Robo Rally Reboot – The classic programmed-movement robot-racing game gets an update.
My first experience with Robo Rally was at a gaming invitational in Raleigh, NC. Lori, a long-time Robo Rally enthusiast and aficionado introduced me to the chaotic, programmed movement game of racing robots to successive numbered flags on a factory floor filled with movement-altering and damage-dealing obstacles that you must successfully navigate if you want to win the race. Whew! Say that one three times fast.
I played Twitch who lived up to his name, twitching left and right pretty much the whole game – by luck of the draw all I got were left turns, right turns and u-turns. The few times I moved, ended in disaster: I ran off the board due to a programming error or other robots pushed me off the board. I got pushed around and shot by fellow robot so many times, I lost count. It’s hard to get out of the way when all you can do is twitch left and right. I didn’t even come close to making it to the first flag, let alone the other two. My first experience playing Robo Rally was so disastrous that Lori was quite surprised when I said I wanted to play again. I thought it was hilarious fun – and I was determined to do better.
The next game Twitch continued to live up to his name, but I actually managed to twitch my way to the first flag. It didn’t matter to me that all the other robots raced on by, I made it to the first flag! I was hooked.
Avalon Hill first published Robo Rally in 1994, following up with a few, now highly-sought-after, expansions that added robot upgrades and factory boards featuring new hazards and features. They later reprinted the base game with double-sided boards on lighter cardstock, new robots and a few other minor changes, but never got around to reprinting the expansions.
While I always enjoy playing Robo Rally, I’ve never felt really comfortable teaching and running it. I teach complex games to people all the time, but Robo Rally with all the factory floor elements going off at different times, robot moves happening according to particular priority, lasers firing and damaging robots which lock their registers and affect each player’s hand sizes… I have a hard enough time programming my robot to go where I want it, orchestrating everyone else’s robots, too, seemed just too much. So when I read Richard Garfield’s article about his soon-to-be released Robo Rally Reboot that was supposed to streamline some of the play, I was excited to give it a trial run.
Following is a run-down on the setup, game play, changes from second edition Robo Rally, and components differences. I’ll refer to the new edition of Robo Rally as Robo Rally Reboot and the previous version as simply Robo Rally.
Setup is much the same as in the original Robo Rally with a few exceptions:
- Choose a racing course and set up the board(s) and Flags accordingly. Reboot adds three new elements to the factory floor board set up:
- A Priority Antenna that looks like a satellite dish. Proximity to the Priority Antenna determines robot play order: the robot closest to the antenna executes its action first, followed by the next closest and so on.
- Reboot location(s). Whenever a robot reboots, often due to damage, this is where it will reappear.
- Energy cubes. When your robot ends its move on a space with an energy cube, you can pick it up.
- Each player takes a player board and chooses a robot. In Robo Rally Reboot, each player also takes the correspondingly-colored Programming deck for her robot, shuffles it, and places it on the appropriate space on her player board.
- Players also each take 5 energy cubes for their Energy Reserve. The leftover energy cubes form the Energy Bank near the board.
- Sort the Damage cards (also new in Reboot) into piles by type – Spam, Worm, Trojan Horse, Virus – and place them next to the board along with the stack of Special Programming Cards. Special Programming Cards come into play when players purchase certain Temporary Upgrade cards.
- Shuffle the Upgrade deck and turn up as many Upgrade cards as there are players to form the Upgrade Shop.
- Set the Checkpoint tokens nearby.
Beginning with the youngest, players each place their robot on one of the black and white gears on the Start Board, facing the the race course. You’re now ready to begin the race.
Gamers start your robots! Each round of Robo Rally Reboot has three phases. Proximity to the Priority Antenna determines play order – counted by rows, then columns. Should two or more robots be at equal distance from the Priority Antenna, imagine a light beaming straight out from the front of the antenna, then rotating clockwise – like a lighthouse. The tied robots play in the order they’re in the spotlight.
In Phase 1, the Upgrade Phase, you decide, in play order, whether you want to buy one of the Upgrades available in the Upgrade Shop.
In Phase 2, the Programming Phase, you program your robot for the first leg of your race across the factory floor. Draw nine cards from your Programming deck. They could be: Move 1, Move 2, Move 3, Back Up, Left Turn, Right Turn, U-Turn, Power Up, or Again. Visualize where you want to go, paying close attention to the obstacles on the factory floor and how they may advance or inhibit your movement, then choose 5 cards to play – one in each of the 5 registers on your board. You don’t always get the cards you want, so make the best use of the cards on hand. You could get stuck twitching left and right the whole round – that’s ok.
In Phase 3, the Activation Phase, you execute your robots’ programmed movements, in play order (proximity to Priority Antenna), beginning with Register 1. After all players have executed their action for a register, elements on the factory floor activate in order:
- Blue Fast Conveyor Belts move any robots on the conveyor belt 2 spaces, rotating robots when they go around a corner.
- Green Slow Conveyor Belts move any robots on the conveyor belt 1 space, rotating robots when they go around a corner.
- Push Panels labeled with a number matching the current register, push any robots adjacent to them into the next space.
- Gears rotate any robots resting on them 90 degrees in the direction of the arrows. Green gears rotate clockwise, red gears counter-clockwise.
- Board Lasers. Robots in the path of any laser beams take damage. Each laser can only hit one robot – the closest to where the beam(s) originates – dealing 1, 2 or 3 damage, depending on the number of beams. For each laser beam that hit your robot, take a Spam card and place it on top of your discard pile. Laser beams cannot fire through walls, the Priority Antenna or other robots.
- Robot Lasers. Each robot fires a laser beam in the direction it’s facing. Damage works the same as Board Lasers.
- Energy Outlets. If you end your movement on an Energy Outlet space with a cube on it, pick it up and add it to your Energy Reserve. It’ll help you buy future upgrades. If the space is empty you’re out of luck unless it’s your 5th Register, in which case you can take an Energy Cube from the Energy Bank.
- Checkpoints. You need to hit these flags in order to win the race! While you can enter a Checkpoint from any side, it only counts if you’re on the Checkpoint at the end of a Register. Simply running through a Checkpoint doesn’t count. You have to be on the Checkpoint after all robots have completed their Register and the previously described factory floor elements have activated, to successfully complete a Checkpoint – take a Checkpoint token to signify this.
There are three more factory floor elements: Pits, Walls and the Priority Antenna. They don’t activate, but you do need to be aware of them.
- Pits are nasty. If your robot falls into a pit, you have to Reboot:
- Take 2 Spam cards and place them on your discard pile.
- Cancel the rest of your programming for that round by immediately discarding all cards in your remaining registers.
- Place your robot on the Reboot Point of the board you were on when you rebooted. You may face your robot in any direction. You cannot shoot or use an upgrade when you reboot. However, other robots can shoot or push you while you’re on a Reboot point.
- Walls and the Priority Antenna. You cannot move onto or through Walls or the Priority Antenna, push other robots onto or through them, or fire through them. Likewise Laser Beams cannot fire through them.
- The Outer Limits. If you move, get pushed off or ride a conveyor belt off the edge of the factory floor, your robot Reboots.
It perhaps goes without saying that you want to avoid Damage. Damage cards gum up your Programming Deck. Whenever your Programming Deck, initially 20 cards, runs out, shuffle your discard pile to start a new draw pile. The primary way to get Damage cards out of your deck is to program and activate them. You’ll usually want to find a safe place to do this. Each type of Damage has a different effect when activated:
- Spam is the simplest: Play the top card of your programming deck in this register.
- Trojan Horse: Place 2 Spam cards on your discard pile – gumming up your deck even more.
- Virus: All robots within 6 spaces of you must put a Virus card in their discard pile.
- Worm: Immediately Reboot your robot.
Whenever you activate a Damage card, place it back on the appropriate Damage draw pile – it’s out of your deck.
The first player to successfully make all of his checkpoints, in order, wins the game.
While I’m excited to see painted robots in the Robo Rally Reboot, I’m otherwise unimpressed by the quality of the components.
The robots are simply adorable. I love the new sculpts! Unfortunately, when the publishers reduced the number of robots from 8 to 6, they left out my favorite: Twitch! They left Trundle Bot out, too. The rest of the robots – Twonky, Hulk x90, Hammer Bot, Smash Bot (renamed from Squash Bot), Zoom Bot and Spin Bot – got remakes and new backstories, too. This wasn’t really all that surprising, since Hulk x90 is the only robot to survive from the first to second edition.
Personally, I love the new renderings – particularly since I don’t have to paint them. Of course, you can judge for yourself. As for the other components…
The cards are small and made of a very thin cardstock. With all the handling and shuffling, they’re likely to show wear quickly, so I sleeved mine. Unfortunately sleeving presented its own problem: none of the standard sleeve sizes fit the Programming and Damage cards. I ended up using Mini USA Game Size Premium Sleeves by Mayday (41mm x 63mm) and trimming the tops. For the Upgrade cards, I used Mayday’s Standard USA Game Size Sleeves (56mm x 87mm). I would’ve preferred Premium for these, too, but they were a smidge too tight. The good news is that the cards all fit back in the molded box insert after being sleeved.
The factory floor boards are thinner in Robo Rally Reboot than both of the previous editions. They feel like they’ll stand up to play ok, though. The boards are smaller, too: 10 squares by 10 squares versus the 12 x 12 squares in the earlier editions. The squares are the same size, there just aren’t as many of them. So, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use boards from older versions of Robo Rally with the new game play.
For me, this is good news because my husband printed and mounted several special boards for me as a present one year. There are hundreds of Robo Rally boards you can print and play at Planet Gareth: RoboRally Boards.
Tokens and Box Insert
The plastic Checkpoint Flags and cardboard Reboot Point Tokens are ok, but Avalon Hill/Hasbro really cheaped out on the Checkpoint Tokens, making them of the same thin stock as the player boards – which is very, very thin indeed. I’m already looking for a replacement.
The plastic box insert is a nice touch to hold all of the components, but I’m afraid it’s not going to take much wear and tear. Mine already has a crack in it. The boards store underneath the insert so you have to keep pulling it out of the box. I recommend you remove all of the cards and components before pulling out the insert to avoid damaging it.
The rulebook, while 31 pages long, is a simple read. The setup and basic rules are covered in the first 11 pages. The next 4 pages provide details on Board Elements, Robot Interactions and Damage and Reboots. A whopping 8 pages illustrate recommended racing course setups cataloged as Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Robots Must Die! The last 8 pages are a Card Index with additional details on the Programming Cards, Special Programming Cards and Upgrade Cards. The back of the rulebook provides a handy round reference.
I recommend reading the first 15 pages of the rulebook and leave the rest to consult as a reference as needed. You also don’t have to stick to the race courses in the rulebook. You can always do a random set up with a couple boards and flags. That’s what we do most of the time.
The Price of Cheaper Components
The publishers did pass some of the savings of the cheaper components on to you: the MSRP of Robo Rally Reboot is $10 less than the previous edition. Personally, I would’ve happily paid $10 more for better, more sturdy components.
Can you play with everything as is? Of course. In fact the updates and changes to the game play are – in my opinion – what make Robo Rally Reboot a worthwhile purchase – even if you already own the original.
Changes to Play
Personally, I love Robo Rally Reboot’s new streamlined play for a number of reasons:
- Thematic touches as described below.
- Determining priority is simpler. No more comparing numbers. Most of the time you can determine priority at a glance. Thematically, the Priority Antenna is a nice touch. Not only does it resemble a satellite dish, but in the real world, your proximity to a Central Office affects your Internet access speed.
- The new individual Player Programming Decks solve two big problems: downtime between rounds and luck of the draw. You don’t have to wait while one person shuffles a massive Programming Deck, figures out how many cards to deal each person and then deals out the cards. Players simply shuffle their own small decks whenever necessary and draw their own cards. This really speeds up game play. Don’t get me wrong, you can still draw a bad hand, full of turns and no moves or vice versa. However, chances are much better that your next hand will be better. Sure, you can gum up your deck with Damage cards if you’re not careful, but that’s due to your game play, not sheer luck of the draw. I’ve spent more than my fair share of rounds in original Robo Rally twitching in place because I was dealt zero Move cards – round after round.
- The new Damage system with Spam, Virus, Trojan Horse and Worm cards works quite well, streamlines play and is spot-on thematic. Spam gums up your deck just as bad as it does your email inbox. The only way to get rid of Spam is to deal with it. In Robo Rally Reboot that means programming and activating it in one of your registers. Likewise, Rebooting is also quite thematic taking you out of the action for bit. The Viruses even spread to other robots, like computer viruses do among computers!
I think all of these changes together, make for more streamlined play, while retaining all of the fun and chaos of the original Robo Rally. I feel much more comfortable teaching Robo Rally Reboot and recommending it to newbie gamers and families. In just this last week, I’ve taught it three times. In all the years I’ve owned the second edition of Robo Rally, I may have taught it once.
Robo Rally Reboot (the box title is actually just Robo Rally) supports 2 to 6 players ages 8 and up. Playtime is 20 to 120 minutes depending on the course you set up and the number of players. More players, longer course, longer game.
Copyright © 2017 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
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