Kicking Down The Door
Note - The following review is copy/pasted from my board game blog www.kickingdownthedoor.com I mention this because there may be the occasional reference that doesn't sit well out of context of the site.
Hey you guuuuys!
Welcome to the not at all anticipated, second installment in our ‘Next Steps’ review trilogy. The game we have lined up for you this week, is at this stage a classic; it’s a game that should be on every self respecting gamers shelf and one that can provide such an unsanitary amount of joviality for such a wide variety people, you’ll probably have to get rid of your carpets.
“What is this game?!” I hear you shriek, though probably not because I went and put the name in the title of the post… Gaahhhh…
Well, with no more ado.
Now if you’re anything like me, you don’t know how you feel about your beard and you like your board games to be visually appetizing and have good graphic design. At the very least they need a grumpy looking man of Mediterranean/European descent emblazoned on the front of the box, or at best, they need a cosmic space lion taking centre stage in some sort of intergalactic composition; anything outside of this is difficult for shallow people like me to become enthused about.
Looking at the pictures of Roborally that are scattered throughout this review, you’d be forgiven for being as fickle and narrow minded as I was, because this game does look terrible. I mean what is that on the front? A cartoon? Are we gonna play a cartoon? And those boards, are they boards? Don’t be deceived though; overlooking this game for so long, based on nothing but a well honed visual prejudice is one of my top 5 all time regrets of time misspent, and it comes 2 places above the hours I lost watching the Hangover 2! So, you know, I’m really beating myself up about this one. Take heed.
Roborally pits you and your companions as Artificial Intelligences who are charged with the running of a factory that has seen busier times and have ultimately become bored (hang in there), and so to while away the hours they’ve taken to racing the robots in the factory. The robots all begin at a starting line and must make it to a succession of check points in a specific order while overcoming the various obstacles of the factory, the first to complete all check points wins the game.
So how does this questionable looking thing play out?
Well this is how a basic turn works; everyone is dealt a number of movement cards, typically nine to begin with, and a selection of these cards will be placed down into the five card spaces on your programme sheet. Doing this programmes your robot for the round and once everybody is finished we begin executing these movements.
Everybody starts by revealing their first movement card and the player with the highest priority (number on the top right of the card) moves his robot first according to the instructions of the card they played. All players resolve their first movement card in descending order of priority, once this is done, elements on the board perform their function.
Elements on the board?
You didn’t think this was going to be easy did you? The ‘factory’ we’re racing through is littered with obstacles. Depending on which map/scenario you’re using you can expect to encounter conveyor belts and express conveyor belts, rotating conveyor belts, sometimes rotating gears, pushers, pits, laser beams and the occasional wall you didn’t spot when you were planning your turn and now you’re screwed!
If at this stage of a round your robot is on a square with one of these elements, that gets resolved now. The conveyor belts move you along, the gears rotate you and the laser beams fry your little robot brains.
The robots then all fire lasers themselves and will receive damage tokens for getting caught in the fire line of another robot. Once this is done we see who, if anyone has touched on a check point, clean up and then continue on to another turn and eventually another round.
It’s more exciting than all that though. What I didn’t mention before is the inclusion of possibly one of my favourite board gaming components, the sand timer!!! The 30 second timer will sit on the table during the programming phase and quite simply ruin your life.
The timer comes into play when all but one of the players have declared that they’re ‘finished’. When this happens the timer is flipped and the remaining player has 30 seconds to finish programming their robot. If they prove too indecisive under such pressure to do this, then their remaining programme cards are shuffled and randomly assigned to the empty spaces on the players programme sheet. Which is bad! Usually move off the board, fall down a pit and die bad!
The very presence of this timer causes vital parts of your brain to shut down, making it very difficult to perform the hand to eye coordinated movements necessary to place cards down onto your sheet, never mind the kind of planning and forward thinking necessary to programme a successful round. It really does turn a very simple game into an illuminating insight as to the effects a degenerative brain disease can have on you.
It’s better than that though, because the movement cards you programme your robot with, they’re rubbish! At best you’ll be able to crawl that bit closer to your next check point, maybe even get to it once in a while if you luck out on the conveyor belts; at worst though (which is often the case), you’ll receive a hand of rotate left and rotate right cards and be forced to spend the entirety of the round turning on the spot; assuming of course you’re not on a conveyor belt that’s moving you ever closer to a pit in the middle of the map… You probably are.
This is one of those games that’s most enjoyable when things are going horribly wrong, and they will go horribly wrong! For example the above worst case scenario (yet surprisingly common scenario) is made ever more likely by the fact that your starting hand of programme cards is dictated by the amount of damage you’ve received. So everyone starts out healthy and almost sprightly with a hand of nine movement cards and seemingly a world of opportunity and choices. As you receive damage from laser fire though, you start each round with fewer and fewer cards, less and less choices. After you receive your fifth damage token it gets even worse! Your little robot circuits are being scrambled and cards already placed down, start becoming locked there. That U-Turn card you ended the round with, it’s there for good now, and next round it’s one more thing you have to take into account when choosing what order to place down the pitiful four cards you were dealt.
There are ways of dealing with this kind of ‘lock down’ disaster though; you can decide a round in advance to shut your robot down, therefore repairing all damage. This is usually a mistake however, as it means you can’t do anything for an entire round (except take damage, you can always take more damage) and there’s no promise you’ll emerge from shut down in better condition than when you went in. You’re normally better served driving your little fella off the board and to his death so you can use one of your three lives to re-spawn at your last check point and get back to business.
At it’s heart Roborally is a very simple planning game, so it’s perfect for breaking in none board gamers because all they have to do is lay down five cards on to a sheet at the beginning of every round, the rest of the game is finding out what happened! Which, okay, doesn’t sound that exciting on the face of things, but it is; your investment in the game is in no way diminished by the fact you’re not making decisions any more, in fact it goes through the roof as you see the choices you made at the beginning of the round enacted on the board and interacting with the choices of other players.
There’s a lot to take into account when laying down those five cards though, only some of which I covered above. One thing I didn’t mention for example is other robots can bump you along, so you can plan a perfect round that’s definitely going to see you get to that last check point, but then Twitch comes smashing into you on the first turn, knocking you just one space to the left and in doing so turning certain victory into certain death! Also there are ‘Option Cards’ and I’m not even going to talk about them.
This game is a great gateway game because of how simple and accessible it is, it’s a better next step game, because it’s a bigger game, there’s so much to think about and weigh up, there’s so many maps and scenarios, there’s that delightful stress at the beginning where you’re looking at your cards with one eye, and the timer with the other and someone starts to call an ambulance because you look like your stroking. And yet, while there’s all this depth, there’s no real complexity clouding the game and keeping it out of reach of people who are just starting to play table top games.
It has to be said, an experienced player can leave a newbie chocking on their carbon emissions as they expertly make the most of their hand of cards and cock their head left and right in rapid succession while negotiating the maze of conveyor belts and gears in their head. I can placate you by telling you things like, the luck in the draw of cards and the fact one small accidental nudge from another player can derail someone’s entire turn, goes a long way to evening the playing field. But the truth is it doesn’t matter, because even if you spend round after round wondering into one string of humiliatingly disastrous situations after another, you’re going to have a good time because it’s hilarious!
Roborally is one of those games you’re going to keep coming back to. It’s prefect for introducing people to gaming and for helping them take those next steps, but in the back of the rule book there’s a host of scenarios and game variants that are going to let the game grow with you. Long after you’ve groomed a group of friends to the point they all willingly just spent an entire Saturday bleeding from their ears over a game of High Frontier, you’re going to be taking this game off the shelf to play the ‘Ball Lightning’ scenario, where you all only have the 30 seconds the timer gives you to plan your entire round! Or maybe the ‘Moving Targets’ scenario, where the checkpoints themselves are on conveyor belts, so not only do you have to consider how the conveyor belts will effect your position at the end of a turn, but you have to try and work out where the checkpoint is going to be too! Hell, there’s nothing to stop you from combining those variants into a scenario I like to call ‘F@%k This Sh*t, I’m going home’.
You need this in your life. It’s going to be an invaluable tool in grooming your friends and a corner stone to your collection!
See you next week, for the ‘Godfather III’ of our ‘Next Steps’ reviews.
Awesome review of a simply champion game!
‘F@%k This Sh*t, I’m going home’. ....
Nice review! This has been my wife's and my favorite game for about 15 years.
Kicking Down The Door
Thanks guys! Always encouraging to hear stuff like this.