So, there I am at Prairiecon Gamesday, having just wrapped up DMing a game of Dungeon World (a little homebrew adventure I whipped up out of shamelessly stolen story elements titled “Into the Gullet of the Graboid”) and looking for something to play. I decide to browse the vendor’s tables, and just as I find myself about to get into an edition war with one of them (note to self: when someone is prominently displaying Pathfinder and 3.5 books, don’t ask if he’s got any 4e stuff), I am fortuitously rescued by a board gamer looking for players for a game. That game turned out to be Robo Rally, a rather fun little game of strategy and positioning.
How does it work?
Each player takes on the role of a supercomputer in a factory. Now, the supercomputers have gotten bored, so they’ve decided to hold a little robot race through the factory, which is filled with obstacles. The robots are stupid, so they do exactly what the supercomputer tells them to. They are also armed with lasers and have the ability to push each other around.
The game is played on a grid, which represents the factory. Each grid has many hazards – conveyor belts, pits, walls, etc.
At the start of your turn, you are dealt nine cards with arrows with an instruction for your robot – go ahead, move back, turn, etc. You pick out five moves, and place them face down in order. Each player shows their first card, resolves their move, and then resolves board movements (conveyor belts and other hazards).
The game is won when a player is either the last person standing, or is the first to make it to the last flag.
Seems easy enough, right? Well, you are competing against other robots, and can shoot each other and push each other around. Robots are dealt one less card for each point of damage they take, which tends to limit their options. If they get below 5 hp, their last cards showing on that turn are “locked in” and they are dealt fewer than five cards.
Possibly more deadly than causing damage is pushing other robots around. Once you’ve planned your moves and played your cards, they can not be changed. So, pushing another robot even one square can really mess with their plans and cause them to be carried by terrain far away from where they wanted to go – or worse, pushed into a pit. I had managed to knock two or three rival robots into pits by pushing them a square or two, causing them to drive into a pit.
I thought Robo Rally was a fun little test of spatial reasoning. It’s one of those games that is simple to pick up and simple enough for children to play (although very young kids might not have developed the spatial analysis skills to plan out five cards worth of moves and terrain effects), but tricky to master. The rules are pretty straightforward and easy to follow, but the spatial reasoning needs a bit more thought. One mistimed move at the best of times can send your robot careening into a pit, so moves need to be planned very carefully. But, that just makes it all the more rewarding when you wind up where you wanted to go.
The game can handle 2-8 players, although there seems to be a bit of a balancing act. Two players would leave a lot of empty space on the board, and probably wind up with a lot of empty space between . If you want to try seven or eight, you will need to be careful – unless you figure out a system and stick to it, you are liable to have a lot of “did you move your guy yet” type confusion.
In short, it’s a fun game. It has elements of both luck and skill, although skill is emphasized. It’s easy to pick up and explain to people, and it’s age appropriate for both children and adults. Here’s hoping someone is running a game or two at Jimcon!