By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on September 28, 2016
Because Gaz the Dungeonmaster is still struggling with unruly orcs and goblins, and is redecorating his cave (again), it is up to yours truly to take a stroll through the world of board gaming and see what there is to see. So, what did I see? Well, my friends, I saw metal clanging against metal. I saw lasers burning through anything that dared cross their path. I saw people pulling their hair in frustration. But, most of all, I saw a race that is just too funny not to play. That's right, I'm talking about the game of metallic mayhem: RoboRally!
RoboRally was originally designed by Richard Garfield, who some of you might know as the guy that created Magic: The Gathering. Ring any bells? Good! It was originally released by Wizards of the Coast in 1994 and was followed by a number of expansion packs over the following years, two somewhat simplified European releases by Amigo and 999 Games and, lastly, a re-released version in 2005 by Avalon Hill. In the original version, you could play with up till 8 people, while the European versions toned this number down to 4. Half the players, but not half the fun! Whether you play RoboRally with three, four, or even eight people, it's still one awesome game! Granted, playing with a number of eight players does increase the on-board mayhem, but the game is still heaps of fun with a smaller number of players.
So, what is RoboRally, exactly? Well, it's a race of sorts. Each player takes a miniature robot and places it on the board. There are a couple of different boards to choose from or to combine into one big board, effectively extending the duration of the game. On the board, a number of checkpoints is laid out, creating a course for the robots to follow. Well, I say course, but that's not quite right. Players can choose their own route towards the next checkpoint, as long as they reach them in the right order. Sounds quite logical, doesn't it. Start at one, pass through 2,3,4,5 and end up at six; nothing to it!
Ok, race time! ...eeehm, guys? In order to race, you will actually have to move! Oh damn, forgot about the moving part! In order to get their metal maestros to drag their bumbling behinds across the factory floor, each player receives up to nine 'movement' cards per turn, depending on their robot's state of health. Each movement card has a direction printed on it (1, 2 or 3 forward, 1 backwards, u-turn, left- or right turn), as well as a number that decides the initiative of the card. The higher the number, the higher the initiative. From the cards the player's receive at the start of a round, five are chosen to assemble a simple program, which means that every round has 5 turns in which the robots move towards their goal. After everyone has assembled their program, the first card in their program is revealed simultaneously by all the players, and that's where initiative comes in; the player with the highest initiative goes first, the one with the second highest initiative goes second, and so on, and so on. When all the players have made their move, the second card in everyone's program is revealed and all robots move again, in the order dictated by the initiative numbers on the new cards. This process is repeated until one of the players reaches the last checkpoint, which wins the game.
Now, some of you may think this sounds a bit simple, childish even. Well, guess what? You couldn't be further from the truth, because this is no ordinary factory floor. No, ladies and gentlemen, this is the factory floor from hell! Lasers burning holes in your robots if you dare to end a turn on a square which crosses their beams, deep and dark pits that reduce your robot to a heap of scrap metal, presses that do the same as the pits, only slower and, to top it all off, conveyor belts and turntables that can really mess up your plan if not taken into account properly. And, remember when I said that each robot moves in turn, according to the number on the last-revealed card? Well, let me tell you that this is also a very good way to mess up someone's perfectly planned program. Because, although you can take into account all the moving bits and pieces on the game board, you can never take into account the level of deviousness of the other players at the table.
Confused? Imagine this: You are the player with the highest initiative in this round, so you go first. You first card is (for example) a card that lets you move your robot move three squares forward. So, happy you may go first, you do just that. The second player, however, had the very same idea and also moves his or her robot three spaces forward, shoving you an additional space in that direction. Unless you were counting on this to happen, your program will not get you to the desired spot on the board. Because you pre-programmed your robot, you cannot change any of the cards you have chosen for this round. So, instead of following your charted course and getting to its destination safe and sound, your little metallic friend just might happily plunge himself into the dark depths of a pit that just happens to be on your new path.
When every player had his or her turn, the factory floor activates and every menacing obstacle comes to life. If you managed to stop squarely in the path of a laser, you receive damage points, accordingly to the number of beams that particular laser fires. Same goes for crushers and electric fences. Each damage point you receive will cost you one card at the start of the next round. So, if you sustain one point of damage during this round, you will only receive eight cards at the start of the next round. If you sustain two damage points, you'll only receive seven cards, and so on. If you, however, over the course of a few turns, sustain more than five damage points, the last card of your program gets 'locked' and cannot be changed until you repair your robot at one of the service stations that are strewn across the factory floor. Any additional damage will lock the card before the last locked card. So if you're not careful, you might just end up going in circles... and nowhere fast. Luckily, there's another way to repair damage if you're really stuck. You can announce a 'Power-Down'. This basically means that, during the next round, your robot becomes inactive in order to fully repair all damage. This might mean, however, that other robots will knock him around for a bit and make it sustain new damage. Decisions, decisions!
When your robot sustains 10 damage points, it is destroyed and is taken off the board. Same goes for when you get smashed by a crusher or fall into a bottomless pit (why anyone would want to build a bottomless pit in a factory floor escapes me, but ok...); your robot is destroyed and is taken off the board. You may, during the next round, place an 'archive copy' of your robot on the last checkpoint or service station you've crossed and merrily be on your way. If you, however, manage to destroy your robot three times, it is game over. The robot is removed from the game and there's nothing else for you to do than cry while the other players are still having fun.
RoboRally is a really fun game; the boards are intricately put together, the robots range from strange to cute and the gameplay is hilarious! I would recommend everyone who's up for a fun game to try RoboRally with a few of their friends and just have a blast. You will be laughing your heads off, as well as cursing eachother for moving you off the planned path. So yes, my advice to you all would be to wind up your robots and race! Who knows, you might just be the first player to reach the final checkpoint and win the game... and then, there will be cake! Wait a minute...
Wizards of the Coast (1994 - 1999)
Amigo & 999 Games (Europe, 1999 - 2000)
Avalon Hill (2005)
Published: 1994 (1st edition)
Designer: Richard Garfield
Players: 2 - 8 players, ages 12 & up
Playtime: approx. 30 to 45 minutes