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Subject: Giga-Robo!: Style on Top, Strategy Under the Hood rss

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Nate Parkes
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At a glance, you can tell that the designer of Giga-Robo! knows the value of style.

The kickstarter video is like a high-octane love letter to an entire genre. The art and design of the giant robots and their pilots is distinct and evocative. The layout and interface of the locking pilot and robot boards feels like a mecha control panel. And then you get to the board itself: a hex-based cityscape of high-rises and skyscrapers separating the towering, hefty robot miniatures, soon to be strewn with rumble, fire, flood and crackling arcs of electricity.



The designer knows the value of style.

And, being a huge fan of Monsterpocalyse, it’s exactly my kind of style. But Monsterpocalypse was a gem--beautiful, flashy theme, but with a dice-as-action-resource mechanic that led to deep strategy and hand-wringing choices.

And gems like that don't come along too often.

So I was suspicious that the Giga-Robo gameplay would be chaotic, fiddly, and entirely luck-driven.

But now, having watched several matches and played through the game myself a few times on the Tabletopia demo, it pleases me to say that Giga-Robo is exactly what I hoped it would be: a game with theme and style so finely executed that I want to start shouting things like “Spinning Turbine Kick!” when I throw down a card, but with mechanics and gameplay that allow for a depth of customization, strategy, positioning, tempo, and risk.


1. Customization

The first time you play Giga-Robo!, you’ll want to use the suggested robot/pilot combinations and hand/ability builds. And that’s because, as a first-time player, you’ll want to dive into the game itself as quickly as possible, and it would be easy to be sidetracked by the insane level of customization the game offers.

Once you’ve gotten accustomed to that “new robot smell,” and you’re ready to start tweaking your ride, here are choices you’ll have:

a) Choose a pilot, and 1 of that pilot’s 3 unique abilities
b) Chose a robot, and 3 of that robot’s 6 unique abilities
c) Build a hand of 15 cards from the 10 unique pilot cards and 30 unique robot cards
d) Choose 1 of 3 of your robot’s “ultimate” moves




It’s a similar experience to building a deck for a CCG or an LCG, but with one big difference: there’s no “random draw” aspect to the game. All of the abilities and cards you choose will be available to you. Several robot abilities will need to be “activated” by channeling power into them, and every card has a “cool down” rating that determines how often you can play it, but you’ll have access to ever card or ability you pick during the course of the game.

So what makes a “good build,” or a “bad build”?

Like most CCG/LCGs, a good build is able to focus on a central strategy for winning, while remaining flexible enough to counter your opponent’s strategy. And while I haven’t played enough games to decipher the game’s “meta wheel,” here are some strategies I’ve observed:

• Rope-A-Dope: Strategically position your robot to take as little damage as you can while you absorb attacks. Build up spirit to deliver insanely powerful attacks and combos at key moments, using stored-up power to maximize your odds to hit.

• Barbarian Rage: Always. Be. Crushing. Hit hard, hit fast, and utilize abilities that increase your damage output even at the cost of your armor. Win fast or leave a good looking robo-corpse.

• Tour Guide: Manipulate your opponent’s position on the map, and deliver attacks that push, pull or throw, maximizing collision damage.

• Controllolol:
Use a combination of instants and properly timed counters to defuse your opponents strongest attacks, while slowly whittling them down.


2. Resource Management


When you play your first game of Giga-Robo!, you’ll be tempted to simply charge in and start dropping Supernova Star Spanners and Laser Gatling Guns on your opponent. And it will be fun… until you die.

That’s because, despite an outward appearance of punchy/smashy/blasty/splody chaos, Giga-Robo is actually a game of careful resource management. In Giga-Robo, you’re managing four resources: Spirit, Power, Armor and your attack cards.



Spirit


Spirit is the most fluid resource. You can gain it at the beginning of your turn (according to your pilot’s “Heart” stat), or whenever you take damage from an attack (according to your pilot’s “Rage” stat). You spend spirit to play attack cards and instants. Your opponent’s spirit level is a gauge how badly they can hurt you. Since a player can play multiple attacks in a single turn, an opponent with 20+ spirit is truly to be feared.

But there are things you can do to manage your opponent’s spirit. If they have a high rage stat, it means that they get a boost of spirit each time they take damage from an attack. So when playing against a high rage opponent, one powerful attack may be better than three weak attacks—it limits how much spirit your opponent will gain.

And most importantly, guard your own spirit reserves. If you spirit drops to nothing, your opponent will know you can’t afford to play cards to counter you’re their attacks. Conversely, when building up for powerful attack, if your opponent’s spirit dwindles it’s time to strike. Giga-Robo is a game of tempo and timing.



Power


Each time you would gain spirit, you can choose to gain a certain amount of power instead—usually 1-3 power, depending on your pilot. Power serves two critical functions: first, it allows you to activate your robot’s abilities—from flaming swords to beam daggers to advancing your mech to its ultimate form. Second, it allows you to add power dice to your attack or defense.

But there’s a push-pull element to power. You can only accumulate a maximum of six power, so whatever you spend to activate your abilities cannot be spent on adding power dice. For example, the largest robot—Azyn—requires six power total to reach his incredible “Iron Fusion Stage 3” form, and once he gets there, he’s a real beast. But he’s also locked up all the power he can hold, and so he can’t access power dice.

The importance of power dice CANNOT be overstated. A standard attack usually rolls somewhere between one and three dice. Defending or countering with an equal amount of dice—or fewer—puts you in fate’s hands. But power dice allow you to shift the odds in your favor, which can be especially critical when lining up an ultimate attack—or defending against one. And since the attacker has to declare the amount of power he's using first, each attack can be a question of conservation and risk. Giga-Robo is a game of economy and calculation.



Armor


Armor is the most straightforward resource in Giga-Robo, but it’s not without its subtleties. Your starting armor is determined by your robot, and serves as your hit points: if your armor drops to zero, YOU drop. But there are specific abilities in the game that allow you to use armor as a resource, most notably Noriko Nagare’s ability to burn off her armor for spirit—thematically, running her mech into the ground to squeeze out that extra bit of performance.

But what the best robo-pilots know is that armor really is a resource like any other. Trying to avoid every hit is a fool’s errand in Giga-Robo. You’re going to take some hits. But take them on your terms, use them to set yourself up to make the kill. Dropping down to one armor is fine, as long as you can drop your opponent to down to zero.



Cards


Your robot and pilot cards in Giga-Robo are regulated by the distinct “cooldown” meter. Cards have a cooldown value, from 0-3, and after a card is used it’s placed in the corresponding slot on the meter. That means if you play a cooldown 3 card on your opponent’s turn, that card won’t re-enter your hand for three full turns. Mastering the flow of the cooldown meter is an essential skill for lining up combinations, and keeping an eye on your opponent’s cooldown meter can give you a sense of when to strike, and when to withdraw.[/o]


3. Simplicity and Narrative

Having enumerated several of the subtleties of customization and resource management, you might be tempted to think this is one of these “everything and the kitchen sink” games, with a dozen sub-systems strapped on the ole’ undercarriage.

Fortunately, it’s not so. As the designer mentioned in this interview, the biggest task of design has been stripping away the inessentials, so that what’s left is the heart of the game. In that same interview, he related how there had originally been a subsystem to cover that moment that happens in a lot of mech anime, when two robots fire on each other and their beams meet, and push back and forth until one overcomes.

But ultimately, it bogged down the game and warped the internal economy, so he got rid of it.

What’s left is a clean, sharp, simple system that does everything you need it to do. And out of that system, great narrative moments can emerge.



Ironically, that whole “beam weapon v. beam weapon struggle” moment still exists in the game, but it happens when in a ranged attack is countered, and the players burn power to add dice to their roll. But it’s not a subsystem; it’s not strapped on. It flows out of the essential mechanics of the game.


Conclusion

If you haven't noticed yet, I'm a full-blown fanboy for this game. But that's because, to me, it's got EVERYTHING a great Kickstarter should have:

* An awesome, distinctive, richly narrative theme
* A clean ruleset that's been exhaustively playtested
* An independent designer just looking to put his work into the world
* A campaign that offered reviews, play examples and a downloadable rules from day 1

If those sound good to you, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

And I hope to face you across a ruined city someday.







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morgenstond morgenstond
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Will the rules include recommended starter builds for each pilot/robot?
It helps new players to get a feel for the strategy involved.
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Steven Hammerschlag
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The rule book eventually will, though you can view the starter builds right this instant on the Tabletopia demo that was linked in the original post.
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Pol Michiels
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Great review that sums up why I also decided to back this game. There's a huge amount of choices to be made, and they are all important, non-trivial and interesting. Do I take power or fighting spirit? Is it worth it to counterattack? Strike now and have my powerful attack unavailable for 3 turns, or wait for a better moment that may not come?

The information is open, except for the dice, so you can plan and strategize to your heart's content, and then unleash the turbo laser assault, still make the mandatory pewpew noises, and feel like you're actually piloting an awesome 100 tons of steel. All the thinking, all the theme, all the time.

Sure there's only 4 robots in the base box (6 if we hit the stretch goals, which seems realistic), but as mentioned, every robot comes with 6 abilities (from which you choose 3), 3 ultimate attacks (from which you choose 1), and 30 cards (which you combine with 10 from your pilot, and then choose 15), and then you also get to choose a pilot (from among 5 or 7), along with his ability (1 of 3), so actually, you get so much more variety and options than most games that proudly parade "100+ miniatures".

Here's hoping many more people read this review and back this awesome game!
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mathew rynich
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Good review! I also decided to back the game. Mostly because I'm a huge fan of the theme but also because the campaign has been very transparent so far. The full rules are available, gameplay walkthrough videos of entire matches can be viewed and the Tabletopia demo is available for everyone to demo the gameplay (and that was all available on day 1). It's refreshing to see a campaign that confident in it's design.

I've also played the free Tabletopia demo that's linked on the campaign page and I think the game is great. I get the same feeling I get from playing competitive card battle games. The level of customization available to tailor you pilot/robot to your particular strategy looks awesome, and is exactly what I would want from a game like Giga-Robo. The demo features four demo builds so you can just get into the meat of the game, and they all feel very different from each other.

The game has sort of boxing feel to it in the sense that it's about looking for openings and weighing when is a good time to play defensively and when is a good time to open up and go on the offensive. Smart positioning also appears to be key considering cover, combat advantage, forced movement and collateral damage all can factor heavily into turning the tide of combat.

I'm hoping the campaign goes really well and this game has a bright future.
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Steven Hammerschlag
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Eldil wrote:
• Rope-A-Dope: Strategically position your robot to take as little damage as you can while you absorb attacks. Build up spirit to deliver insanely powerful attacks and combos at key moments, using stored-up power to maximize your odds to hit.


This is totally me though I live [edit: meant love but I don't want to change the autocorrect] the idea of Controlololol.

Eldil wrote:
• Tour Guide: Manipulate your opponent’s position on the map, and deliver attacks that push, pull or throw, maximizing collision damage.


This has been Alex since day 1.
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Rock Bronson

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What interested me about this game was actually the mechanics under the hood. I like chance in my games, and I love dice, but few dice games really mitigate luck enough for my taste. There have been many novel approaches but this one is the fastest playing that I've seen. Power dice, counter-attacks and instants change the odds interestingly without a lot of downtime or bookkeeping.

The thing that sold me though was replayability. The amount of customization here is pretty staggering and the pilot / robot / card choices are interesting. This would be enough to get my attention but then the destructible environment makes positioning so crunchy and tactical that I just couldn't resist.

It's rare to see tactics and strategy really balanced in a game; Giga-Robo looks to do just that with its mixture of deck construction, resource management and hex combat.

Don't get me wrong, the theme is flawlessly integrated into all these mechanics and the style is spot on. But for me, I saw the game underneath and was itrigued, then saw the obvious passion for this genre and had to jump in.
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Bwian, just
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Nice review, and I am tempted. Money's a little tight at the moment, so I might have to hold off until actual publication rather than get in on the Kickstarter. I also have several fighting games that don't see play now, unfortunately... blush

Is "chaotic, fiddly, and entirely luck-driven" really your assessment of Monsterpocalypse, though? I can get behind fiddly, but luck-driven?
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Nate Parkes
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Bwian wrote:
Is "chaotic, fiddly, and entirely luck-driven" really your assessment of Monsterpocalypse, though? I can get behind fiddly, but luck-driven? :what:


Absolutely not. It was poorly worded--I should probably edit.

What I should have said was "It reminded me of Monsterpocalypse, which combined amazing theme with deep, skill-based gameplay. Most most games that look this pretty are shallow dice-chuckers."

Thank you for sticking up for Monpoc. The world needs more people like you.

EDIT: I done fixed it. Glory to Monpoc!
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Alex Cheng
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Whooooo Monpoc!
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Colin Atkinson
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Really excellent review! I highly enjoyed your explanation of the different mechanics and how they all come together to make not just a great theme but a great game to boot. I particularly enjoyed your mentioning how the "beam weapon struggles," though removed as a subsystem, still occur within the games mechanics (with some theme help of course). That is simply amazing.

I too was, and still am, a huge fan of Monpoc (It's good to see the dev is a fan too ). I was quite excited to see this game when it first appeared on Kickstarter both for it's similarities to Monpoc and it's own unique mechanics built on high-octane mecha fights. I was kind of itching for a mecha combat game recently that would be a little fast paced, and it looks like Giga Robo will fill that bill quite well. After having tried the game myself and reading your review, I couldn't be more excited for this game!

I just want to add that I also love how the general flow of Giga-Robo is fairly streamlined and simple to understand, but how the customization and choices to be made in battle offer some good complexity. I'm not sure if Giga Robo is quite as deep as Monpoc, but it was Monpoc's depth that made it rather intimidating to new comers (and to teachers as well). This game looks like the perfect blend of relative simplicity (i.e. most people I know should be able to play it) with enough complexity to keep players coming back. I certainly hope to see this game continue to grow and expand well beyond it's initial Kickstarter (new buildings or abilities? kaiju? the possibilities are huge!).

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Nate Parkes
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colin9102 wrote:
I'm not sure if Giga Robo is quite as deep as Monpoc, but it was Monpoc's depth that made it rather intimidating to new comers (and to teachers as well).


I know what you mean. Monpoc was so good, but it had a crazy high barrier to entry in the form of eight different power attacks, six basic stat icons, and over a hundred ability icons.

With Giga-Robo, since the action is card-driven, you always have a selection of the things you can do in your hand, clearly described. The focus is narrower.

Here's my attempt at a metaphor:

Monpoc feels like a professional wrestling match. It's fought in a ring, one wrestler against another, but there's also managers distracting the ref and hidden teammates rushing in a chairs and tables and ladders and people hitting each other with their belts. It's everything and the kitchen sink, and it's glorious.

Giga-Robo is more like a boxing match. The ring feels tighter, and the action is completely focused on the interaction of the two fighters.
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Oblivion Doll
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Eldil wrote:
Here's my attempt at a metaphor:

Monpoc feels like a professional wrestling match. It's fought in a ring, one wrestler against another, but there's also managers distracting the ref and hidden teammates rushing in a chairs and tables and ladders and people hitting each other with their belts. It's everything and the kitchen sink, and it's glorious.

Giga-Robo is more like a boxing match. The ring feels tighter, and the action is completely focused on the interaction of the two fighters.


That's a really cool comparison! As much fun as chaos can be, I think the "clean" feel of Giga-Robo's gameplay is a big part of what draws me to it.
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