TABLE GAME REVIEW: Gearworld: The Borderlands

VA61-box-leftIn general, the current boom in board-gaming seems produce two broad types of games: First there are the “Euro” model games, spearheaded by things like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride, with simple, intuitive mechanics that produce interesting complexity in play. Second is the “US” model, which has more war-gaming roots and tends towards longer, more complex rule sets, like the Arkham Horrors of this world.

It’s important to state that I don’t think there is a “better” option in this difference of approach, but they are different, and games that try to bridge both often fall down. I suspect this may be true of Gearworld: The Borderlands.

So, in its own words:

“Gearworld: The Borderlands is a game of negotiation, conquest, and construction in which two to four players compete to gain the favor of the Sky People for their tribe of scavengers in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Based on the classic board game “Borderlands” designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka, players must negotiate trades and alliances, conquer their rivals’ territory, and gather resources in a race to build the skyworks to win the favor of those who live in the World Above!”

Like most Fantasy Flight Games, Gearworld is a handsome product out of the box. The production quality is solid for the board and the many pop-out pieces that denote transports, assets and resources. There are also a pile of tiny plastic soldiers for each colour (up to four players) which are a little cheap looking, but given everything else in the box you can hardly complain. Oh, and a Dice. The rulebook is well laid out and does a good job of explaining the rules with examples; it’s just the rules themselves that are a problem.

 

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So, the aim of the game is to control a number of “skyworks” that need to be built through the course of the game. To build them, you need resources, which spawn in territory you control, and then need to be moved to a territory where you want to build. On top of this is layered armies and battles to control or capture new territory, which of course has a feedback loop on what resources you can spawn and move. It’s this feedback loop that can cause trouble, of course, because if you’re pushed out of territory it becomes harder to build forces to reclaim it, leaving players potentially marginalised quite easily.

development-token-fanGearworld, therefore, suffers from a strange mix of mechanics that don’t easily synergise. There is a resource management and building game at the heart of it, which is actually interesting and has some fun ideas, as the need to manage your logistics and sparse transport options could be a good game all by itself, if lacking in direct interaction between players. The combat rules are clearly meant to address this, and let you conquer territory, but they’re riddled with special rules for boats, riverboats, “spearhead” attacks and the like that mean that combat-heavy games (as opposed to trading-heavy games) get bogged down in rules checking and special circumstances.

What this means is that the game heavily favours players who have played it before, and your first play is going to be a little slow going. It also makes it a bit of a “gamers game,” where experience of board-gaming conventions will give you an understanding on the strategy, because it’s not hugely intuitive. It’s also lacking a clear “hook” to sell it, so I suspect younger gamers are going to find their concentration tested, especially if they do end up being strategically marginalised with no easy way back.

gearworld-plastic-figs-fanIt’s not to say that Gearworld: The Borderlands is a bad game. It’s got some interesting ideas, and the trading and logistics side is nicely done, especially with the wrinkle that not all game phases happen every turn, which can throw a spanner into anyone’s plans. It is, however, a game that is trying to do too much and lacks clear direction, especially on first play through and that, I think, will put people off when there are so many games around to play.

 

I guess I would recommend Gearworld if you think you’re going to get to play it a few times, as a firmer grasp of the game’s strategy is going to mean it runs faster, and its occasionally conflicting rules get better understood by more players. I wouldn’t inflict it on new gamers, who are likely to turn off from it pretty easily, as will younger gamers. But I think for more experienced (or patient) gamers, its more interesting mechanics will get a chance to shine.

Players: 2-4
Length: 90 mins
Ages: 14+

What you get in the box:

1 x Game Board
100 x Plastic Figures
1 x Six-Sided Die
1 x First Player Token
4 x Coal Mine Tokens
4 x Gold Mine Tokens
4 x Horse Ranch Tokens
4 x Iron Mine Tokens
5 x Scrapyard Tokens
132 x Resource Tokens
8 x Bridge Tokens
12 x Riverboat Tokens
8 x Ship Tokens
14 x Skywork Tokens
20 x Weapon Tokens
1 x Rulebook

 

RATING: 3/5
Reviewer: Matt Farr

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