Sometimes a game comes sort of out of nowhere, takes you by surprise, and you fall in love with it.

RoboRally is such a game.

I’d heard of it years ago, long before I was really into board games. For a good chunk of the mid nineties I was a Magic: The Gathering (MtG) player. I did I say player? sorry I meant to say hopeless obsessive, I lost years of my life to that game and a lot of my money, well buying Magic cards and beer as I was a student at the height of my playing. Why is he blathering on about Magic? Well RoboRally was designed by Richard Garfield, also the creator and designer of Magic and first published by the same company, the now omnipotent Wizards of the Coast. Mentions of RoboyRally would crop up in magazines (yes I bought magazines about Magic The Gathering, Jesus how sad was that!?) but I was too concerned with Lords of the Pit, Black Vices and Serra Angels to pay any attention to a “silly” game about racing robots.

Fast forward 18 years (Oh god, I wish I hadn’t worked that out!!) and I wander into London On Board and find a group looking to play RoboRally but after more players to join them. My prejudice long since forgotten (along with my Magic obsession), I agree to give it a go.

What a brilliant, brilliant game, I suppose it’s testament to it’s quality that it’s still being sold & played all these years on. What’s it about? You have to race your little robot around a factory floor, filled with hazards like conveyor belts, rotating cogs, lasers and pits. You have to get your bot to a number of flags, usually three, in order, before the other robots. Each turn you get a hand of cards which are instructions you can give your bot, like move forward 2, turn left, turn right, u-turn etc. You have 5 slots (or registers) to put those instructions into. Once all players have done that, you all reveal each register in turn and execute the instruction to move your bot about. To make things more interesting each bot has a laser it will fire any any other bot in its line of sight, taking damage means you get less cards each turn, until the point where instructions can get ‘locked in’ and stuck in a slot, making it very tricky.

Sounds a bit basic and dull right? – it really isn’t. Mistakes will be made, robots will bump & collide nudging each other off course, conveyor belts will be misjudged etc. One mistake with the first or second instruction of your turn means the other 3 or 4 are going to take you somewhere you really weren’t expecting or wanted to be. My first turn of my first game had me boldly proclaiming “I might be good at this, as I’ve done a lot of programming” then I sent my bot trundling off in the wrong direction. A few turns in I thought I had the hang of it, misjudged a cog (which turn you 90° clockwise or anti-clockwise when you finish a step there), realised my silly mistake and let out an involuntary anguished howl as it dawned on me what I’d done, much to the extreme amusement of everyone I was playing with (not people I knew I might add)

However I’ve never had so much fun playing a game I was so bad at. I went out and bought it and played it again with some mates. Similar thing happened in that game as I misprogrammed my bot sent it screaming off the edge of the board (a bad thing in RoboRally) across a double speed conveyor with a move-3 instruction. My mate picturing my bot zooming as fast as the game could manage (moving 5 squares is a LOT in RoboRally) into certain doom, spat his drink out in hysterics and didn’t stop chuckling for about 4 turns, the bastard! 😉

In summary RoboRally is really, really fun. Simple, quick to pick up and not too nerdy. Scales very well from 2 to 8 players, which is rare, has near endless variation with all the different boards and optional rules. It’s great to play with non boardgamers, all round a highly recommended game. If only I tried it back in 1995 I might have saved myself a hell of a lot of money spent on Magic cards!

Author: Ben Coleman

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1 Comment

  1. “misjudged a cog (which turn you 90° clockwise or anti-clockwise when you finish a step there)”

    I am a programmer too and did exactly the same thing on my first ever turn.

    I was able to play this for the first time a few weeks back and really enjoyed it. Sadly I had just come off the back of quite a lot of overtime and barely knew where I was never mind where my robot was. Still, fun was had. I think all these mistakes, bumps and moments of screwing people over that you’ll enjoy it even if you’re trailing from the back.

    The only thing putting me off getting my own copy is that I’d have to play it like a duel against the missus some of the time. And a duel it will be, getting quite mean spirited if you want to win.

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