sort of chain reactions are what Gizmos is all about, and the ease with which they can be set up is what makes it such a fun engine building game. Complexity-wise, Gizmos sits near the middle of the pack, light enough to move quickly without nearly as many decisions to mull over as some other games in the genre. A game takes around 30 – 45 minutes, or perhaps an hour if you’re teaching it to a new player. And there’s another point for commendation: Gizmos is a quick learn, with the manual being only a few pages long, the iconography on the cards very clear, and coming with a handy-dandy, one-page reference sheet. There’s no over-explaining, or cloudy sense to the rules. When rulebooks are so often the worst thing about many games, we have to applaud Gizmos for making itself minimally intimidating to pick up and play.

In every game of Gizmos you’re given the opportunity to build a well-oiled machine that’ll set off one chain reaction after another, leaving your opponents miles behind you. Obviously even the best-designed machination can be foiled by poor luck – maybe the cards don’t flip in your favor, or those yellow marbles you’re waiting on never seem to emerge from within the dispenser. You can pivot in many of those situations, re-write your plans and recover in time to pull off a win. But even when you don’t, that won’t stop most players from having a great time assembling their madcap inventions. As a light- to mid-weight engine builder with stellar production, Gizmos has earned our recommendation.

Gizmos rattles onto shelves with an MSRP of $34.99, which is more than reasonable for the amount of plastic and thick cardboard you’ll find inside the box. (It even comes with a tray inside so that you can store the game with the dispenser mostly-assembled.) There’s even a second edition of the game in the pipeline, and if you can wait a bit and invest an extra $5 you’ll get a plastic dispenser to replace the original’s cardboard one. The cardboard version seemed heavy-duty enough to us—our copy had a soda spilled on it shortly after the photos were taken yet hardly seems worse for wear, but the plastic will no doubt stand up to many, many more play sessions.

It’s been quite some time since a playlist theme has come as easily to us as Gizmos’. Building all of these goofy, obtuse machines immediately brought Kraftwerk to mind, a band that has more or less spent the last four decades pretending to be goofy, obtuse machines. But don’t read into that the wrong way – while these German trailblazers were acting like robots, they laid the groundwork for so much of the synthpop and electronic music that would emerge in the 1980s and beyond. In this current age of inescapable autotune it might be difficult to appreciate just how influential and different they must have seemed in the 1970s – Kraftwerk were the first pop stars to rely so purely on synthesizers, drum machines, and other cutting-edge technology to craft their music. We’ve gathered an hour’s worth of tracks from their late ‘70s and early ‘80s period, the era in which they perhaps leaned most heavily into the robotic, mechanical theme. Enjoy!


Previous PLAYlist columns: Imhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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