Review – RoboRally

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Designer Richard Garfield

Publisher Renegade Game Studios

Category Programming, Racing

Length 45-120 minutes

Release Date 1994 (New version in 2023)

Player Count 2-6

Just in time for its 30th anniversary, RoboRally is returning in a brand-new edition. How does its signature brand of zany chaos hold up today? Let’s find out!

Review

It’s back to the races! RoboRally is on store shelves once again, this time in an updated version from Renegade Game Studios.

In this classic racing game, players program robots to carry out sequences of moves. The goal is to reach a certain number of checkpoints, in order, before the other players.

Each player controls a robot, which is represented by both a painted figure on the board and a personal tableau, which tracks movement, energy, and progress in the race.

Every round, players program their movements by playing cards onto their tableaus, face-down. The cards give directions like Move Forward, Turn Left, Turn Right, Make a U-Turn, and Move Backward.

Once all players have programmed their movements, everyone resolves their first card, moving their robot accordingly. Then, they resolve their second card, etc.

This is straightforward enough, but what makes RoboRally so wild are the board features and the interactions between robots. After each round of movement, the board features activate, often wreaking havoc. Conveyor belts move robots extra spaces. Gears rotate them. Push panels move them into adjacent spaces.

Sometimes, players want to use these features, and try to incorporate them into their turn planning. Other times… they don’t. Players will constantly be bumping into each other and pushing each other off course. All it takes to disrupt the best-laid plans is an opponent bumping someone 1 space. Then, what would have been a straight shot to a checkpoint turns into a wild goose chase, where a robot gets carried away on a conveyor belt they didn’t want to be on.

Robots also have mounted lasers, which fire after every move. (Certain boards have laser features, as well.) If a robot gets hit with a laser, its owner takes a damage card. Damage can either clog up a player’s hand or cause random, erratic movements. To get rid of damage, a robot may need to “shut down” for a round, foregoing their normal activations. This is obviously not desirable, but it may be better than falling into a pit.

If a player does manage to reach a checkpoint, they mark it on their tableau, and they can then start heading for the next one. When a player reaches the final checkpoint, that player wins!

At the time of this writing, there are 2 expansions available from the publisher: Chaos & Carnage and Wet & Wild. Both of these add new boards with new elements; C&C introduces teleporters, randomizers, and crushers, and W&W introduces ramps, ledges, and water spaces. As expected, these features amplify the mayhem, so I recommend them mostly to experienced players who want an even bigger bloodbath.


I have never met anyone who has a middling opinion of RoboRally. This is a love-it-or-hate-it game, and it all comes down to players’ opinions of chaos in games. RoboRally is pure insanity. It’s entirely unpredictable, so players will either find it hilarious—as I do—or infuriating.

To me, the humor of this game comes from players constantly derailing each others’ plans. Typically, it’s not even malicious, as there is no way to know what others are planning, but it’s instead coincidental. Players can strategize all they want, but their success or failure will often depend on other players’ decisions as much as their own (if not even more so). Some people will find this enjoyable, but others, understandably, will not.

One potential issue with RoboRally is the way the game length scales. Players can design their own courses, but the more boards and/or checkpoints they add, the exponentially longer the game will tend to take. The rulebook includes pre-made course setups, each of which has a listed length, but players who want to make their own courses should be aware of the potential time commitment.

Compared to prior versions, this is probably the best-looking RoboRally to date. The painted minis are awesome, and they give the robots extra personality. This version also has some minor rules changes, such as each player having their own, symmetrical deck, rather than drawing from a single, shared deck. (I really like this change.) As a result, the turn order is streamlined—play simply moves clockwise around the table, rather than having players compare cards to determine movement priority. Overall, it’s the same basic experience as before, but with a few slight improvements.

RoboRally is a game I have enjoyed for years, but it’s absolutely not for everyone. Folks who don’t care for chaos in games will likely find this one frustrating, as will folks who want long-term strategy in games, rather than turn-by-turn tactics. As such, while I highly recommend this game to people with a certain taste, I don’t recommend it to everyone across the board. However, if you are the kind of person who enjoys wildly unpredictable play experiences, RoboRally is among the best.

Review copies of the base game and expansions were provided by Renegade Game Studios.

The Bottom Line

I have loved RoboRally for years. It's insanity in a box, heavy on both laughs and groans. It is absolutely not for everyone, but I highly recommend it for folks who enjoy chaos in games.

 

8.0

Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.