Game Review: Escape the Innards of “Mechanical Beast”

mechanical beast game - box coverIt’s the near future and we humans have created another technological marvel without considering all the long-term implications. This time it’s a mechanical behemoth, a sentient creature that can repair and even upgrade itself. It’s also enormous, so big that people are trapped inside the beast, forced to help keep it operating at optimal efficiency! You know all about it as one of the designers of the core system, which is good because you now need to climb into the mechanical marvel and shut the darn thing off. Once you flip the switch, you’ll also need to race out of the beast, rescuing any people you encounter before it collapses on itself.

Welcome to the tile-placement and manipulation puzzle game Mechanical Beast, designed by Ben Morayta, with artwork by Apolline Etienne, and published by Giga Mech Games. It started as a print-and-play puzzle game, gaining popularity and even winning a competition for best PnP title on its way to becoming this beautifully produced, fun, and challenging game. It supports 1-4 players, either competitively or cooperatively, and you can also play it solo. I opted to play the solo variant (which isn’t detailed in the Rules, but is explained on the BoardGameGeek page).


The heart of Mechanical Beast is tile placement dungeon exploration, with each player represented by a meeple and a shared android meeple that players jointly control. What makes the game interesting is that many of the tiles include a gear mechanism that can enable a specific manipulation of the board, typically just the adjacent tile, but sometimes as many as an entire row or column of tiles can be simultaneously shifted. The game consists of 72 room tiles, 1 Android meeple, 8 engineer tokens (two for each player, tho in a solo game you only play with one), 25 people tokens, and a nifty tile tower that quickly assembles and helps organize things. Here’s the basic component layout:

mechanical beast game - component layout

To set up a new game, you must identify the four special tiles: Entrance, Control Room, Emergency Exit, and Lockdown. Pull out 14 room tiles, split them into two piles of 7, then take the remaining room tiles and split them into approximately four equal piles. That’s all in the above photo. Notice also my pink engineer meeple, the white Android meeple, and all the little human worker meeples tossed into the bowl. The game also includes a handy cheat card with explanations of all the different rotation options and a well-written rules book.

Shuffle the Control Room into one of the 7-tile mini stacks, the Lockdown into the other 7-tile stack, then the overall play stack – as organized in the Tile Tower – is assembled, bottom to top, as 1/4 deck, Lockdown stack, 1/4 deck, Emergency Exit (optional, can be omitted depending on difficulty level), 1/4 deck, Control Room stack, 1/4 deck. The Entrance Tile is placed in the center of the table and you’re ready to play once you move your engineer and the Android on the Entrance. Easy. Oh, and you’ll want a pretty big table, as with most exploration games.


Two actions comprise a turn: Move, then either Explore or Activate. You can move through as many rooms as you like on a single turn as long as the doors and openings allow it; a connection can have an open doorway, a “glass door”, a locked door, or no opening at all. Locked doors let your meeple enter the room and immediately lock, preventing travel back through that opening. One move in, I’ve explored the room adjacent to the entrance, revealing a new tile and then moved my engineer token (pink) thereon. The new space has a human icon on the graphic, so I have correspondingly added a human meeple too:

mechanical beast game - first move

Every time a new tile is placed, the arrow points away from the opening utilized to explore it. In this instance, it’s a locked door so my engineer meeple is now stuck in the new room and must continue exploring. Notice also the orange gear along the top; this means that this particular room has what’s known as an Edge Gear. Activating this will allow the entire row above it to move one space to the left or right.

There are also Center Gears that let you rotate the four tiles rectilinearly adjacent (think of a plus sign) clockwise or counterclockwise, Linear Gears let you swap the current tile with one adjacent, and Corner Gears let you rotate a block of 2×2 room tiles around the gear, either clockwise or counterclockwise. In all cases, if there’s an empty space, it is also moved as if it were a room tile. While you don’t have to use these every turn, these manipulations make the game shine and bring all of the tactical challenges. Rotate something incorrectly and you can be trapped without a subsequent move (and lose the game!), but rotate it correctly, or perform a sequence of rotations, and you can turn an isolated corner of the map into one that’s perfectly connected to your destination spot.

Speaking of which, your goal is to find the Control Room and “throw the switch” shutting down the Mechanical Beast. Then it’s a race to rescue all the revealed people as you quest for the Entrance or, if you are including it, the Emergency Exit. Making this considerably more challenging, rooms collapse when you exit them, with adjacent tiles shifting to fill in the hole!

A bit further into the game, I’ve had both the Android and my own meeple move and explore, expanding the space in both directions:

mechanical beast game - early in the game

Can you see the two humans on the board? One is brown, the other is blue. To win, I’ll need to rescue them as we rush out of the space. The lower left room with the Android has two Corner Gears, while the room my own meeple inhabits doesn’t have any gears. I’ll keep exploring to the right with my meeple and it pays off: I’ve found the Control Room!

mechanical beast game - new gears have appeared

Two more humans have shown up (white and brown), but the Control Room means that I’m somewhere around halfway through this game! Once I throw the switch, however, rooms will collapse as either my meeple or the Android leave them, potentially affecting the layout of the entire maze. Not only that, but examine the above picture closely and you’ll see that I can’t actually escape back the way I came because there’s a locked door.

I’m forced to explore further out, which reveals some gears I can then use to manipulate the board and shift things around to allow a path back to the Entrance. In fact, by the time I took the below photo, I’d not only had my meeple reach the entrance, but survived a number of room collapses too:

mechanical beast game - further into the game

I’m pretty close to the end of this particular game if I can only figure out how to get the Android (the white meeple) back to the Entrance too. But there’s no connection, with the room tiles only touching a single corner! I can explore further, or I can use the Corner Gear to rotate the 2×2 tiles around the gear image. Helpful?

In this instance, rotation is not the answer (I’d done it earlier in the game to get back to the Entrance, however). Instead, luck of the draw, the room tile I reveal with an Explore actually offers the necessary path for the Android:

mechanical beast game - we won!

Once the Android joins the Engineer on the Entrance tile, it’s a win!


While the second phase of the game can be a bit tricky to track, with the collapsing rooms and gear rotations that can affect one, two, even four or more rooms, there’s a lot to enjoy about this novel and engaging puzzle game. It’s easy to understand the basics and set it up, a definite benefit, and with that cheat sheet card, you can puzzle out all the gear motions (tho you might find yourself referring back to the Rules to understand the nuances of collapsing rooms). Remember you can only activate a gear that’s in a room occupied by your own meeple or the Android.

More than once in my various games, I have found my meeple isolated, with no moves. Fortunately, those rooms always have hallways that allow further exploration (though beware: Once the Lockdown tile appears, you cannot add any new rooms!). Since you always have two meeples to move, one could always come to the rescue of the other too, keeping in mind that Gears can turn an isolated room into one that has easy access and a path back to the beginning.

I really like the puzzly aspects of Mechanical Beast and it’s bumped up to one of my favorite solo games. There’s no timer so you can relax into planning optimal moves and anticipating changes in the layout two, three, even four moves ahead. Tile exploration games are great fun, and the addition of both the gears (easy to figure out) and the collapsing rooms (a bit trickier to master) means that it’s a maze that’s constantly changing. The artwork is delightful and it’s a reasonably quick playthru.

What I haven’t done is try Mechanical Beast as a multi-player game, but particularly in competitive mode, I can see it being far more frustrating when your path out suddenly gets all borked up by someone else’s manipulation of the room layout!

This is one of my favorite games of the last few months and a definite keeper. If you like puzzle games that require cogitation, not speed, you might just want to invite the Mechanical Beast into your game collection too!

Mechanical Beast, designed by Ben Morayta, with art by Apolline Etienne, published by Giga Mech Games. 1-4 players. $29.99.

Disclosure: I bought a copy of this game and have no relationship with the designer or publisher!


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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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