Robo Rally Review
Designer: Richard Garfield
Artist: Benjamin Raynal
Publisher: Avalon Hill Games, Hasbro
Year Published: 1994 / 2016
No. of Players: 2-8 (2-6)
Playing Time: 30+
Main mechanic / Theme: Programming (Simultaneous Play)/ Racing robots
When a bored group of supercomputers decide to have some fun.
For our group, Robo Rally is a staple we keep on hand, in fact between us we have three copies covering two older variations. Originally from Avalon Hill Games, Robo Rally won two awards at Origins (Best Graphic Presentation of a Boardgame and Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame). For the players I know an even better award is the fact they have played their copy to the point they had to replace it. As you can see by our deck, we need new cards.
This is a review of the earlier version of Robo Rally. We looked at the newer version and found it is easier to play and harder to kill yourself. Our group has its quirks and because of that we prefer the version that is a little harder to play. If you are unable to get an older copy of Robo Rally, the new version is still worth having in the game rotation.
The box has a great way of letting you know what you are in store for, “As one of sever supercomputers in a fully automated widget factory, you have it made. You are brilliant. You are powerful. You are sophisticated. You are BORED.”
To get past the boredom you and the other supercomputers decide to hold robot races on the factory floor at night after the humans leave.
Gameplay and mechanics
There are a number of scenarios/racetracks provided in the game’s rulebook, or you can create your own. We have also done last man standing games. No matter what race you are running the mechanics of the game are the same.
After you choose your race board(s), starting board, and flag positions (for a rally race) each player chooses a robot and determine their starting position.
The robots have all the same basic functions. During the game and in some scenarios, there are ways of adding variations to your robot. Determine your starting position and give each player a Player Program Sheet.
The player program sheet helps in tracking the number of lives you have left, the damage you have, what program is loaded into your robot (including blocked positions) and the sequence of board actions.
Now everyone gets a hand of program cards. The number of cards depends on how much damage the robot has taken. For each point of damage taken, the player gets one less card to place in their five-card program. If they have taken enough damage, bits of the robot’s program are locked in place until repaired or the robot loses a “life.” The program is entered with the cards face down so they can’t be seen until the proper phase.
During a phase, everyone turns over the program card for that phase of play. In initiative order, which is on the card along with the action, the players move their robots. Initiative is important because robots can push each other around.
When the final location for each of the robots is determined, the rest of the actions take place. Robots are moved, rotated, pushed, and shot by lasers (from the board and from other players). Now you move onto the next phase of movement.
In most games the goal is to complete the race by touching each of the flags in a predetermined order. Many times, it is more about who still has at least one of their three starting lives. We figure if you don’t kill yourself at least once in a game you are playing too conservative on trying to win the race.
Theme, Artwork and Illustration, Graphic Design and Layout
The theme of Robo Rally is complete. It won an Origin’s award for its graphics. The fun of the game is carried through all the component. It is even in the backstory of the robots.
The programming of your robot for five phases is an element of fun and frustration. You have to plan ahead with anticipation of what others are going to do and what actions the board will be taking. But all of that is limited by the cards you get in your hand. Sometimes you need to create an elaborate work around to take the two steps forward.
Robo Rally is a fun game. It also has a strong following with sites having variant rules, different boards, and scenarios. Don’t take the race too serious; the board is a chaotic field of action. This is truer with more players.
We’ve only one bad experience with Robo Rally. It was with a person who is no longer part of our gaming group. He walked out of the game when he ran his robot into a pit because he had been bumped by another player’s robot. I am not sure what they would have done if we were playing a strategy game straight up combat.
I have seen floor sized Robo Rally games at conventions. I have seen games built with Legos. I’ve built board using casted pieces for miniatures. At one of the first conventions, I ran a Robo Rally tournament. This game keeps coming back and giving players a great time.
If you like games that require setting moves in advance and then seeing the outcome as everyone does simultaneous play, then you want to get Robo Rally in your game library.
About the Author
Daniel Yocom does geeky things at night because his day job won't let him. This dates back to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. He's written hundreds of articles about these topics for his own blog, other websites, and magazines after extensive research along with short stories. His research includes attending conventions, sharing on panels and presentations, and road-tripping with his wife. Join him at guildmastergaming.com.