In his TIGR premier, Indie Cardboard, Jason, previews the new dice and word game by Steve Finn: C.O.G. The Kickstarter is live until November 9th.
Of the themes board and card games have enjoyed over the years, few have held on with as much tenacity as steampunk. Designers and players alike continue to flock to games that marry this amalgam of antediluvian aesthetics and sci-fi fantasy. And for good reason. After all, who wouldn’t want to flit around a retro-futuristic landscape on a steam-powered unicycle?
Nobody, that’s who.
Not long ago I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a new game from Biblios creator Steve Finn that offers a unique, yet instantly familiar take on the steampunk theme. Cabinet of Gadgetry, or simply C.O.G., is a tile-laying board game that aims to bring fans of steampunk together with those who simply enjoy an afternoon of Scrabble. I bet that’s a Venn diagram you didn’t expect when you got up this morning.
Fusing elements of a crossword game with that of a traditional Euro, C.O.G. asks between two and four players to gather resources by collecting lettered tiles and then using these same tiles to spell out the names of different items in crossword fashion on their individual player boards. By spelling words such as PIPE or BULB, players score points for the letters used, while completed sets of words net players extra bonus points as well.
Unlike in Scrabble, where players are encouraged to somehow turn a Hamburger Hill of letters in front of them into something approaching intelligible, those at the table playing C.O.G. are working to piece together the same words as everyone else. As you might imagine, this introduces an interesting wrinkle to the game as there are only so many tiles of each letter available. Thankfully opportunities exist to make previously used tiles wild, flipping them over occasionally so that they may stand in for any letter. Additionally, players also collect cards each round which often offer alternative means of spelling words using fewer tiles, a welcome reprieve once specific letters grow increasingly rare. And lest you think C.O.G. is only a game about simply spelling words, let me assure you that, like a Rube Goldberg machine, there are many other mechanics front and center working to move players toward their goal as well.
In fact, while C.O.G. may be about putting together words like SPRING or PULLEY, I was surprised to find that it is, at its heart, a worker placement game. Players in C.O.G. take turns each round assigning a gear of their color to one of four edges of a shared board at the center of the table, and then perform an action specific to that side of the board. Each turn players must assign their gear to a different edge, so that by the end of the round, each player has taken one action from each of the four sides of the board. These include claiming extra letters or cards, as well as victory points, or influencing the turn order for the following round. Also available from the board are different colored dice, which do double duty as both a means to activate cards players may have in front of them from previous rounds as well as to move pawns around a track at the center of the board. This amounts to a roll-and-move mechanic, with players claiming bonuses illustrated on whatever space their pawns happen to land. However, dice are rolled during the beginning of each round, so players know what values are available before they begin placing their cogs on the board.
For all of its moving parts, I was pleasantly surprised to find C.O.G. to move along much more smoothly than I expected. Playing this game is a bit like cracking open a watch. It looks like a mess, but all the little bits mesh together perfectly. Similar to how King of Tokyo leveraged familiarity with Yahtzee to ease players into a new experience, C.O.G. explores familiar gameplay with new ideas. Best of all, it’s fun to play, and for players open to a new twist on an old favorite, Steve Finn’s latest game design is easy to recommend.