Robots -- race! The board game RoboRally has players using their robots to hit three checkpoints before their opponents. There's plenty of danger from the factors, from opponents, and from your own plans.

Each player controls a robot (different looks, same functionality) in the Grid Widget Factory. At the game's start each turn players nine Program cards that can move the robot (turn left, move 1, etc). Players select five Program cards, in order from first to last, then all robots execute their turns and moves together.

If this sounds simple, well, it doesn't stay simple for long. First, there is plenty of peril to be found on the Grid Widget Factory floor. If you wander off the board or into a hole, your robot loses a life; three lives lost and you're out of the game. Stationary lasers damage any robot ending its turn in their path. Walls can stop a robot in its tracks (treads?). And conveyor belts move robots, sometimes turning them in the process.

Then there are the other robots. Not only do robots blast any opponents they face at the turn's end, but they also push them. And this can royally affect your programmed moves: Being pushed a space can mean the difference between reaching a checkpoint and dropping down a hole.

Then there's damage. Each robot can take nine points of damage. Players draw one less Program card for each point of damage. To make matters worse, after four points of damage the robot keeps its Program card in its slot unless repaired, giving the controller much less choice in what the robot does. There are a few repair checkpoints on the board, but they're not easy to get reach. And while a robot can shut down for a turn and repair all damage, this makes them easy prey for any nearby robots to try and push them to their doom.

RoboRally was created by Richard Garfield (before he made the first collectable card game Magic: The Gathering), and it's an amusing exercise in the challenges of applying a static program to an environment in flux. In other words, you make your best plan and hope it works in a dangerous environment and against your opponents.

As you might expect, luck plays a tremendous part in RoboRally. It's hard to mount an offense (except against a powered-down robot), and since you don't know where an opponent will move to you can't plan to blast them. RoboRally is fun, as your robots plan their moves but largely stumble into opponents (often literally) and balance speed and damage as they race around the factory. It's easy to learn and quite enjoyable.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

1 comment:

Chad Cloman said...

A few comments about this game:

1) It really takes a certain mindset to do well at Robo Rally--if you're good at spatial and analytical thinking. That being said, people who have those types of brains tend to enjoy this game immensely.

2) Always double-check your programmed moves. All it takes is one mistake (turn left instead of turn right, for example) to kill your character.

3) It can take a long time to finish the game, depending on the number of boards, the location of the markers, and the difficulty level of the selected boards.

4) There are several expansions available, although many of them are out of print and can only be found on eBay at high prices. There are sites where you can download printable boards and design your own.

5) Although you can play with as few as two people, more players makes the game a lot more fun and interesting.