Meatbot Massacre is a recently published tactical board game by two designers who are probably more well-known among role-playing gamers than among boardgame fans: Greg Stolze and Daniel Stolis.
The game is Mech-ish, with the players building and controlling customizable Meatbots: bio-engineered war machines that enter gladiatorial combat against each other to entertain the masses of the far future. After a simple process of building one's own personal Meatbot, the bots are thrown against each other in an arena with only the strongest coming out alive.
Each Meatbot is rated in 4 categories, Massacre, Move, Defend, and Attack. Here's what each means:
Massacre: A Meatbot's Massacre score indicates the number of actions it can take in a turn (more on actions later). Unlike the other three scores, which always start at the same base rating, a Meatbot's Massacre score can vary depending on the set-up the players involved agree on.
Move: Indicates the Meatbot's base move score. The default Move rating is 2.
Defend: Indicates the Meatbot's base defend score. The default Defend rating is 2.
Attack: Indicates the maximum number of attacks a Meatbot can make in a turn. Obviously, it only comes into play when a meatbot's Massacre score is greater than its Attack value. The default Attack rating is 4.
Each Meatbot has two other traits, Meats and Stomachs. The former serves as hit points, with a default starting score of 20, while the latter indicates the room available for tricking out the Meatbot with a variety of digestible goodies.
There are four actions available to a Meatbot, along with a specific die for each action: Move (d4), Defend (d6), Attack (d10), and Grandstand (d12). Here's how each action plays out in detail:
Move: Player rolls d4 and adds the result to his base score for the turn. If multiple d4's are rolled, the results are cumulative.
Defend: Player rolls d6 and adds result the result to his base Defend for the turn. If multiple d6's are rolled, then the player only applies the highest number rolled to his Defend score.
Attack: Player rolls d10 and tries to beat the Defend score of any of his competitors. Remember, the number of attacks is limited by the Meatbot's Attack score.
Grandstand: Grandstanding is a uber-attack that is specific to each weapon in the game. It causes a lot of damage, trumps any defense rating, but is hard to pull off as the player needs to roll a 12 on d12. It’s risky, but worth it if successful.
The game progresses through a series of rounds. On each round, the players decide on the actions of their Meatbots and grab the appropriate dice. For example, perhaps I'm feeling lucky, so I roll 2 d10's (2 attacks) and a d12 (a grandstand) in hopes of wiping out my opponent in one fell swoop. Or maybe my Meatbot is close to death and needs to protect itself, so I role 2 d6's (2 defends) and a d4 (move). The dice are chosen secretly, and then rolled all at once and simultaneously by all players. Actions are resolved in the following order:
Defend: Any Meatbots that defended get a bonus to their Defend score (result of d6, or highest number on d6 if multiples are rolled). Even if they choose not to roll any Defend dice, their Meatbot defends with its default rating.
Attack: With all Meatbots armored up, look at all the d10's in play, counting down from 10. As mentioned before, a hit is successful if you beat or equal another Meatbot's Defend score. The player is free to choose any target on the board (within proper range, of course), as there is no declaration of intentions to muss things up. If a hit is successful, then the Meatbot takes an amount of damage based on the weapon used. If a Meatbot goes down to 0 Meats, its toast. Grandstands also go off at this time.
Move: Once all Attacks are completed, all Meatbots have a chance to move, with the Meatbot with the lowest Move score going first. And remember, d4's add to the Move score and are cumulative.
Once all actions are resolved, the players pick up their dice and the next round begins.
The game comes with 17 power-ups, from rockets to armor adds to hand-to-hand weaponry. In the game parlance, these power-ups are called Devourables, because these options are literally devoured and internalized into the Meatbots. This also means that the Meatbots are able to throw them up during the course of the death match to make room for any new ones. You see, once a Meatbot is dead, its gear is there for any other Meatbot that wants to take the time to devour it. So during the course of the game, it's possible for the Meatbots on the arena floor to change their gear as their competitors become smears on the arena floor.
The game concludes with a short section on customizing Meatbots and running tournaments of sort. The rules for building your own Meatbot are nice and simple. The method I prefer involves agreeing on a number and letting each player divide that number between its Meatbot's Massacre and Stomach scores. This works quite well, as it allows for players to create their own light, nimble Meatbots with a minimum of gear but with a plethora of tactical options, or they can go for a heavy-armored juggernaught of doom that is not very mobile.
The game can be downloaded for free in three different parts. There is a 10 page, full-color ruleset, and also a trimmed down 7 page version that omits the graphics and fluff. The third PDF is a collection of accessories for the game, including a printable hex map, fold-up paper minis, and Meatbot "character" sheets. Both of the rules sets are well-done, easy to read, and well organized.
I've never been a big fan of hex-based miniature combat games, but I found Meatbot Massacre to be light enough - and silly enough - to be good fun. My friend and I were able to jump into the game quite quickly, and then when a third showed up, it took almost no time to get him playing as well.
The dice mechanics are quite clever and seemed to work well during the course of our games. It was very easy to roll dice and quickly compare dice pools to see where everyone stood.
Our only complaint was the small number of Devourables offered in the rule book. Yes, there are 17, but they don't go very far beyond covering the usual sorts of buffs and weapons you might expect in such a game. As we played, we were constantly talking about new ideas for kick-ass weaponry we wished we had on board. Of course, I have no doubt that fans will start creating their own power-ups, so this shortage is probably just a temporary issue.
I can recommend Meatbot Massacre highly as a fun diversion from your more serious war games or as something to kill the time while waiting for others to show up. And heck, it's free, so it doesn't cost anything to try it at least once.
The game can be downloaded for free at: http://www.danielsolis.com/meatbot/
Thanks for the great comments! I'm currently developing the first supplement for Meatbot Massacre which should take care of the devourable shortage, but Greg and I always knew that the ease of creating homebrew power-ups was one of the nicest features of the system. I'm currently accepting any submissions players might have for additions to the arsenal. If you or your friends have any ideas, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Incidentally, it's spelled "Solis," not "Stolis." Honest mistake, very similar last names. Anyhoo, I'm glad you all had fun.