Picked up Robo-Rally, the new game by Richard Garfield, last night at Phantom. Garfield once said that CE was the inspiration for magic... well, WizWar is the inspiration for Robo-Rally.

RR pits players as computer programming robots to run a course through the factory floor. You are dealt up to 9 option cards and have to play five in order. Option cards are movement (move 1, move 2, move 3 and back up) and turning (left, right, 180 degrees). You program your five steps for the turn, then everyone reveals one step at a time and resolves it.

Sound easy? It theory. The problem is that you aren't racing a simple surface. You can accidentally fall into pits, there are conveyour belts which can move you (and rotate you) there are pushers that can shove you around, gears that can rotate you, lasers that can shoot you, and crushers that (you guessed it) crush you.

Of course, you have a full knowledge of when each object is active, but it can get confusing...

And then there are the other robots. Not only is each robot equiped with a front mounted laser, robots can push each other around, making your carefully timed plan to reach checkpoint A turn into a carefully timed plan that will reach the bottomless pit next to it...

Also, as your robot gets damaged (by lasers, usually), you lose the number of cards you get to draw to place your five cards. On the fifth point of damage, your fifth register (slot to place an action card in) 'locks' meaning you keep the same action turn after turn as your fifth action. 10 points of damage blow you up.

It's pretty easy to die. In our first game, 2/5 players died on the first turn. But never fear; because, ala Paranoia, you have 6 robots to finish the race...

Also, each robot can try to hit special spots to pick up options (read in -- "Toys"). Each option will give your robot something cool, such as an extra powerful laser, a battering ram, a gyroscopic stabilizer, a flywheel, and the like. Most of the cards are helpful, but not overwhelming (some of the cards that have come up seem really nasty, though).

The basic concept behind RR is pretty simple. The rules are well written, full of examples and well thought out. Richard Garfield has learned from magic and carefully enumerated the exact sequence of play, so there aren't too many rules question (and most of those seem to be about hte option cards). You can play from 2-8 (more, if you have more models). There a 6 playing tiles that you can arrange however you want (ala WizWar).

The one problem with the two games we've had is that if you break away from the pack, you tend to be untouchable. (As the pack has a grand old time, you get to the finish line while we spend our energy pushing each other around...) This could probably be remedied by a simple Hunt and Kill mission, but I think that I'll just design a race where you have to double back along your tracks to hit the checkpoints in order.

The game can tend to drag, and I would suggest not using more than 3/4 of the tiles for a game. Even 2 can be enough. The less tiles, the more interaction and the more amusing the game is. Also, 8 players is too many.

Anyway, it is a blast, and at $35, fairly cheap for the component quality (which is very high, including 8 pewter figures, nice playing cards, EXCELLENT play maps, rules and play aids.) I don't know what Richard Garfield gave the Gods of Game Design for his gift, but I'd like to find out.


Some variants that have been thought of here or proposed on r.g.b:


This was written by Brian Bankler.

The CMU Gaming Club main list.