Richard Garfield is justly (in)famous for creating Magic:The Gathering, a game so nerdy that groups have to meet in secret less a roving chess team find them and beat them up. But before that, Garfield made RoboRally – a game that makes Magic:The Gathering players look like cage fighters.
RoboRally is exactly want it sounds like; each player has a robot which they guide around a factory floor. The object is to win the race by touching numbered flags placed in strategic locations in turn – the first robot to touch the last flag wins.
Each turn players are dealt 9 program cards each specifying a simple instruction (“turn 90° clockwise”, or “move forward 2 squares”, etc). Before any of the robots move, players place 5 cards face down in front of them in “registers” and discard any cards left over. Then each player reveals the card in register 1 and moves their robot on the board accordingly. Then register 2 is revealed, and so on.
But things aren’t so simple. In addition to avoiding the other robots, the factory floor itself is littered with obstacles. There are conveyor belts that carry any robot on top of them, walls that block movement and worst of all, lasers. Each robot also carries a laser, so damage is inevitable. Damaged robots first receive less cards at the beginning of the turn. The damage quickly accumulates to a point where the registers themselves become faulty, locking a movement card in place for multiple turns.
Because you effectively program in 5 movements ahead of time a certain amount of forethought is required. Forethought that might go to waste, because other robots can interfere with your carefully laid plans. You never quite get the cards dealt to you that you need, and once the damage starts to bite your robot with be careening all over the board.
RoboRally scales really well and is actually better with more players, so long as you don’t mind a certain amount of chaos. It sounds complex but the rules are very clear and each turn takes only a few minutes. It is certainly not a game of deep strategy as any plans you make will collapse hilariously, but it is not totally random either.
Fast paced, humorous, and nice to look at. Highly recommended.