Review of Robo Rally

Posted: May 23, 2014 in Board Games, Reviews
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At game night last weekend I had the opportunity to try out the game Robo Rally from Avalon Hill Games. The basic premise of this game is that the players are robots in a factory and once the factory closes down for the night, they have grand prix style races across the factory floor.

 

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This game ends up being a lot simpler than it looks. Each turn is broken down into five activation phases during which all of the robots move and then all of the factory elements (conveyers, lasers, etc.) do their thing.  At the start of each turn, each player receives a hand of nine cards from which they select the moves they will secretly program into their robot racer for each activation step; the movement cards have various maneuvers on them to try to get your robot through the race course the fastest. This programming step is where the strategy comes into play of how well you can plan out your robot’s programmed moves, taking in to account the predictable actions of the factory equipment and anticipating what your opponents’ robots are going to do because once your robot’s program is set for a turn, it cannot be changed. There is an interesting mechanic to keep this programming phase from taking too long—once the second to last player has selected their programming a timer is used to limit the last player’s time to lay down their programming and if they do not complete their programming before the time limit, the programming is randomly selected from their hand.

Once everyone’s program has been entered, each player reveals the card they have placed in their first activation slot. These moves are then resolved based on the priority number on the cards with the highest number going first. During their moves the robots can bump and push the other robots around, often messing with their opponent’s planned route when they do so and occasionally pushing them off the board or into various pits. After all of the robots’ moves have been completed for that activation,  the factory conveyor belts and spinning cogs move any robots that happen to be on top of them. This can either give you a great boost towards victory if you planned accordingly, or completely mess up your carefully plotted course if you incorrectly judged how the factory elements would move you or if an opponent bumped you onto one of these elements you didn’t anticipate getting onto (early on my robot seemed to have a penchant for going in circles as I repeatedly failed to correctly predict the motions of one conveyor belt).

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Once all of the moving elements of the factory have shuffled the hapless robots about, the lasers fire and damage any poor automaton unfortunate enough to be in front of them. This damage manifests by reducing the hand size the player has during their programming phase and by locking in previously used maneuvers as the robot takes more damage. After all of the factory bits have done their factory bit things, the next robot activation occurs which is followed by the factory activation and so on and so forth.

On the race course there are several numbered checkpoint flags which the robots must end the activation on in progressive order. The first robot to make it to each checkpoint is the winner of the race!

This game plays 2-8 player and is a lot of fun once everyone knows what’s going on. There was a good turn out for game night, so we ended up playing with the max number. While it is a good point that the game can play that many players, it did feel a little cluttered and dragged a little since all of us were learning. It felt like this game could play really great with 2-4 beginner players, but in the future I would reserve 5-8 players for if at least half of the players had previously played.

I really enjoyed the concept of this game; the theme of this game and the game mechanics really feel like they were developed together to create a cohesive game. The mechanics worked really well once I got the hang of them and I can see where a lot of strategy can arise once I get the motions of the factory floor elements worked out. Apparently there are more advanced maneuvers available in this game (such as lasers the robots can fire at other robots) that we didn’t use because we were all beginners. This is definitely one of those games that is relatively quick to learn but takes a while to completely master.  Robo Rally also has a high level of replay value as there are several boards that can be rearranged to create a huge number of different race courses. The components of the game were of very good quality; all eight of the robot player pieces are different sculpts and are made of quality plastic. The tokens, map boards, and player dashboards could be of a higher quality cardboard, but they weren’t of a low quality.

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We all had a lot of fun playing this game, but I think it would be more enjoyable for players just learning the game to play with fewer players. The capacity to accommodate up to eight players is a major bonus for game nights with a lot of people present, it just would help if several of the players already knew the mechanics of the game. One convenient feature for a large game night is that since you can’t change your programming once you have selected it, a few of the players can get up to grab a beer or use the facilities while the other players execute the locked in programs. I definitely want to try this game out with fewer players at some point.

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Overall I had a fun time playing this game and would like to add it to my game collection.

I give Robo Rally 4 out of 5 stars.

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