#571 – Mechanica

Box

Base price: $39.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: 45 – 75 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas

Logged plays: 4 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Mechanica was provided by Resonym.

Editor’s note: I refer to Mechanica’s room-cleaning definitely-probably-not-actively-surveilling-you Tidybots as “boys” a lot during this review. It’s not clear why.

I mean, technically I’m writing this on Christmas Morning, which is a harsh indictment of my self-imposed writing schedule but, darnit, I like writing, so, who can say? It’s just a thing my brain does. Plus, I’ve been wanting to write this one up for a while. I’ve got part of a Visitor in Blackwood Grove review written and I need to finish this, but I really want to get this one done before I sleep and spend Christmas Day watching Die Hard and playing Die Hard, as I am wont to do. Anyways, lemme have myself a merry little Christmas and let’s get into this Mechanica review.

The greatest gift of all! The gift of factory industrialization and automation. That’s what the future holds for you, meatbag, as you are now the administrator of your very own Tidybot factory. They don’t really need you to run the factory, but are legally required to have a human on board for oversight and culpability reasons! That’s fun and all written in your contract, two sections below the Inadvertent Dismemberment clause. Very fun. Very formal. Very already signed. Don’t worry, though, the Tidybots want nothing more than to eliminate all chaos and replace it with the perfect order of a clean house. Probably. Even if that weren’t true, why would they tell you? Can you build a better Tidybot process?

Contents

Setup

The nice thing is that the game is pretty effectively set up upon the completion of the previous game, as long as you shuffle the Improvement tiles. Place 6 in the Extras section, and place the other 21 in the Improvements Stack. Flip two into the 5- and 7-cost sections of the Shop Board, which should already be in the box. Beyond that, though, you’ll need to put the Forks / Big Trucks / Huge Trucks in their separate compartments:

Forks and Trucks

Shuffle the Blueprints; make an 8 and a 7 pile, facedown:

Blueprints

Then, put the Tidybots in a compartment:

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Finally, place the money in one (and give each player 8 starting money):

Coins

Give each player a Vault:

Vaults

Also give them a player board:

Player Board

The insert holds everything for the game:

Insert

You should be ready to start! Have each player put one white Tidybot into their middle Basic Fabricator.

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

In a game of Mechanica, you play as humans charged with facilitating the Tidybot construction facilities! Make money while they make more Tidybots. That’s what each of you are for. The player who makes the most money wins! What happens to the others? Don’t worry about it.

A game takes place over a series of work days. Let’s go through one.

Gameplay 2

At the start, all players run their factories. This means moving each Tidybot from its current space one space to the right. If this means it goes into an Improvement, perform its effect and stop it there, if there’s a hole for it. If it keeps going, it’ll likely end up at a Truck, where it can be sold off. If multiple Tidybots are competing to move into the same hole, you may choose which Tidybot(s) to destroy. One bot, one hole.

Gameplay 3

Now, you take individual turns. This means that a player first may sell their bots to produce money or complete Blueprints. Generally, Tidybots have a fair market value:

  • White: $2
  • Orange: $4
  • Purple: $6

Very economical. You may also discard an amount of Tidybots pictured on a Blueprint. If you do, you get 0 money for them, but you must place the amount of money indicated on the Blueprint into your Vault. That’s endgame points. Then, if you are the first player to score that Blueprint, lift it up and turn it 90 degrees, placing it back down. We’ll deal with that at the end of the day. You can complete both Blueprints in one day if you’re a Tidybot-making machine, but you can’t complete either Blueprint more than once. That’s just the rules.

Gameplay 4

Now, you may shop! You may buy any Improvements and add them to your factory (or recycle them for the indicated bots on the tile). They may be placed anywhere provided they fit where you’re placing them (it’s okay if they don’t pop into anything). You may also buy Forks (these allow you to branch Tidybot paths) or Trucks (allowing you to store and sell more Tidybots).

Next up, make more Tidybots! You can never stop. Add one white bot to each of your Fabricators, unless otherwise stated.

Gameplay 5

To finish your turn, rotate the Shop Board one space. If this causes a tile to fall into the Recycle Zone, you gain those bots as though you had bought and recycled the tile on your turn. So that’s exciting. Add a new tile to the 7 zone. Additionally, in a two- or three-player game, if the only tile in the Shop Board is in the 7 zone, rotate the Shop Board again and add another tile from the Extras section.

Once every player has taken a turn, the work day is over. First, check to see if the game has ended. You’ll know if there are no Improvements left in the Shop or the Stack (in a four-player game, the Extras need to be empty, too).

If the game has not ended, if any player completed a Blueprint, put both of them on the bottom of their stacks and reveal two new ones. You’re ready to start a new work day!

Gameplay 6

If the game has ended, count up how much money you have on hand, in your vault, and the total value of your Improvements. The player with the most money wins!

Player Count Differences

Pretty significant, to be honest. You generally have about the same number of tiles per person at 3 and 4 players, but at two you have a pretty big boost to the number of available tiles per player, so you’re going to see a lot of score increases in that game (since it will run longer and have more engine components, generally speaking). Another thing to watch out for in a two-player game is that if the second player gets a Blueprint first, the first player cannot get it. There’s no way for them to! The round will just end. Keep an eye out for that, lest you get a particularly nasty surprise. No player count really addresses the issue that I have with the game, though, so I’d say I slightly lean towards a two-player game, since I feel like I have the most fun with the engine-building when I get to build a massive Tidybot empire.

Strategy

  • Get yourself some Fabricators. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it will certainly be an interesting challenge to try and win the game with only one Tidybot production line active at any point. If you’re shooting for that, you really need to work on recycling tiles to get certain Tidybots at certain times to align with Blueprints you want to get. Otherwise, you’re really at the whims of your opponents’ Overactive Fabricators, hoping that they’ll give you something you can actually use / score for points. That’s riskier.
  • Simple paths are desirable if you’re going after Blueprints. I think this is generally true because it’s easier to track the end-to-end outcome. If you’re going through Upgraders and Downgraders and Repurposers and a Gift Wrapper you’re eventually going to get a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of your engine, especially if it forks in weird ways. One exception to this is the Flight Tester, since it lets you throw Tidybots down the line and skip engine elements you don’t want to use, which is a fantastic way to keep your engine refined for certain Blueprints. It’s also perfectly safe.
  • If you’re going to aggressively upgrade one pathway, get the Huge Truck. It costs 5 money, yes, but upgrading a Big Truck is 3 money (a total of 6 money), so you get a 1 money rebate if you just commit to producing a ton of Tidybots. The thing to remember is that this usually matters most for the Static Charger, since it generates the small boys pretty quickly.
  • The Upgrader -> Downgrader path is a great way to triple your Tidybots for cheap. It takes two cycles to fully execute, but it’s helpful to have a way to generate three of any non-purple Tidybot if you can keep consistent. Just make sure you have a place for all of those boys to go.
  • Keep in mind that certain tiles are going to make your engine take another cycle to execute. This is what throws a lot of players, especially towards the end of the game. Don’t add new tiles to the end of your engine; you might miss out on making a bunch of points that you might need to push yourself to the win. Instead, add them to the beginning so you still get the tile placement points and it doesn’t delay your engine further.
  • It may be worth buying a tile if it gives you more points than it costs. Some tiles cost 2 and give you 3 points. That’s strictly better. Or, you can scrap them to generate one purple Tidybot that sells for 6; if your engine is going to move to fruition, it might be worth doing that instead.
  • If your opponent is depending on certain tiles, it might be worth getting rid of them. Nothing more satisfying than trashing a tile that would have given your opponent a bunch of good Tidybots and taking those boys for yourself. All’s fair in love and housecleaning robots.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Probably one of my favorite themes I’ve seen in a game in a long time. I mean, I’m generally a fan of robots, cleaning, and cleaning robots. Sometimes even vacuum robots with speakers or cats attached. They’re all delightful. The general existential dread that’s kind of fundamental to this game is amazing, though. Are the robots murdery? Definitely. Are they watching you sleep? Not the whole time, probably. But it’s such a cute and saccharine game with such an aggressive undertone that it’s really just, endearing? I dunno, I’m into it. I love the flavor text. I love the little cleaning robots. I love the whole thing. I’d love to see more games with similar aesthetics.
  • The way that the game uses the box insert to drive gameplay is super cool. It’s very all-in-one. I love when games use the insert for gameplay reasons, though I feel like I haven’t seen that since NMBR 9.
  • The engine-building is logistically satisfying. I like that you can physically see the results of your engine’s production as it moves forward; I don’t generally get to see a lot of that. Most engine builders kind of finish their production in one turn; it’s interesting to see a multi-tier multi-turn system.
  • The simplicity of the game approaches elegance. I think that an elegant solution for “which pieces are compatible with which pieces” is to make them puzzle pieces that only fit together in certain configurations. If you can’t place it, then you can’t place it. It basically avoids the need for a ton of edge cases in the rulebook, and that’s a super slick design principle. I love how it turned out in Mechanica, and I wish more games did similar things.
  • I always appreciate hiding some of the scoring elements of a game. Games can drag on a bit if you have players aggressively counting points, so having the vault be the destination for Blueprint earnings is generally a good idea, I feel. Evolution: CLIMATE does the same thing and I think it’s nice, though it does add a memory element for extra players.

Mehs

  • Especially regarding fabricators, there’s a lot of luck in which tiles you get when. If all you have available to you is Downgraders or Repurposers, you’re going to struggle a bit with getting more money (and subsequently buying better things). Hopefully that doesn’t last the entire game, but a turn 1 Advanced Fabricator is a huge boost over a player that doesn’t get that opportunity, and it can be rather frustrating for them.
  • I rarely use the insert to hold the money or the Tidybots. The wells are useful, but they definitely are better if you have smaller hands than I do. And I feel like my hands are average-sized? It just means you spend a lot of time digging for the 1s, since that’s the change you use the most.

Cons

  • The blueprints feel extremely swingy. I’m truly hoping that this isn’t the case or I got the rules wrong or something, but I’ve played two games now where both games prominently featured a player scoring 30+ points on blueprints without much agency (since they reveal themselves at the start of a round, after your engine is already basically set). Given how many points you get from selling your little tidybots, this causes the game to swing in the favor of whoever lucks into the right blueprints (or can correctly guess what’s coming) first. That doesn’t feel … great. We’re going to try a variant with 10 blueprints visible at the game’s outset and see if we can do something like “only two blueprints may be scored in a round, and once the round ends those two are removed” to hopefully allow players a bit more planning agency. But, as it currently stands, it makes the game feel pretty luck-based, which is a bummer for a game that usually lasts an hour. You’d prefer not to see that.
  • At four players, the game barely gets going before it ends. You take roughly half as many tiles as you would in a two-player game, so your engines never really take off quite as well as they do in a two-player game, which is a bummer. I’d love to see more tiles and maybe even new factory configurations? I think there’s a lot to do, here. It reminds me of Factory Funner, to be honest. And that’s always a flattering comparison.

Overall: 6.75 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I’m a bit torn on Mechanica. On one hand, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this review, it’s one of my all-time favorite themes for a game. I got to try it at Gen Con with a Resonym employee and we had an absolute blast; probably the best time? Who can say. I would love to see an entire world built in this candy-pastel dystopia, and I hate dystopias. This one isn’t boring. The issue I have is that the Blueprints can often ring you 30 points in a round, and that can happen by pure happenstance. That’s usually enough to swing the game, and for an engine builder, that doesn’t feel great at all. It’s frustrating for players and I’ve tried to ameliorate it a bit within the confines of the games rules, but it seems like it’s a no-go if they’re shuffled up and randomized. You can randomly get a huge swing if you just so happen to be generating the right combination of robots and it’s not something your opponents can answer quickly, as your machine requires a lot of work to move one of your boys from the start to the finish. This can drive the game to a place where you’re still playing it even though it’s pretty clear that someone has already won, which happened to me during each of the complete games I played. The thing about it and the place where my conflict emerges is that this feels like a fixable problem, and in a game that’s already got a lot going for it, I hope that it gets addressed. Expansions that add a Blueprint Board or something to make it more developmental and less SURPRISE HERE’S MAJOR POINTS? I’d love it. Ways to make your engine more responsive and flexible? Sure, why not? I’m not sure what the exact fix would look like, since, not a game designer, but this is the most frictiony part of an otherwise smooth engine-building game about robot vacuums. And I love these little buddies. It’s a game I love to show to people because the components are cool, the theme is great, the color palette is strong; I just want to sand down one rough edge of the gameplay and really turn it into something that I truly love. Not sure where that means I sit on this one. But while I figure that out, if you’re a fan of engine-building and you don’t mind a particularly rough edge or you love very theme-y games, I’d potentially recommend checking out Mechanica! I really do love the theme and the art; it’s such a delight.

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