Roborally: The cruisecontrol to awesome

In Roborally you take on the part of Factory IA’s who, bored with calculating, building and stacking things, at night turn the factory floor in to a race circuit where their chosen robots duke it out on the way to the finish line.  Like a little robot thunderdome.

I like games that get a little loud, and in an 8 player Roborally match it’s hard to be heard at all. Every mistake is loudly mourned, every successful turn cheered, every accidental death loudly celebrated in a ring round the player whose robot just backed up in the bottomless pit. It’s that kind of game. Loud, chaotic, gleeful, fun.

How does it work?

Program

Each turn you’re dealt 9 cards. You can use 5 of these cars to make a program for your robot to run. The cards might say ‘move 2’ or ‘turn left’, or ‘u-turn’. Then you put your little program down in order, safe in the knowledge yours was the best possible plan and that everything will turn out swimmingly. Ah, bliss.

Action time!

Everyone flips their first card and executes the action described on it. Robots move! But then the board you’re playing on moves as well. If your robot stepped on a conveyor belt, that belt moves the robot one square forward. If it stepped on a gear, the robot will get rotated 90 degrees. The entire board is littered in pitfalls (literally, in some cases. Did you take that into account in your programming?

Robots move! If two robot movements cause them to collide, the movement card with the highest priority number goes first. Say Twonky is going forward and Kick me Bot is as well. Who gets to go first? We look at the priority numbers on our move cards. Twonky has a higher number so his MOVE 1 goes first. Now my MOVE 3 goes off and I push three squares Twonky along with me. Let’s hope this new route won’t lead Twonky straight into a pit. Oh look, it will. Oh, dear. Did you take that into account in your programming?

 

 

Robots move! Even neater: every robot has a laser that they shoot after every used card. A laser will hit another robot for one damage. For every damage received they the player gets one card less at the start of next round. If you get even more damage, it might start to freeze your program. If you take 6 damage those last two chips will lock the last two cards of your program: until you heal, all your programs now will end with your current last two cards: say, with “U-turn” “Move three”. Did you take THAT into account in your programming?

 

Robots move! All robots have an option installed that gives them a special power, like brakes, or a Buttlazer that lets you shoot from both the front and the back, an even a radio-graphic controller that forces other players to follow your programming instead of their own. Did you take these evil robots into account in your programming?

Robots move! Robot plans tend to go awry, even without the other robots, the lazers and the bottomless pits, you are still your own worst enemy. You may have forgotten where your robot was facing, or what way that conveyerbelt was going and is that a bottomless pit on the end of it? Did I mention you’re not allowed to touch the pieces on the board to figure out your program? You have to do it all in your head, often by performing a left-right turning scuttle called the Robot Dance.

 

At the end of a round (after all robots have moved 5 times), the robots can use certain squares for healing or for getting new option cards.

After this, you get a new set of movement cards for your new program: 9 – the number of damage tokens you have. Trust me, it’s pretty hard to get anywhere when you’re only receiving 5 movement cards and they’re all turns.

Then the whole damm thing starts over again!

Your game sounds so complicated, the guidebook must be more like a guide-tome.

There’s not that many things to understand but it’s essential to have a good grasp of the turnorder and the board movements. For first time players a practice round works wonders.

A kind of game leader also helps a lot. Everyone moves at the same time (so yay no horrible waiting) but it becomes very chaotic. It’s very helpful if one person calls through the phases (“Robots move”, “conveyor belts move”, “cogs turn”, etc.) to keep everyone on the same page.

Oh kay, so that’s the game. But is it fun?

Hell’s bells over a midnight choir under the grey moon of Aberdeen it is! Roborally is the exact right combination of strategy and mayhem. Not everything is random: Writing a good program will definitely matter. Playing strategically will definitely matter. Having a plan will matter.

And then your carefully constructed plans, programs and strategies will be assaulted by the forces of chaos in the form of conveyor belts, rotating gears, canners slamming down, randomizers and teleporters. If you think you can get a grip on those, in time, well then there’s still other players ready to grind your carefully laid plans to a pulp. It’s a beautiful chaos one person eventually manages to escape from by racing over that very last flag.

 

Everyone I’ve played it with has gotten joy out of physically zooming, turning and twisting their robots over the board. More often than not with sound effects accompanying the conveyerbelts, the lasers, the gears everything. A real childhood kind of joy.

The real joy in the game is in making crazy panickstricken plans that hopefully will deliver you to the flag and then crying in horror and amusement when they deliver you to a pit instead. Admittedly, this isn’t everyone idea of fun, and if you suspect your sense of fun doesn’t come with a sprinkling of masochism, you should perhaps try it before you buy it.

Is it still fun if I suck?

What you want to avoid is running out of lives (but that’s not so hard) or being so behind in the race that other people will be having all the fun before you, while you’re zooming through an easy to manage but desolate landscape – that’s boring and makes you feel out of the game. Clever board placement fixes that.

A good board setup ensures that the people ahead of you will eventually need to go back again through the same route, and have more opportunities to bother you and vice versa, of course. So yes, with a nice racing route, it is still fun if you suck. And sucking is kind of fun in itself.

On a typical game robots drive themselves into bottomless pits, get crushed by can crushers, and drive off of the board – all because the player made one tiny program mistake – or his program ran into something unexpected (another robot, most likely) and is now wildly veering off course. Hilarious! Especially if it wasn’t your robot.

Roborally can be played with 2 tot 8 people. All are very doable, 2 is fun, 8 is chaos! I imagine it can be an acceptable game for a non-gamer family if you pick an easy board and a small group.

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