We’re living well into the future and robots have taken over a lot of tasks historically reserved for humans. But while we sit and dream, our computerised companions don’t see anything when they switch off at night, so we’re helping them to build dream machines. Do androids really dream of electric sheep? Let’s find out!
Mech A Dream is a 2-4 player game from Blue Orange Games and has a play time of around 45 minutes. It’s a solid, relatively lightweight worker placement game that really pops with bright colours and a fun theme. It’s a game I was first introduced to via Board Game Arena and, while I rarely find it easy to learn games online, I was so taken with it, I picked up a physical copy.
You’ll spend your turns trying to build machine components to create a dream engine that will help your robot become more efficient, and ultimately score you points to help you win the game.
To begin, place the factory board in the centre of the table. This is the shared work area with a stock room, delivery dock and conveyor belts for machine components. Shuffle the blue and green machines together and place them face-up on the corresponding conveyor, doing the same with the separate yellow and red stacks. You’ll place two blue/green machines face-up, as well as one red tile. As the stacks are placed face-up, you’ll have a total of six tiles available at any one time.
Shuffle the 10 delivery dock cards, remove three and place the remaining seven on the dock area, lining up each of the three tracks as shown on the card. Place the day marker on day one (of seven) on the calendar – this is your round marker.
Finally, on your individual player board, put one of your three robot meeples in the morning, afternoon and evening slots and use the dials to set your Electric Flower and Magic Ink resources to 3 and 4 respectively. These are your primary currency in the game.
Choose a starting player and give them the phase token with the sun side up and you’re ready to start!
Building Your Dream
Play takes place over seven rounds, each with four distinct phases; morning, afternoon, evening and night.
The options are pretty simple and straightforward, despite what felt at times to me like an overly complex rulebook.
For each of the three daytime phases, you can either send your worker to a location on the shared factory board, or place them on your personal board to speed up construction of a machine.
Sending a worker to the factory allows you to either gain resources from the stock room to boost your reserves of Electric Flowers and Magic Ink, take a delivery in the dock, picking up a variety of bonuses which may include the rarer resource of rainbows, or victory points, or you can purchase a machine from one of the three different conveyor belts.
It’s important to note that each phase of the day (morning, afternoon, evening) is played in turn by each person and each of your three robot meeples corresponds to a single phase. The stock room and delivery docks have specific tracks from each day phase and there’s real consideration needed here. The morning benefits are always the best and the evening one’s are the most meagre. Each player can take the same action if they wish, but if you decide against visiting the stock room in the morning, you’ll only be able to snag afternoon or evening benefits on your next turn.
Depending on how you build your engine, you might rely more heavily on resource benefits, or you may choose these actions later in the round to keep your supplies topped up.
The substance of the game is building components in your machine. Taking a tile from the conveyor belts will cost you a certain amount of resources (typically ink or flowers, though yellow tiles will always cost rainbows).
When a worker buys a tile, you reduce your resource dials (or personal supply of rainbows) down to pay for it, and then add it to your own personal conveyor belt, at the position indicated by the sand timer on the tile with your meeple being placed on the tile.
Each personal conveyor belt has 7 spaces, and those more powerful tiles will take up the slots furthest away from the engine room (spaces 6 and 7) and less powerful tiles will typically be on spaces 3 or 4.
At the end of every day phase (morning, afternoon, evening) your robots will help construct the machine, moving it one space along the belt for each meeple placed on top of it. This means that buying a powerful machine in the morning phase, and sending your afternoon and evening workers to help (placing them on top of the tile on your personal conveyor belt as their action) could yield a completed build within a day (you’ll get six total moves along the belt but no other resources).
During the night phase, any constructed machines can be activated in whatever order you choose to give you benefits.
Building these machines is fun in itself. As they drop off the final space of your conveyor belt, you flip them over to create the ‘dream’ for the robot, and reveal their bonus side (if any). The machines snake around the 3x3 grid on your board, with the last three spaces giving you points as you cover them.
Building blue or red tile will yield night time benefits that you can take advantage of while your robots ‘dream’. Some of these are free – gaining an ink or a flower or a time boost (that lets you move a machine on a step without a robot needing to help), and some you pay for. For example, you can spend an ink and a flower to gain a rainbow and an electric sheep (which, brilliantly, are the victory points).
Yellow machines are the most powerful, but only give you a one-off benefit with a single haul of electric sheep. Green machines are the economy of your build. They offer a smaller one-off benefit,
but make ongoing actions cheaper. For example, you might gain a one time benefit of two rainbows, but each subsequent delivery dock action costs you one Electric Flower less.
Getting the right combination here can really help. As a minimum, you’ll get a single Magic Ink drop during each night phase, but if you can stack the machine well, you can have an economy that gives you ink and rainbows that can be spent on points and time boosts. You can have multiple machines on the same space on your belt as well, but these will only get built by sending your meeples to construct them, or getting time boost actions.
Once each player has completed their night phase, the chunky wooden, purple token passes to the next player, robots return to their quarters, and the next day begins.
You’ll play until either someone has built 9 machines on their board, or you’ve got to the end of the night phase on the seventh round.
Unused rainbows are cashed in for points on a 1:1 ratio, and every 5 remaining ink/flower resources scores a point. Note that these are limited to 9 apiece so the maximum you can ever get from that is 3 points.
The player with the most electric sheep is the winner!
Electric Dream or a nightmare to forget?
I said up front that the garishly bright BGA implementation had me happily coming back for more, clicking stuff randomly just for the sheer fun of it. (Sidenote, if I don’t know how to play a game then I just try and figure it out as I go on BGA).
I was genuinely compelled to get a copy of this and I don’t regret it for a second. Worker placement and engine building games are a good fit for me – I like those kinds of games, and I think the theme works pretty well here. I do like the touch that the completed machines (the robot’s dreams) often have sheep in – a throwback to the intro of this blog and Philip K Dick’s book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep which of course the film Blade Runner is loosely based on.
I also really love the perspective here. Having diamond shaped tiles definitely makes them harder to shuffle and stack, but the trade-off is so great – effortlessly moving things along the conveyor belts and slotting them into the grid to complete them. It feels brilliant, and it stands out - an engine builder where you’re physically building the engine as you go. Wonderful!
The colours really come through in the components too, though the player pieces are oddly muted in comparison.
This is fun with a capital F. If you’re used to playing worker placement games, then I think you’ll find the style and set up of this familiar, but different enough that you’ll get something out of it. If you’re new to this style of game, this is a nice introduction to it – not too many meeples or choices, a fairly simple rule set, pretty quick to play (the box has a 45 min guide on it and I think our first game was done in that time) and it has a lovely theme.
The rulebook might feel a little daunting, but it’s trying to give you everything up front when it’s almost intuitive enough that you don’t need it. One thing we did forget about in our first game was to construct machines at every point during the day. If you can keep that in your head, you’ll get along without a problem.
The game comes with some neat little modules too, allowing you to vary what players get as standard during the night phase, and some asymmetrical power cards you can draft at the start of the game – some nice variability for when you want to mix it up!
It’s not often I go from BGA to a physical copy, but I’m so glad I did with this.