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Subject: RoboRally - The perfect game! rss

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Niclas Matikainen
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Prequel (of a sort, feel free to skip)
As I was considering ranking my games and writing reviews on BGG, the first thing I did was to read through BGG:s ranking system. I then had a look at my collection and tried to apply scores to a few games chosen at random. It didn't go very well.
So I changed strategy: Perhaps I could find The Game in my collection, to use as a comparison for the other games. Could I find this benchmark, the perfect 10 on my shelves? Yes! My eyes settled on RoboRally!

I was fortunate enough to play the very first edition of RoboRally at a local convention, just a few months after its release. I was, however, unfortunate enough to be living on a student economy, so affording this fantastic (though expensive) game was impossible. Which was lucky, since the second edition was released during my wait. And as it turned out, this is the superior edition!

Theme
In RoboRally, players take on the roles of bored super computers, who entertain themselves by having cute little robots race through the dangerous parts of the factory that is operated by previously mentioned super computers. During the races, the robots will get shot by lasers, pushed down bottomless pits, and get crushed by... well... crushers... before they hopefully go through all checkpoints and reaches the end of the course.

Components
The metal robots are as cute as they are sturdy. And unlike the previous edition, it's always clear what direction they are facing.
Boards are printed on solid cardboard. Unlike the later edition, there is only one map on each board, so all combinations are possible.
Cards are of good quality as well, though they will be shuffled so often that it's required to sleeve them anyway.

Gameplay
The factory is represented by a number of boards. These contain several hazards for the players to navigate, such as lasers, rotating gears, conveyor belts, bottomless pits, to name but a few.
The navigation is performed with Programming Cards. These 84 cards allow a robot to either move 1, 2, or 3 squares forward, rotate left, rotate right, make a U-turn, or move backwards 1 square.

Each players is given 9 cards at the start of every Turn, and must use these to program his or her robot for the 5 Phases a Turn consists of. In other words, a robots movement must be planned 5 moves at time.
This is surprisingly easy (on some of the boards, at least) you learn the basics in just a few minutes.
Or rather, this is surprisingly easy, as long as there aren't any other robots around...

You see, a robot moving into a square, occupied by another robot, will push that robot. And the pushed robot is still forced to use the cards programmed for this Turn, even if it suddenly finds itself staring into a bottomless pit!
This complicates movement quite a lot. And more importantly, make things hilariously fun!
Watching your perfectly planned trip to the next checkpoint turn into a disastrous travel down a laser ridden conveyor belt, all because of a little push by another player, is a blast (pun intended).

In other words, interaction between robots, equals fun. The more players you add, the more interaction you will have!
And this doesn't slow the game down. Players program their robots simultaneously, and then reveal their cards simultaneously. If robots are interfering with each others movement, each card contains a three digit number to determine who gets to move first.

This is so important I have to repeat it: Adding more players adds to the fun, but does not add any down time!

But comical complications doesn't end there. Remember those 9 cards per turn I mentioned?
That only holds true as long at your robot is undamaged. For each point of damage it takes (usually from lasers), you get one card less. And the difference between 9 and 7 cards can be huge!
Even worse (or funnier, actually) once your robot takes its fifth damage, the last of its Program Cards gets locked. So if you ended your Turn with a left turn, and it got locked by damage, you will end all of your following Turns with the same left turn. And you'll only have 4 cards to program the other four Phases.

Even more damage will lock yet more cards. If a robot ends up receiving 10 points of damage, it is destroyed. Falling down bottomless pits, or ending up below a descending crusher, will obviously have the same result.
Destroyed robots must restart at their last checkpoint.

There are ways to get rid of damage. Scattered on the boards are a number of wrenches. Robots that end a Turn (not a Phase) on a wrench gets to remove 1 point of damage.
For heavily damaged robots, there's the option to Power Down. This means it skips a turn and gets rid of all damage. Unless someone shoots it while it's powered down, that is...
Also, a Power Down must be initiated at the beginning of a turn, so this is not a quick rescue for a robot that was unexpectedly shot full of holes.

And that is it, really. The first player to navigate his or her robot through all checkpoints wins the game.

Ok, not exactly. Each players has a number of Extra Lives (usually 3) so don't drive your robot down too many bottomless pits, or you'll be out of the game!
There are also Option Cards to get for your robot. A robot ending a Turn (not a Phase) on a double wrench can choose to either repair 2 points of damage or take an Option Card. Option cards can give your robot new weapons like a Tractor Beam or a Double Barrel Laser, or it could receive a protective Shield or a Fourth Gear to move faster.
As if the game wasn't already funny enough, attaching a few of these things to robots makes things even more chaotic.

Further Comments
There might seem as if there is a lot of randomness to this game. This simply isn't true. The cards add a touch of randomness, to make sure that you don't know what's coming, but in the end it all comes down to player skill.
While you may occasionally end up with an unplayable hand (only rotation cards, for example) this is very rare. Most of the times, "unplayable hands" are just the imaginations of inexperienced players. Being able to get the most out of your cards in a difficult situation, is simply what separates a good player from an inexperienced one.
Also, there is no such thing as a "random collision" in RoboRally. There are well planned collisions, and there are poorly planned collisions, but not random ones.

So, do I have anything negative to say about this game?
Well, on one or two of the boards, there might be some wall sections that are a bit hard to see. This can result in a surprising end to a robots movement, if players are unaware of this. Perhaps a more striking colour should have been chosen for the walls.

Also, there is a perceived runaway leader problem in Roborally. This could have been avoided if the instructions on the placement of checkpoints had been better:
First of all, the racing area should never be bigger than one board. While you might use more boards, lets say four boards placed in a 2x2 square, the checkpoints should be placed in an area no larger than a single board. Preferably in the centre of those four boards.
Secondly, the checkpoints placement should result in a lot of back and forth movement, so that the leader must come back and meet the other robots. I've found that it's good to design the course in the shape of a pentagram.

Finally, it should perhaps be added that RoboRally doesn't work to well with only two players, as interaction between robots is quite rare under those circumstances.

Apart from those few minor (and easily avoided) nitpicks, I love this game.
I've played it hundreds of times, and I hope to eventually change that to thousands of times. Racing through the factory, avoiding pits and crushers, pushing and shooting other robots (or having them do the same to you) is simply endless fun. The theme is quite entertaining, the mechanics and game play are simply brilliant.
It's very easy to learn, yet choice of boards an placement of checkpoints can challenge the most experienced player.

I've already mentioned my score, but I gladly repeat it again:

A perfect 10!
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tom moughan
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good review and thanks!

Be it that I just recently got this game, I am really enjoying it. To say that the cards add only a hint of randomness to the game is a bit misleading, however. When a player gets a hand of mostly move 3s when they are already in the lead, it can play a huge factor in other player's abilities to catch up. That said, The game where this recently happened resulted in another player swooping in to block them and win!

I have to say that my only concerns with Roborally thus far have been:

- the length of the game dragging a bit
- if you have played with expansions for it and not just the base, you will be very sad when you only have the base components..happened to me -- true story!

As the OP writes, this is a fantastic gaming experience which results in some very comical gameplay and even the best laid plans can be foiled quite easily if players develop the ability to anticipate what others may be doing/thinking.

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Jon Brady
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Great review. When I first starting playing this game I wasnt a big fan of it. But now I find it to be a pretty good game. To bad its really hard to fine the expansions.
 
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Niclas Matikainen
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Close to impossible even! I really regret not getting "Crash and Burn" and "Grand Prix" when they where available...
The insane prices that show up on eBay simply isn't worth it. I think...
 
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Chance Folmar II
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I've played this game quite a bit. I do love the game, it is fun. However, the game does suffer from a rampant "runaway leader" problem. This, in my opinion, detracts it from being anywhere close to a 10, more like a 7. Usually, I would say 90% of the time, we can predict who the winner will be after turn 3, although the game may go on for more than 14 turns.

This does not reduce enjoyment from the game's "puzzle" aspect, but it makes it extremely "unfun" for those that do not enjoy puzzles.
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David van Damme
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Just print out the expansion boards yourself and stick them on a piece of cardboard with that self adhesive transparent foil you use to protect books with (don't know the English name for it).

It is a great game, lots of fun!
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Juan Medina
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It has 9.5 in my book. Amazing little game. If it played better with my family, it would be a 10!
 
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Genghis Ahn
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I had someone paint my lead figures. He asked what I wanted and I said a combo of NASCAR meets Star Wars. turned out great !!!

But using Droids from the Star Wars minis game work way cool as well to pimp out game.
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Joseph Betz
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Yeah this is one i really enjoy as well.The only thing that is really bad is the runaway leader problem.Trying to have the flags positioned where you need to crisscross helps a bit.This game reminds me of circus maximus a bit as that also has a runaway leader problem but the real fun is in the middle of the pack.
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Joseph
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Genghisx wrote:
I had someone paint my lead figures. He asked what I wanted and I said a combo of NASCAR meets Star Wars. turned out great !!!


We need some pictures here — don't be a tease!

FoF
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Samuel Hinz
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this game does have a big runaway leader issue.
cards are a pain to shuffle and deal each time.

seriously think this would work better with dice. each person has upto 9 dice.

you choose which to roll. and just them until the everyone is locked in.

major draw back, is that many dice. game would likely be 4 players max.
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Lori
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abodi wrote:
seriously think this would work better with dice.


Well, you could do that. But I don't see why you think it would need to be limited to fewer players. To replicate the deck distribution, you'll need 14-sided dice which you're going to have to special order anyway, most likely. Each person's going to need the same number, they'll all roll at the same time, and it's not like you can't possibly store a handful of dice in the Roborally box. It won't take any more room to roll dice than it does to lay out cards. You might want player screens of some sort. But I don't see a reason it would change the player max.
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Dare I say... this game can be like Fluxx... in terms of game time. I find 2 flags to be not bad, but adding a 3rd flag can easily add an hour or more to the game. Turns aren't as quick, since this tends to be a game that gets played when you're closer to the max # of players. Otherwise, I have had fun playing this for 3 hours. Perhaps the game would go quicker if the rule were changed from "touching the flags in numbered order" to just "make sure you touch all of the flags".
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/676453/would-ignoring-th...

That said, I'm really psyched for the iOS game (RoboArena) that's based off this Robo Rally board game. Campaign modes sound interesting, among other features.
 
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Samuel Hinz
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ellephai wrote:
abodi wrote:
seriously think this would work better with dice.


Well, you could do that. But I don't see why you think it would need to be limited to fewer players. To replicate the deck distribution, you'll need 14-sided dice which you're going to have to special order anyway, most likely. Each person's going to need the same number, they'll all roll at the same time, and it's not like you can't possibly store a handful of dice in the Roborally box. It won't take any more room to roll dice than it does to lay out cards. You might want player screens of some sort. But I don't see a reason it would change the player max.


well no i think it would work fine with 6 sided dice, with not all the dice faces being identical.

as for the 4 players thing. i only meant
9 times 4 is 36 dice. (possible for a game)

for upto 8 players 72 dice (i doubt they would release a game with 72 dice. they woulda released it as 4 players and perhaps added more dice/players in expansions.

 
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Russ Williams
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PollutedMonkey wrote:
If you're a fan of programmed movement, then I highly recommend Himalaya

Or RAMbots - similar theme, but shorter and more elegant/streamlined; implemented with a chess board and Looney Pyramids. Which you prefer probably depends on whether you lean more toward ameritrash or abstract.
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Russ Williams
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PollutedMonkey wrote:
abodi wrote:

i doubt they would release a game with 72 dice.


Quarriors!?

Railroad Dice (and its various siblings) have well over 72 custom dice!
 
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Simon Lundström
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Dice wouldn't work. First, you can't check the other player's cards, and with dice they could just cheat and turn them. Second, you know that if you got 3 move3, you know the other players won't have that many move 3. Third, each card has a unique timing. Wouldn't work with dice.

If people think that 2 hour Robo Rally is too long, then they simply don't like this game. I've played sessions of 4 hour Robo Rallies that were tense all the time. It all comes down to designing a good map which will allow a lot of interaction.

And oh, there ARE strikes of bad luck. I've sometimes been in situations where I have got, say 1 move1 and 1 move2 as a total during three turns. Not much you can do with that, unless you're standing close to a conveyor and that's not always the case.
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Russ Williams
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Zimeon wrote:
Dice wouldn't work. First, you can't check the other player's cards, and with dice they could just cheat and turn them.

If the possibility of cheating is a reason a game wouldn't work, then there are sure a LOT of (seemingly functional) games that don't work (and their happy players just don't realize that the games don't work...)...

Quote:
Second, you know that if you got 3 move3, you know the other players won't have that many move 3. Third, each card has a unique timing. Wouldn't work with dice.

Indeed dice (of course!) wouldn't work exactly the same as RoboRally (any more than changing cards to dice in any other game would work exactly the same), but one could certainly make a similar "program your robot" type game with dice.

E.g. each die could have a unique number on it the same as each card does. (Analogous to each player's cards in Hoity Toity.) Or use other methods to break ties (e.g. see RAMbots which used pyramids as instructions and breaks ties in a different way from RoboRally.)

Quote:
If people think that 2 hour Robo Rally is too long, then they simply don't like this game. I've played sessions of 4 hour Robo Rallies that were tense all the time. It all comes down to designing a good map which will allow a lot of interaction.

And oh, there ARE strikes of bad luck. I've sometimes been in situations where I have got, say 1 move1 and 1 move2 as a total during three turns. Not much you can do with that, unless you're standing close to a conveyor and that's not always the case.

That's for sure. I've enjoyed long games of RoboRally, but sometimes they can be too long without enough interesting stuff, or with someone getting screwed by a run of bad luck.
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Lori
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abodi wrote:
well no i think it would work fine with 6 sided dice, with not all the dice faces being identical.


I think you've gone from "replacing the Roborally cards with dice" (which is what I initially thought you meant) to "inventing a dice game with some vague similarities to Roborally."
 
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Simon Lundström
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russ wrote:
If the possibility of cheating is a reason a game wouldn't work, then there are sure a LOT of (seemingly functional) games that don't work

Of course, it would just be extra specific in Robo Rally, where sometimes it's extra crucial that you get THAT thing, and that you roll hidden dice and that no one else is allowed to see them until you've made your program.

I can't think of another game where people roll hidden dice and then make something out of it and the other guys just have to trust that you actually rolled. I wouldn't say such a game would be "functional" in being competitive. If you use dice there, you'd need to have open rolls.
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George Leach
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Has noone heard of RoboDerby: Express around here?

Roborally using dice. There are some other minor differences but the inspiration is clear.
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Russ Williams
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Zimeon wrote:
I can't think of another game where people roll hidden dice and then make something out of it and the other guys just have to trust that you actually rolled. I wouldn't say such a game would be "functional" in being competitive. If you use dice there, you'd need to have open rolls.

Bluff / Liars Dice seems a well-known example. (You roll your dice and they're hidden under a cup.) Admittedly it's a little bit harder to cheat than in the hypothetical dice-based RoboRally, but still certainly possible (a little thumb maneuvering behind your cup as you raise your cup to see what you have).

I guess we just have a different tolerance for cheat-ability in a game. I play many games where people could cheat (e.g. in many card games you could easily draw 2 cards instead of 1 and it would be hard to notice), and it doesn't particularly bother me that the possibility exists: I trust the people I play with.
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Simon Lundström
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russ wrote:
Admittedly it's a little bit harder to cheat than in the hypothetical dice-based RoboRally, but still certainly possible (a little thumb maneuvering behind your cup as you raise your cup to see what you have).

I wouldn't even closely think that's a disturbing "cheatability". If someone is supposed to arrange those dice, and fiddle with them behind a screen before I can look, then that's another thing.

russ wrote:
I guess we just have a different tolerance for cheat-ability in a game.

No, I don't think so. As you, I play a lot of games where people could cheat (and are even encouraged to, in some of them). However, rolling dice and then arranging them and fiddling with them before I'm allowed to look, there goes the limit. I trust the people I game with, but it just wouldn't be interesting enough.
 
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Russ Williams
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Zimeon wrote:
russ wrote:
I guess we just have a different tolerance for cheat-ability in a game.

No, I don't think so.

Why not? You then immediately write:
Quote:
However, rolling dice and then arranging them and fiddling with them before I'm allowed to look, there goes the limit. I trust the people I game with, but it just wouldn't be interesting enough.

Which makes it sounds like we do indeed have a different tolerance for cheat-ability in a game.

Unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "it just wouldn't be interesting enough"...?

I think you mean that you think even trusted players would be too tempted to cheat, so you wouldn't want to play such a game? (Whereas I would trust the other players.) Am I misunderstanding?
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Simon Lundström
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russ wrote:
I think you mean that you think even trusted players would be too tempted to cheat, so you wouldn't want to play such a game? (Whereas I would trust the other players.) Am I misunderstanding?

No, perhaps not. It's not that important, but I don't think the games you gave as examples were games with hidden rolls that you fixed around with before showing. At any rate, it matters little. It's not that I don't trust the other players, it's more that the game can't be played with other people than you trust completely would never cheat, even if they REALLY needed that specific roll at that specific time. Just the knowledge that cheating would be dead easy would make the game less enjoyable for me… I would be suspicious as soon as one started to get fantastic rolls five times in a row (though I've seen fantastic hands five times in a row happen in Robo Rally). Especially if playing it on conventions. Where there are prizes to be had.
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