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Subject: A review of Ricochet Robot rss

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Mike Compton
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Rules

Ricochet Robots is comprised of a board (assembled out of four sections), several robots all of a different color (ex. a red robot, a blue robot, a black robot, etc.), a “starting chip” for each different colored robot, and several destination chips (which are one-sided and which contain a symbol with a specific color). On the board are a number of destinations (each of which corresponds to a destination chip) and a number of walls. The robots are placed on the board randomly and all of the destination chips are turned over with the non-symbol side up.

One destination chip is then turned over (symbol side up) and placed in the middle. The color of the symbol is the robot you are trying to get to that destination (ex. red circle = get the red robot to that destination). The trick to moving these robots is that they can only move in a straight line and cannot stop until they hit either a wall or another robot. So, you can’t just stop the robot in the middle of the board without that robot hitting something to stop its motion. Each time you move a robot in a specific direction it counts as one move. Once the destination chip is turned over, each player begins calculating (in one’s head) possible routes to get the robot to its destination. Once someone has a route, they announce a bid. Their bid is the number of moves they can get the robot in question to its destination. Once the first person makes their bid, a one-minute countdown begins (there is a one-minute hourglass supplied with the game). Within that minute, anyone else can bid lower so long as they can actually follow through with their bid and get the robot to its destination in that number of moves. Once the timer is up, whoever bid the lowest number of moves demonstrates the path of the robot. If it is correct, they take the destination chip and move any “starting chips” to the new location of the robots after completing the destination.

The game continues until each of the destination chips have been completed. Whoever has the most destination chips at the end wins.

The board is divided into four sections and each section has two sides. Thus, you can create a number of different combinations of boards to play on (which keeps the game fresh over time). There is a black robot but no black destinations. There is also one destination chip that is multi-colored – meaning you simply have to get any of the robots to that destination regardless of the color of the robot.

Thoughts

Because the board can change every time you play the game, and because the starting positions of the robots are random, the game stays fresh over time. There are also no restrictions on the number of players who can play. You could, theoretically, have 20 people all standing around the table playing the game. You could also, theoretically, play solo where you give yourself a limited time to find the shortest route possible for a given chip.

Ricochet Robots is not a test of strategy. Rather, for each player, the game is essentially a test in spatial thinking. Most people I’ve seen who encounter the game need to see a few examples first of how the robots can move and successfully arrive at a destination to properly understand how the game works. I have also seen people improve over time as they become more acclimated to the type of thinking this game requires.

The game can also vary in its length. It just depends on the players and how quickly they can think through the routes of the robots.

The one major drawback to this game is that there can be a significant skill mismatch among the players (ex. one or two players excelling at the game while the rest just don’t see the routes quickly enough or simply don’t see them at all). There are certain rules that can be implemented to “fix” such scenarios. For example, you could say that, as long as a player who has less chips than the lowest bidding player sees a route with a number of moves equal to the lowest bid, that player can take the chip. However, such “fixes” are often not very fun for the more skilled players in the group.

Trying to see the routes and having a significantly shorter route than what you had at first thought possible occur to you can be really entertaining. However, because of the spatial thinking requirement, this game might not appeal to everyone. I personally really enjoy it.
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JessA
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Nice review. One way that we handicap the game for the less skilled in our house *cough*my husband*cough* is that he gets to look at the next destination chip before the rest of us do, giving him a little extra time to come up with a route. We don't have a specific amount of time or anything, but it works well for us.
 
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Mike Compton
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I have seen people get better at this game over time. However, something occurs to me. It's possible that, for some people, the game may move too quickly for them to pick up on it effectively in the early stages. In other words, they may need lots of time to study scenarios at first in order for them to start picking up speed and to start seeing better solutions on the board. However, if such a person were to play consistently with better players, then they would probably not have that time because the better players would probably see the solutions quicker, start the timer earlier, and be ready for the next scenario before the struggling player had a chance to properly digest the scenario that just finished.

If this description fits anyone out there who really wants to improve in the game, one solution that might work is to practice at the website for the game. Here's the link:


http://www.ricochetrobot.com


If you go there and click on the "Practice" link then you will be presented with a scenario which you can then study to your heart's content. After you arrive at a solution, you can then reset the scenario and keep trying with that same scenario to find better solutions - all without the hurried pressure that occurs in the actual board game (though there is a timer so you can see how long it took you to arrive at a workable solution).

Edit: It looks like the link above has become a dead link.
 
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