Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 7 September 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- City of Gears

Game: City of Gears

Publisher: Grey Fox Games

Designer:  Chris Leder & Daryl Andrews

Year: 2018

City of Gears is a game of exploration and area control set in a Steampunk metropolis. With your worker robots you'll bring a ruined city back to life until it's running like clockwork. Together you'll make a city so wondrous that the public will be clamoring to visit. As opening day comes around, only one player will go down in history as the founder of the City of Gears, so you better try and make sure you're the most prestigious tom get the acknowledgment you deserve.

City of Gears is a game for 2-4 players, where the baseline setup is actually for two-players, which certainly ticks a box for us and seems unusual for area control. With their extremely successful Kickstarter campaign City of Gears is fantastically produced, so we've been excited to get it to the table.


At the start of a game of City of Gears, a 3x3 map is created using random face down city tiles. The game will continue indefinitely until all 9 tiles have been revealed at which point 4 white gears will be added to the gear bag. After the 3rd white gear is revealed the game will instantly end and final scores will be calculated.

Each player starts with 3 dice to roll each round and 3 robot workers to use. Each turn a player will roll the 3 dice and then spend the gained resources to first activate tiles, then to perform actions before passing on to the next player, a limited number of unspent resources can be held for future turns if desired.

Gears are the lifeblood of the game, you use gear resources to draw gears from the bag. Each gear you draw can be used in one of two ways: either as a development which either gives in game benefits or end game scoring, or as a bridge which lets you connect tiles on the board together so that you can move your workers about. Steam is generally used to move workers, letting them cross one bridge (of your colour) into a new part of the city. Whenever a worker enters an undiscovered tile the tile is flipped over and the person who discovered it gains 2 points. Finally, electricity is used to move workers fast, letting them move as far as you like across your own bridges. It can also be used to destroy your opponents workers and bridges.

All 3 resources may be used to power locations too. At the start of your turn, after rolling dice, you are able to power any locations your workers are standing. These typically give you points in some way but may have more esoteric rewards. After powering a location every other tile of the map which is connected via your bridges will also give you a minor reward, though if you can link most of the map these can be quite considerable. At the end of the game every tile also gives end game points for the player with the most influence there. Add up the number of workers you have on a space and the number of bridges you have connected to it, the player with the majority will get the end game bonus points.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

City of Gears is a game that changes in scope as you play. In many ways there is an 'exploration phase' which lasts for the first ~half of the game, where players are rushing to discover tiles to gain bonus points and getting development gears in order to build some kind of engine. This is then followed by an 'exploitation phase' which lasts the second half of the game where players are vying for prime positions in the factory, trying to harvest as many points as possible (and ideally block their opponents) all the while knowing that an unlucky (or lucky if you are winning) draw from the gear back could instantly end the game. This organic emergent gameplay is much to City of Gear's credit, there are no real differences mechanically to distinguish these 2 "phases", they just sort of happen.

However this can come with a downside, the end of the game being caused by random draws from the bag can make the game feel painfully quick or make it drag beyond belief. As the gear bag runs dry your chance to draw the white gears (of which you need 3) increases, but in those cases where they appear almost instantly it can be extremely anticlimactic!

The dice rolling to gain resources can also be rather painful, especially in the early game. Early on you really want to be gaining 2 gears so that you can build a bridge to explore and gain a development to start getting more powerful. I would go so far as to say the perfect first turn roll is 2 gears and a steam/lightning bolt. The dice luck is alleviated somewhat as once a turn you can turn two of one resource into one of another, but losing that early game advantage can mean less bonus points for exploration and less turns using locations. Some of the locations are far more powerful than others when found early. I'm particularly thinking of the ones which cost no resources to activate, it can feel a little unfair that random luck has decided the other player will be scoring tons of early game points for free.

Area control mechanics are rarely a favourite for us here at The Game Shelf, but City of Gears is more approachable than most. The area control is mostly resigned to the end of the game scoring. While positioning is important during the game zapping away a robot, or even a bridge costs vital electricity, which is also the resource needed the power most of the powerful locations. You really have to think if it's worth destroying your opponents bots, especially if they have lost of movement available to them as a "destroyed" bot is only sent back to base ready to work again next turn.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

City of Gears combines a lot of things I traditionally love in games with one mechanism I traditionally don't enjoy, so it's been interesting to see which element outweighs the other in my overall opinion of the game. My favourite aspect is definitely exploiting the tiles at the beginning of each turn. It feels like combo creation but out on the board and powered by our ability to hang onto the right resources. I like that you're rewarded for the full network of tiles you've connected, even if you can't occupy them all.

For some, using dice to roll your resources might be a bit of a downside here, but I've always found that the developments offer you opportunities to mitigate or make the best of your luck so that its not a major factor. The ability to save resources also means that you can guarantee the opportunity to activate a tile next round or to  melt someone's bridge if you really want to. The developments do feel a bit wide ranging in their power to help you with this though, and I've certainly had games with varying degrees of control and abundance of resources.

Game length is really my biggest downside. For me, the game length needs to be similar to the point at which I've filled all of my development slots with good options. When you really get the opportunity to build a cool engine and spend your resources on clever moves to create a huge windfall, it's super fun, but the protracted area control elements towards the end of a long game become stale for us in a way that might not be so true if you're a big area control fan. Waiting for those white gears to come out of the bag whist you try to build bridges and move robots, whilst blitzing the work of your opponents to try and gain control of the best tiles is just a frustrating tug of war for me.

City of Gears is a good area control game for me, because it doesn't feel too mean. Overall it's not the area control that turns me off, it's just the unpredictable game length. For me, City of Gears is unlikely to be a game I seek out to play again, but I can see why area control fans might enjoy that it mixes area control with something different.

You Might Like...
  • Exploiting all of your tiles each round can be extremely satisfying.
  • Creating an engine with your developments can really boost your ability to get creative and do a lot with each turn.
  • The game has a good balance of player interaction with not too much devastation being caused by the power of electricity.
You Might Not Like...
  • The game length in City of Gears feels to variable. It's fun at the sweet spot in the middle, but too long or short both have their own disappointments.
  • The end game are control phase feels quite detached from the rest of the game and is our least favourite element.
The Verdict
6.5/10 Whilst City of Gears has provided a couple of great games, it's also both outstayed its welcome on occasion or been too short and disappointing. To an extent, longer games are more about area control and that might be the element that puts us of the most. If you're looking for a less aggressive and more engine driven area control game, City of Gears could be a good pick.

City of Gears was a review copy kindly provided to us by Grey Fox Games. All photos are of the Kickstarter edition with some upgraded components.

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