Robo Rally (Avalon Hill 2005 Version)

Introduction

Avalon Hill reproduced a strategy board game classic last year: Robo Rally.  They made a fairly inexpensive version and made a subtle change to game play which I think actually improves the game.  You can purchase the game on-line for around $35.00.

Quick Summary

Robo Rally is designed by Richard Garfield and is currently produced by Avalon Hill (yes that Avalon Hill).  The game plays with 2 to 8 players and takes about 2 hours to complete.  You compete against other players by programming your robot to navigate an obstacle course first.  It’s a racing game at one level.  It’s a high time pressure robot programming game on another level.

It’s a bit of a mind stretch because you need to accomplish a certain level of abstract reasoning to play well.  If you’re a programmer I think you’ll love this game.

The bits are of good quality, with a few minor quibbles, and the game now includes a sand timer which the original game did not.  The rules change incorporating the sand timer helps with analysis paralysis in game play.

It’s a fun game but not for everybody.

What’s Inside The Box?

The game comes with several cardboard playing boards, printed on both sides.  You can use individual boards for your game or combine them for elaborate “factory floor” layouts which the robots must navigate.  The rule book comes with many scenarios you can use, ranked from beginner to advanced level.

Each player gets a robot.  In the Avalon Hill version of this game these are not metal robots but are silver plastic.  However, they have a nice size and weight to them.  I actually like the pewter-like look but some owners have taken to hand painting their robots.

All the robots have the same capability when the game begins.  You also get a matching control panel for your robot.  Here’s the one for “Zoombot”.  The control panel also has player turn information for reference.

There are a number of red Program Cards the players will use to move their robot around the board.   The grey cards are Options Cards, providing enhancements for your robot.

Also included are Damage Markers, life point markers (indicating robot health) and a sand timer.

The rule book includes many board scenarios.  Here’s a page.

Game Play

Select a board layout and place each player’s robots on the assigned starting locations.  Add the number of flag markers as described in the scenario.

 

 

 

Here’s a game in progress.  I’ll describe the basic game goals and game play process.  The winner is the first robot that completes the race from flag to flag, in the correct order.  The board has elements that make that difficult, and the other player’s robots can also make this a difficult goal for a player to achieve.

Each player is dealt 5 red Program Cards, face down.  All 5 cards must be executed in sequential order.  The players examine the program cards and decide how they want to use the program cards and places them face down in left-to-right order on their control panel.  This part is where the analysis by each player can take some time.  When the 2nd-to-last player completes laying down his program cards, the sand timer is activated.  The last player must have made his decisions before the timer runs out.  If the timer expires the cards must be laid down in random order.  This little tweak to the rules, provide by the Avalon Hill version, helps with analysis paralysis.

As an aside, when I play this game solitaire, I use the sand timer to force me to make programming decisions quickly.  I turn over the timer at the start of my turn.

Turn order then proceeds where each player turns over their program registers sequentially.  As the program cards are revealed they move their robots.

This card moves the robot forward 2 spaces.

 

This card rotates the robot in-place 90 degrees clockwise.
There are cards that rotate 180 degrees, move a robot backwards and forward cards of varying speed.  The green numeric field on the cards are how the game resolves conflicts if two robots are programmed to move into the same space.  The robot having the higher green number goes first.  Each player takes turns revealing registers and moving their robot on the board.
After the players take their turns, the board activates.  Here’s where your best laid plans can be foiled.  It’s difficult enough to “project” yourself on the board as the robot, thinking about what steps you need to program.  But the board has several elements that do things to robots.

For example, there are laser beams.  If your robot ends it’s turn in the path of a laser beam, your robot takes a hit.  As you accumulate hits the robot gets damaged.  As your robot gains damage eventually things go wrong.  After a certain level of damage, program registers become frozen.  They cannot be changed and remain fixed in the execution sequence for your robot.  That’s fun.

The board also has moving conveyer belts of two different speeds.  Some will move the robot one space, some will move it two spaces.  The conveyer belt can also rotate the robot as the belt goes around a corner, taking the robot along for the ride.  There are also barriers on the board which cannot be crossed and there are holes a robot can fall into.  That’s bad.

Opponent’s robots have forward-facing lasers too.  They can fire at any robot in their path.  You can also “push” an opponent’s robot if you collide.  There are also rotating plates on the board, some go clockwise, some go counter-clockwise.  All contribute to adding chaos to the player’s robot programming decisions.  These decisions are made under time pressure using the randomly dealt register cards.

The game continues cycling through robot turns, and board turns, until someone wins.  There are upgrades available and repair steps a player can execute.  Lots of fun things to consider as you plan your turn.

Issues

Although the game is fun there are some issues with the production.  The plastic transparent neon green flags look cool but I absolutely hated putting the stickers on. The first issue was that Avalon Hill packages the stickers in the same plastic envelope as the plastic bases themselves. And the stickers are just mounted on a flimsy paper. Hence, the stickers sheet gets pretty bent-up and damaged. A hard piece of cardboard to keep the stickers flat would be better. Or just put the stickers somewhere else where they would be better protected and likely to remain flat. The second part is that it was very difficult to get the stickers off the sheet. Took a lot of patience. I also was disappointed with the results in some cases, when applying the stickers myself. In some cases while messing around trying to get the stickers to line up correctly before they are applied I got fingerprints on the sticky side. Don’t like that. Also, you can remove and move a sticker on the piece except for on the base if the wrench sticker is already there. If you are applying the number sticker on the base you really cannot fix it if it’s not aligned exactly right.

I was frustrated with the punch-outs. The stock material was very good but the punches were not good for any of the yellow triangle pieces. I had a heck of time getting those punched out without tearing the artwork on the part.

Conclusion

This game appeals to me on a fundamental level.  I’m a developer by trade and I was educated in Mechanical Engineering.  I build Lego Mindstorms robots for fun as a hobby.  Abstract thinking, imagining I’m the little robot running some program, is an easy mental leap for me.  The game is a natural fit.

The components are good.  I like the little robots, they have a nice weight and touch to them.  Although they are made of silver plastic, and not metal like in previous versions of this game, they’re still cool.  The cards are excellent.  Their size is good; the artwork is high quality.  The boards could be a bit thicker but the design is clean and easy to understand. The goal flags look cool, but they’re difficult to setup the first time.

I’ve found the game easy to play with some folks.  It’s quite fun.  Other folks hate this game.  My wife will not play it, especially with the sand timer in use.  My experience has been that programmers love the game.  My son enjoys playing this game.

 

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