Time: ~60 minutes
Times Played: 5
The Cabinet of Gadgetry, henceforth known as C.O.G., is attempting to create The Great Apparatus, which is an automated vehicle that whisks citizens through the streets of London. It dons a steampunk theme for the setting and combines a hybrid crossword/Scrabble-like game with that of a traditional Euro.
The Scrabble aspect comes into play as each player’s individual player board is used to place words that match resources needed to create The Great Apparatus, such as bolt, pulley, tin, and wheel, among other things. When a word is fully spelled out, that resource is considered “collected” for the construction of the machine and points will be awarded.
To create these words, players will place workers that enable them to gather letters, actions cards, and a die. They will always get these items each turn. Letters are used to construct words on the player board, action cards give bonus actions or letters or words to spell, and the die can be used to activate action cards and dictates movement around a centralized board where each space offers an action (if you’re the first to land there).
The game lasts a set amount of turns and the player with the most points at the end wins. One additional piece of gameplay is that of star tokens, which can be used for additional actions or turning letters into wildcard letters. You can only save three per round but they are handy for getting out of a jam.
The first thing I want to mention is that all the backstory and theme you just read through is as deep as the game gets thematically. You never truly feel like you’re doing anything resembling building this machine and the artwork and design vaguely resemble the theme. But theme isn’t the end-all, be-all and we understand that. We were bummed it didn’t play into the theme more (or any theme) and I feel like some of the questions we had ended up with us appreciating the actions less and less.
If we’re all a part of C.O.G., why are we trying to create the same words/resources? Shouldn’t we be working together to create this machine? Why doesn’t the game last until we build X amount of words or the list of words?
Merging a worker placement with a crossword puzzle is unlike any other game we have in our collection or that we’ve ever played, hence why we purchased C.O.G. in the first place. The idea and execution were fine but it did not resonate with us.
C.O.G. does move at a quick pace, mostly due to the fact that there are only four worker placement spots and the creation of words is its own phase where players do their work simultaneously. Adding a third or fourth player does not add much, if anything, to the length of the game. At the top of this review, I have the time set at around sixty minutes but honestly, it might be less than that. With most word creation games, like Scrabble, the length is due to players needing to spend time thinking of what words they could create with the letters in their queue. In C.O.G., that constraint is taken away as you just need to see if the letters you have can match any of the words present. The only variation to that method is what, if any, wildcard letters you add or utilize.
Finishing a word and having a substantial word puzzle completed at the end of the game does provide players with a sense of reward, which is great but that was the only time I ever felt rewarded while playing the game. There was no grand strategy where I set myself up for a large turn four actions ago. Everything is happening in the here and now and with the constraints on what you can carry over from round to round, you’re best to use what you can before you lose it.
The game could be punishing if the randomized tiles are not useful to begin the game or if you place a word that isn’t the best use of space (which the onus lies on the player more than the game but if you’re left with bad letters, there’s only so much you can do). You can deconstruct if you discover that your placement(s) are less than ideal but unless the other player also has a disastrous placement, that’s a heavy blow to come back from.
Player interaction, which is typical in a worker placement setting (chiefly through blocking), was only really felt on the first play of a round. Since players cannot play a worker in the same board edge twice in a round, you can neglect an area until your last worker since you’re in no threat of having someone swipe that spot. Even at player counts higher than two, we never felt like our spot was in jeopardy or you were getting something that wasn’t useful to you. Was it the letters/die/action card you were pining for? Probably not but nothing that would make you want a do-over.
We also thought the way to track points was messy and unnecessary. There are square cards that have point values on them and whenever you score, you grab a card with that amount of points on it. If you were only grabbing a few or scoring at the end, it wouldn’t be a big deal but it just added to our set-up and deconstruction of the game. It was easier to track on a pad of paper or our phones.
The game plays from two- to four-players and while more players equals more spaces for players to send their worker to, it doesn’t drastically change the game much at all due to the earlier mentioned limitations on where you can send your worker. There isn’t much added in time either with more players, which is nice.
I really liked the idea behind the game and the merging of mechanics is fascinating but alas, C.O.G. did not resonate with us. We thought different player counts would change our reaction to the game but in the end, the issues I’ve mentioned just did not make it an enjoyable experience for us. That being said, C.O.G. is by no means a bad game and would likely provide some fun challenges for players looking for a more laid back experience but it felt too paint-by-numbers for us as every move is telegraphed.