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Subject: Roborally - the Big Picture and the Fine Print rss

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Hans Messersmith
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Roborally: the Big Picture and the Fine Print
A review by Hans Messersmith

The Big Picture
Roborally is a personal favorite, a game where each player races their own robot across a dangerous factory floor to be the first to touch all the objective flags in order. The simultaneous programming of the five registers (essentially planning five moves at a time) of all players in each turn leads to wonderful chaos as your robots interact with the other robots in unexpected ways. The game has a fair amount of luck in the draw of the move cards, but in my experience superior play, particularly the superior talent at seeing the possibilities inheirent in your move cards, almost always leads to doing well. I recommend this game highly as a game full of both fun tactical choices and humour. 9 out of 10.

The Fine Print
The Game
Roborally, now published by Avalon Hill, has been around since 1994, when it was first released by Wizards of the Coast. It was designed by Richard Garfield, of Magic: the Gathering fame. It is a racing game with a humourous theme; each player is represented by an industrial robot who must race across a factory floor filled with pits, lasers, conveyor belts, and other obstacles to be the first to touch all the objective flags in a row.

The Rules
The goal of Roborally is to be the first player whose robot touches each of a series of numbered objective flags spread across a the game board in the correct order.

Roborally is played in turns. Each player, at the start of a turn, recieves nine (or fewer, see below) movement cards that portray different moves their robot can make across the board (i.e. Turn Right, U-Turn, Move 2 squares, Back-up, etc.) Each player programs five registers, or moves, for their robot for the turn, by placing five cards in order face down. This programming is done in secret by all players. Once all players have programmed their robots, each move card for each register is revealed in turn by all players, and all robots than do whatever their card says to do for that register. If robots attempt to enter the same square, each move card has a priority number printed on it which determines who moves first. Robots can push each other around during movement, and since you cannot change your program for a turn once it starts, being shoved by another robot early in a turn can ensure that your robot ends up someplace completely different from where you expected, much to your disgust and the other players enjoyment.

After all robots have moved for a register, the "board elements" move and interact with the robots in a pre-specified order. Board elements include conveyor belts (which move the robot across the board), gears (which turn the robot 90 degrees each register in one direction or the other), and pushers (which shove the robot sideways on certain registers).

Once all board elements have had their effect, lasers fire, and robots may take damage. There are lasers on the boards themselves, and each robot is considered to have a laser of its own which fires straight forward. For each laser hit a robot takes a point of damage. Damage reduces the number of movement cards your robot receives in future turns. If your robot ever has more than 4 points of damage, your robot begins to have "locked" registers; whatever you programmed in that register last turn stays in that register until your robot is repaired. If your robot receives more than nine points of damage, it is destroyed.

Each robot gets three lives, and destroyed robots return to the board at their last "archive" location. A robot is considered to have touched a flag if it ends a register on the square the flag occupies. Robots can have a point of damage repaired at repair sites marked on the board by ending their turn (not register) on one of these sites. They can also repair all their damage by powering down for a turn. While powered down, a robot does not move and recieves no move cards. A robot can also receive option cards (essentially special powers, such as Double-Barreled Lasers and Repulsor Beams) at special repair sites on the board by ending their turn there.

The Components
The recent Avalon Hill version of the game has very well made components. The robots themselves are cute little plastic miniatures, and each robot has an associated organization sheet which has the robots name, a damage track, a life track, a summary of the turn order, and spots to place your move cards that you have programmed. The square boards are well made on hard cardboard, and like the old WOTC version are modular; each board can be set up in any way desired. There are a number of cardboard counters to represent damage, life tokens, archive locations for each robot, etc. There are also six nice neon green flag markers. The rules are well written and organized, and are visually appealing. The only component that I have any complaint about is the movement cards; they are somewhat flimsier than your average playing cards, and they get a REAL workout in the game because the deck is shuffled every turn. My brother-in-law's set has only been played for less than a year, and the cards already look severely worn.

Several pluses and minuses of the new AH version of the game compared to the old WOTC version are worth noting, for the collector:
* Plus: The robot sheets are a nice way to organize the playing space of each player.
* Plus: The rule book comes with a number of suggested board set ups, with the skill level and an indication of game length for each one.
* Minus: The boards are printed back to front, instead of a separate piece for each board.
* Minus: The pieces used to be metal in the older version, and were more detailed and attractive.

The FUN!
The interaction of the robots is where the fun of the game really happens. Small, tight boards with lots of robots make for a chaotic scene, as robots push each other off course and laser each other into oblivion. Also, the programming of the registers is a hoot, the central action of the game, as each person tries to picture where their robot will be 1 to 5 moves from where the robot is. No aids can be used in this process on the board itself, so you will frequently see players holding move cards sideways, twisting their bodies left and right in a kind of dance, and whispering to themselves as they try to track their moves. There are moments of truth where you get a pile of cards that seem to be useless, and then suddenly the epiphany occurs and you see how, if you just hop on that conveyor belt there, turn left instead of right, and back up instead of move two, cards that looked like horse pucky suddenly becomes just the right program to get you to the flag this turn. The game greatly rewards people who can think laterally, and see how sometimes moving your robot seemingly away from your goal can actually get you closer to it. Finally, the actual movement of the robots is often a source of great humor, as people reveal cards and say "Oh crap! That was a mistake, I have no idea where I'm going to go now."

Who shouldn't play Roborally?
First, anyone who doesn't have reasonable spatial reasoning capabilities should avoid Roborally. Planning out your moves based on the cards you receives requires you to visualize the movements of your robot and the board elements at least five steps into the future. I have known people who are otherwise very intelligent but simply cannot think in this manner and were incredibly frustrated by Roborally as they just simply couldn't get their robot to go anywhere. Or worse yet, they kept running off the board or into pits. Second, anyone who needs long term strategy in a game should avoid this game. There really isn't any, other than picking the most likely line across the board to get to the next flag. The game is all about deciding how to better your position in the next five registers with the cards you were just handed.

Final Thoughts
* Stick to smaller boards, especially as you are learning the game. The natural instinct is to take four boards, shove them together, toss some flags on, and go, but the game length seems to grow exponentially with the number of boards, and the larger the board, the more likely it is that the robots will get strung out not interacting with each other. Robot interaction is, as I said, where the fun of the game really happens. Use only one board, and set up the flags so that anyone who is the lead will have to come back through those who aren't in the lead to get to later flags, for a quick fun game. The board setups in the rule book are worth using.
* Use the timer for the programming, to limit the amount of time people can think. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you can simply time everyone, by flipping the timer at the start of programming. Or, you can let the 2nd to the last person to finish programming flip the time, putting the last person on a clock. This makes people think harder and faster about what to do, and makes the whole game faster and more exciting. Be warned, though, that there are some players who will HATE the timer, and whose game play will be very frustrating for them. Make sure everyone agrees to the time, and don't use it until you have gotten a good handle on the rules, and especially the board elements.
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marc lecours
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We love the timer... what a great improvement to combat analysis paralysis. We are very strict. As soon as the sand runs out that's it... no 1/2 second grace period. Because we are strict... it means people rarely run out of time. (a bit of a paradox but it is true)
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Tim Fiscus
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Great review! I would also add that there were some really fantastic expansions to the original WotC Roborally:

Armed & Dangerous
Grand Prix
Crash & Burn
RadioActive

Though getting to be hard to find, these all add quite a bit to the experience of "vanilla" RoboRally.

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David Reeves
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Good review.

Quote:

Second, anyone who needs long term strategy in a game should avoid this game. There really isn't any, other than picking the most likely line across the board to get to the next flag.


As a long-time player of the first RR version, I would soften the statement above a bit. Long-term strategy planning is possible, but harder. It just requires more contingency plans to be thought out in case things really go south. For each checkpoint I generally note the 1st & 2nd best approach routes. Then I can suffer my robot getting pushed a bit or a hand or two of bad cards, generally staying within approach 1 or 2.

One other thing to note for players that have the WoTC RR: The new AH boards are a bit thinner, leaving an uneven seam when joining old and new boards. It's not a show-stopper, but irritating. I solved this problem by sliding a piece of poster board or 110-pound cardstock under the new boards. This seemed to fix the problem. Does anyone have any other ideas along these lines for mixing old and new boards?
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Joe Grundy
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Ya I guess I should put in some strategy comments...

While they're not earth shaking, there are some strategic choices...
- Run for the flag or stop to hamper your opponent?
- Detour to collect a bonus option or use every step on flag hunting?
- Detour to repair a point or use every step on flag hunting?
- Shutdown... generally at 2 damge? 3 damage? 4 damage? Hang on for grim death?
And if you start messing about with option variants, you get choices over which options you (or your opponents) may get.

But yes good review.
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Hans Messersmith
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Runnin' down the avenue,(Pant, Pant, Pant) See how the sun shines brightly In the city on the streets Where once was pity, Mr. Blue Sky is living here today.
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jgrundy wrote:

While they're not earth shaking, there are some strategic choices...
- Run for the flag or stop to hamper your opponent?
- Detour to collect a bonus option or use every step on flag hunting?
- Detour to repair a point or use every step on flag hunting?
- Shutdown... generally at 2 damge? 3 damage? 4 damage? Hang on for grim death?
And if you start messing about with option variants, you get choices over which options you (or your opponents) may get.

But yes good review.


I guess I consider all the above tactics, not strategy, but your point is well taken Joe, and all the others. People who think about more than their current turn will generally do better than those that don't, whatever word you attach to it. I guess what I meant above was the game does not really have the kind of strategy that another game might have where you decide near the beginning on a particular plan of action for the entire game and then execute it, other than picking your "line" across the board.

A caveat to that statement...certain of the team variations in the rule book have a lot more room for strategizing, since the addition of an extra robot or two on your team gives more freedom to make up a game plan.

And thanks for all the feedback!
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Brendan Tracey
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I would argue that picking your ideal route is a strategy, and can often divide the skill level in two players. Often times the best route between two flags is not always the most direct (as some routes you can use conveyors, there are less pits). It's not strategy in the same sense as other games, but it is strategy nevertheless.
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Senor EvilMonkey
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I guess the one major strategy/tactic that players have to opt for (movement cards allowing) is whether to steam off and try and stay in front throughout the race, or hang back and wipe out other bots. The forward mounted laser each bot is packing helps balance the game by ensuring that the leading bot (who has legged it towards the first flag and left the rest standing) will end up nicely shot up and as a result find his hand of movement cards rapidly starting to get smaller. There is a certain satisfaction to hanging back and sniping at your opponents bots and watching them explode in a shower of imaginary sparks just before they check in at the next flag! :-D
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