Gadgeteers Kickstarter Preview

Up now on Kickstarter, Gadgeteers is a bidding, bluffing, and set completion game from Dan Letzring and Mike Cofer and Letiman Games.  With adorable art by Jesse Labbe and Alisha Volkman, this small box game at first appears simply-constructed; however, does the casual exterior conceal more complex machinery within?  Grab some goggles and grab a spanner as we cobble together our review!

jessasmJess:  Tinkering puns?  Really?  You?

andrewasmAndrew:  Ok, I’ll stop.

**Kickstarter Prototype Warning! – Despite being cute and excellent in quality, our photos were taken from a prototype sent to us by Leitman Games…or stolen from the KS page.  Final product may look different!**

Lots of stuff in this little box.
Lots of stuff in this little box.

In Gadgeteers, 2-3 players will take on the task of inventing the, and I quote, ‘Zaniest Gadgets!’.  The setup is sublimely simple, and the gameplay mechanisms are really easy to grasp.  Here’s the quick overview:

Each player gets a pile of bidding tokens.  They get lots of value 1 and 2 tokens, but only one 3,4, and 5 each.  They also get a player screen for hiding those tokens.  The shared resources are set up in the ‘junk pile’, a collection of humble components you and your fellow inventors will use to create your mechanical masterpieces.  As a nice little additional gameplay element, unique player powers can be added to each color, making it interesting to try each of the different inventors.  Finally, a number of possible gadget blueprints are revealed, and the game begins!

There are 2 Phases per turn; the Bidding phase and the Gadget phase:

  • In the Bidding phase, each player will place, in turns, a face-down bidding token on one of the junk cards.  This goes around the table until each player has placed 5 tokens.  Then all tokens are turned face up and the Bidding phase ends!
  • In the Gadget phase, players will check to see if they have bid majority over the junk necessary to make a gadget from the available blueprints.  If they do, they can, in turn order, remove their bid tokens from the junk cards they used and then build the appropriate Gadget by claiming the blueprint card.

Gadgeteer 2

Having removed your bid tokens in order to make a gadget, you now likely open the possibility for another player who didn’t have majority before to now build something themselves.  This process will go until both players either can’t or choose not to build, in which case there is a brief cleanup phase – new gadget blueprints come out, and each player has the option to recall bid tokens left on the board (but they can leave them!).  Then the first player token passes and the game continues until someone builds their 4th gadget, ending the game.  Most points wins!

By controlling these 3 components, Orange is going to be able to slap together some Telegoggles, worth 4 points and giving a great power besides.
By controlling these 3 components, Orange is going to be able to slap together some Telegoggles, worth 4 points and giving a great power besides.

andrewasmAndrew:  Ok, so a few things that I love.  Firstly, it’s a bluffing game with no actual lying.  Because you are placing your bid tokens face down, folks don’t know if you’ve invested a huge 5 point token or a lowly 1 pointer (or possibly a power token, more on that in a sec).  So it creates tension without someone needing to lie convincingly.

jessasmJess:  That’s a great part of Gadgeteers.  I also like how the gadgets you build aren’t just worth points most of the time, they actually do things.

andrewasmAndrew:  Right, that’s another thing worth talking about.

With only a few exceptions, the gadgets in Gadgeteers can be used after they are built to provide some benefit, usually manipulating bidding tokens or making subsequent gadgets easier to build.  In order to activate these effects, you will need to withdraw a power token you had previously placed on the junk cards.

jessasmJess:  Power tokens don’t provide any majority influence, so putting them out ‘wastes’ one of your 5 token placements per bidding phase.  But since they go out face-down like other bidding tokens, they are fantastic ways to bluff your opponents, making them think you’re spreading influence when you don’t really intend to.

Gadgeteer 4

Gadgeteers has a ton going for it: fantastic art, accessible but engaging gameplay, simplicity in design and smart execution.  They managed to pack a whole lot of game into this little box, and we really love that.  And for the price point on the Kickstarter, you’d be hard-pressed to argue against its value.

Gadgeteer 3

That said, there were some little things we didn’t strictly love about it.  Your mileage may vary, but here are the negatives, as we see them:

  • Wonky player count – 2-3 players is not a terrible count, but it’s strangely narrow.  There are undoubtedly balance reasons for this choice, but, hey, going up to 4 would mean it was much more likely to hit the table.
  • Choices were often obvious – For a game with a bluffing element, the relatively small number of available blueprints means that, if there is a gadget that needs the magnet and I put a token on the magnet, you can be pretty damn sure I am actually trying to get control of the magnet, and that you’ll want it too.  This was often exacerbated by…
  • Bad Blueprint draws grind the game – if you flop three or four blueprints that all call for the same components, then the game drags badly as players are forced to simply try to out-bid each other for the same resources.  Sometimes a whole turn would go by without someone being able to actually build something because…
  • Ties negate majority – Anytime players tie for control, no one has control.  So if we tie for a component that is necessary to build gadgets, it is totally possible that no player will really be able to do anything.
Some gadget cards. The Widget, one of several cards that doesn't require *specific* components but gives no power, feels like it should be worth more points than the Kicker, which is usually just as hard to build and gives a power besides.
Some gadget cards. The Widget, one of several cards that doesn’t require *specific* components but gives no power, feels like it should be worth more points than the Kicker, which is usually just as hard to build and gives a power besides.

The good news is that none of these criticisms are deal-breakers, and some are self-correcting: any round where no gadgets have been built sees an additional new blueprint added to the pile, so eventually the deadlocks will clear up.  But when they are there, they tend to slow things down.

Does it double the price for virtually no increased value? Well, sure, but there is something about a playmat that we simply adore.
Does it double the price? Well, sure, but there is something about a playmat that we simply adore.

All in all, we think Gadgeteers is a fun, light game with the potential to introduce a whole crowd of younger gamers to the concept of bluffing and bidding mechanics.  It’s accessible, fun, and will fit nicely into most any collection.  And if you think you’re really going to love it, you can even snag a cool-yet-not strictly necessary playmat.  We have to say, we think it’ll look great!

You can check out the Gadgeteers Kickstarter now and snag yourself a copy!

(Thanks to Letiman Games for providing our prototype for preview.  Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions.)

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