Updated: Nov 24, 2020
We’re big fans of Phil Walker-Harding here at Unboxed. I love his small box games, Phil always manages to pack a lot of design space into a simple and easy to teach ruleset. I haven’t played a game of his I didn’t like. I found Bärenpark underwhelming when I first played it but it’s still a solid design that I enjoy playing and it's growing on me. Sushi Go and Archaeology the Card Game are both still in rotation and Imhotep is a great area control game that I always forget I like.
So when I heard that Phil had a new game out this year I knew it was going on my Christmas list. When I heard it was coming out from CMON, I was a little more confused. My experience with CMON was of games like Zombicide, The Godfather and Blood Rage, big games with lots of minis. I knew they had produced some smaller card games but this match-up felt like a bad blind date.
But what is the game like? Gizmos follows Phil’s previous designs by giving you four simple actions you can take, File, Pick, Build or Research.
To File you pick a card from the central display and add it to your archive. You begin the game with one space in your archive but you can expand it by building gizmos.
To Pick you choose an energy ball from a large gumball contraption in the centre of the play area and add it to your pool. Again you’re limited to 5 energy balls but that can be expanded by building gizmos.
To Build you choose a gizmo, either in your archive or the central display and pay the energy required to build it and place it in the corresponding area. Each gizmo powers up one of your four actions, allows you to convert energy or expands your ability to archive, store energy or research.
To Research you draw cards from the gizmo deck and either Build or File one of the cards you drew. At the start of the game you can only draw three cards but you can expand that with gizmos. The first player to build 16 gizmos or 4 level III gizmos ends the game and then points are tallied.
Gizmos delivers on the second part of Phil’s design goals and that is design space. With just four basic actions the game is easy to learn but each gizmo you build affects those basic actions. Perhaps you build a gizmo to turn Blue energy into yellow energy. Then you build one that generates extra victory points when you build yellow gizmos. Then you build one that gives you an extra pick when you pick blue energy and soon you have an engine that allows you build and score and restock your energy all in the same turn.
Gizmos has a drawback and that is the iconography, there’s a lot of it and there’s a double sided sheet that comes with the game that explains it all but still it can be a little overwhelming to look at on the table. The game is also overproduced. The energy dispenser looks cool but it could have probably been a deck of cards. Fortunately, the price point is not significantly increased due to the unnecessary (but very pretty) components but your shelf space is certainly compromised.
Gizmos feels like a small game in big box. It’s not a beefy Ticket to Ride style game but it’s box is just as big. It’s also longer than it feels. By that I mean it feels like a light game, a 20-30 minute game but the box suggests almost double that and my first play ran to about the hour mark.
I feel like I’m pounding on the game a little bit here but I’m not. I find the concept not only really interesting but well implemented. The idea of building a tableau full of combos isn’t unique but this one is definitely easier to teach and understand than most others in this genre (looking at you Race For The Galaxy). Turns are fast too, pick one of four actions, do any combos that result, next turn. It can be as quick as picking up a marble in some cases. However there can be some analysis paralysis with players choosing which gizmos to file, build or research, especially if they are unfamiliar with the iconography.
Overall then I like it, it’s another solid design with a lot of replayability but and this is a big but… I suck at it!