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We liked Gizmos a lot when we played it but it has to be said as a puzzle it is notably difficult for some people to crack. In our review we discussed the expectations required for programmatic thinking – for the ability to construct and execute upon subroutines – and how that’s not a skill that comes naturally installed in the human brain. Regular gamers will likely have no problems, but an appreciation of weaponised algorithms is needed to get the most out of Gizmos. Nonetheless we gave it four stars – a great game that is, in every sense, not for everyone.
As you might imagine, we’re going into this teardown with some hard-core assumptions with regards to the cognitive section. You might think ‘Surely you go into all these documents with hard-core assumptions about everything, otherwise you are clearly just sitting down and writing whatever comes to mind’.
And yeah, that’s how this often goes.
Enough padding out the introduction though so it doesn’t butt up against the game details and table of content. Let’s see what makes this contraption tick.
The colour palette chosen here is red, blue, black and yellow and that works well for all the standard categories of colour blindness we assess on the blog. Colours used on cards are accompanied by icons too, although these might be quite difficult to make out at a distance at times because their size is not consistent between parts of the game.
On these converter cards for example they are very clearly visible but much smaller versions are used on the build cards:
As I say though, the colour palette is distinctive enough that this shouldn’t be a problem.
The marbles are a little less distinctive, with the yellow and red marbles in particular being a problem for protanopes and deuteranopes. The key issue here, as with Potion Explosion, is that a marble’s colour is a lot less consistent than a card. Light, position, and proximity to other colours has a big impact on perception. You can’t swap out the marbles for anything else but there’s usually no real problem in inquiring of the table. The only time you link a decision to a marble is when you pick one from the visible part of the dispenser (at which point nobody can interfere) or when you spend them from your energy ring (and you can close inspect there).
We’ll recommend Gizmos in this category.
The visual information required to play the game is a union of what’s available for purchase on the table; what marbles can be picked from the dispenser; what marbles a player has collected; and what’s currently making up a player’s tableau. All are relatively easy to verbalise if support from the table is available. There are at most nine cards available to be picked up, and at most sixteen cards in a tableau. A quick summary of an energy ring is as easy as saying how many of which colour, and similarly for the marble offering. If a player doesn’t want to attempt to pick the right marble themselves there’s no problem with someone collecting it for them, although players may be a little more paranoid about ‘random’ draws from the dispenser.
The most problematic part of the game from a visual accessibility perspective is a player’s own console of cards, because there is a very tight relationship between actions taken and how well they can chain together. The marbles a player picks will be some function of their pick actions, their build actions, and the offering. The card a player picks up will depend on their marble availability and their pick actions. These actions chain together, and optimal play depends on leveraging this well. Thus a lot of consideration of the relationship between parts of game state is needed and verbal summaries may not be sufficient to really permit this. That’s going to be impactful for those for whom total blindness must be considered.
For players with less severe visual impairments, an important factor of the game’s design is that most of the chain effects work based on colours rather than anything more precise. For example, ‘build a red blueprint’ or ‘pick a yellow marble’. With this in mind, if colour information is available the difficulty of processing the game state becomes exponentially simpler.
That in turn makes it easier for players to work out all of the possibilities before them with regards to their own console of cards. It’s still going to be a task of cross-referencing the close inspection of cards against the wider public game state. The good news is that a player’s own card set changes only incrementally. The bad news is that the wider game state changes regularly and it will regularly have implications for longer term planning.
Close inspection of cards is somewhat of an issue because the contrast on the cards is erratic. Sometimes it’s well contrasted (red against grey for example) and other-times not (black against dark grey, or dark blue against grey). This is all public information though and can be queried of the table if necessary.
Victory point markers are given as a consequence of some actions and some cards, and it’s a missed opportunity to have the different denominations with identical tactile profiles. They only indicate points though and as such they can be substituted for something more accessible, such as physical coinage.
We can only tentatively recommend Gizmos in this category given the need to constantly cross reference your console against the game state, and the lack of supporting tactility and contrast.
If you have read the review, you probably already have a shrewd idea as to where we’re going to land here. Not only is this a massively problematic game from the perspective of people with cognitive accessibility needs, there are genuine reasons to be sceptical of its appropriateness for a whole pile of pile that don’t have specific cognitive accessibility needs.
I draw a lot of my conclusions for this section from my decades of teaching experience, large portions of which have been spent teaching programming. Sometimes to computer science students and sometimes to those pursuing less technical paths through a B.Sc (Digital Media being a prominent recent example). It’s not considered polite to say ‘Some people just can’t program’, but honestly – it’s true. By that I don’t mean ‘some people will never be able to code’, but rather that their mental processes – as they stand at the point of instruction – are simply not compatible with how you learn to work with a programming language. They could develop those processes, but that’s a pre-requisite to making meaningful progress with coding and not merely a ‘nice to have’
Others just ‘get it’ with no effort.
Most people fall somewhere within these two extremes along a spectrum. Make no mistake though – at one part of that spectrum there is serious cognitive re-architecting required before any of it will make any real sense.
And by that, we also need to be mindful of expectations – some people that will never be able to program will be able to ‘simulate’ to an extent going through the motions – declaring variables, writing functions and so on. They’ll just never internalise it to the point that when things don’t go the way they expect that they can recover from it. It takes a weird kind of mind to be willing to spend hours trying to work out why something trivially unexpected is occurring in a program, but that’s the kind of mind needed to really understand what’s going on. The level of systemic thinking needed to code at the level required to create new applications without constant support is really high.
Gizmos doesn’t require people to know how to code, and you wouldn’t really benefit much if you did. But it does require a kind of thinking that is rigorously algorithmic – the ability to slot new functionality into predefined subroutines with the goal of creating an optimal arrangement of powers and upgrades. It’s the problem-solving part of programming without the syntactic complexities, and I’ve watched people struggle to even come to grips with the philosophy of this kind of puzzle when playing this.
As you might imagine, this is a complex skill that works across both categories of cognitive accessibility. It requires a solid grasp of numeracy, but also of a kind of symbolic functionalism that is able to deal with abstractions and package them up as self-contained functions. It requires an ability to analyse the impact on your system of different provisions of input data (marbles) and programming blocks (gizmos). Someone that doesn’t have this skill will be able to play Gizmos but it will take quite a bit of experience with the game before they begin to understand how to harness it all together.
For this reason, we don’t at all recommend Gizmos in either of our categories of cognitive accessibility.
The need for systemic, programmatic thinking is likely to be frustrating for some people as they struggle to get simple rules to yield significant results. This isn’t going to affect everyone, and those that it does effect might well simply shrug it off as a game that just doesn’t appeal. Every year though I see the effect it has when people can’t shrug it off. Some people, even without prior experience of programming, just seem to ‘get it’ with no effort. It’s like their brain was ready to receive this new technique and had everything all prepared. Others just can’t process the puzzle and it’s often disheartening for them to see people that can. Most people, it has to be said, are in the ‘Will get there with a bit of effort’ area but it takes a while before people realise where they lie on the curve. If you’re in a group where someone is effortlessly chaining together phenomenal turns that branch and spark off each other then an emotional control condition may find much fuel with which to burn.
Other than this, all the competition in Gizmos is indirect – over marbles and cards on the table. There’s no direct PvP, no effective way for players to gang up on another, and no player elimination. Players can certainly work together to gather up key marbles or colours of patterns, but the random draw from the dispenser actions, along with the research action, limit how problematic this can be.
We’ll recommend, with caveats, Gizmos in this category.
Some of the fun of Gizmos is tied up in the tactility of the marbles, but not quite as much as you might expect. It’s not the thrill of collision that you get from Potion Explosion. They’re just pleasing ways to track your accumulated energy. If a player had someone handling the marbles on their behalf, they wouldn’t be losing out on much. That’s good, because marbles are notoriously awkward for those with fine grained motor control and the need to pluck from the hidden compartment of the dispenser may be an issue for some people with gross motor control impairments.
Aside from this, Gizmos is a game of picking cards and building them to an open tableau, and discarding the marble cost back into the dispenser. It doesn’t ask a lot in terms of physical interaction, and permits easy verbalisation in all circumstances. There are only four actions (file, pick, build and research) and the only one of these that would be slightly inconvenient would be research. That action draws a hand of hidden cards briefly and permits a player to select one to build. Everything else can be precisely articulated, such as ‘I want to file the third level II pattern. That triggers my file actions which lets me draw a random marble from the dispenser and then pick another. I’ll pick the yellow one, which triggers my pick action that lets me draw another marble’. Turns and their consequences can easily be narrated and their outcomes actioned by someone else if required. The only slight area of concern there might be a player making a random draw from the dispenser – you’d need to trust it was actually random, or ask them to close their eyes.
We’ll recommend Gizmos in this category.
There’s no literacy required for play (although the player boards come with written descriptions of the actions), and no formal need for communication. We’ll strongly recommend Gizmos in this category.
There’s no gendered art in the game, and the manual makes use of the second person perspective throughout. Where examples are provided, they alternate between Heather and Adam for the player names.
Cost wise, it has an RRP of approximately £35, which is a reasonable price given that it cleanly supports up to four players and is a great game to boot.
We’ll strongly recommend Gizmos in this category.
If colour blindness intersected with a physical or visual impairment we’d be inclined to rescind those recommendations. While a good palette has been chosen, the icons on some of the cards are small enough to require close inspection and combinatorial effects are going to be significant with regards to the impact of this intersection. Otherwise, there are no specific intersections that come to mind that are likely to have a significant impact on grades – they can all be worked around.
Gizmos, due to the complexity of the way its mechanisms trigger each other, can last longer than you might expect. The first few rounds are very nippy but before too long every action has five or six related actions that need to be thought through and considered. The box suggests an upper-end of 50 minutes but I think that’s optimistic, even barring accessibility considerations.
Gizmos does though support players dropping out – you can just merrily skip over their turn and move on to the next. It doesn’t though support players tagging back in unless someone has been controlling their contraption from the point they left the game.
Well, Gizmos sure got a beating in our section on cognitive accessibility but it’s otherwise a reasonably strong performance. I haven’t had a lot of success introducing it to people – there’s a massive disconnect between how it presents itself and how people responded. ‘Ooo’ they say when they see the marbles. ‘Uuuhh?’, they say when they see the game.
But still – while that’s an important issue in an article like this, it’s not something that’s going to be experienced universally. Some people will likely never really get to grips with how Gizmos works, but others will grok it instantly. Most people I suspect will fall somewhere between and their willingness to develop a framework for building subroutines will predict how much they’ll ever get out of the game.
Me – well, I really like it. Gizmos is in many ways a precursor to the real programming game I hope someone eventually makes. It’s got enough procedural meat on its bones to get me interested, and enough combinatorial complexity to keep me playing. We gave it four stars in our review, and if you think you might enjoy having your coding chops tested by a cardboard computer, I’d recommend you check it out.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.