Review – Robot Quest Arena

robotquestarena

 

Designer Robert Dougherty, CJ Moynihan, Paul Waite

Artist James McDonald

Publisher Wise Wizard Games

Category Deckbuilding, Family Game

Length 60 minutes

Release Date Winter 2023

Player Count 2-4

Price $79.99 MSRP

I’m showing my age, but when I was a kid, there was a famous “board game” called Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. If my memory serves, your robots battled each other by way of you smashing on thumb sticks until someone’s head popped up in defeat. But what if you took that great “battle bots” theme and made a good board game? That’s the idea behind Robot Quest Arena from Wise Wizard Games. Let’s see how they did!

While Robot Quest Arena has the theme implied in its title, the core game system is actually borrowed from Star Realms, Wise Wizard’s first and most popular game. The deckbuilding has been streamlined (factions are gone) in order to make way for the rest of the game. Players can spend currency not just to buy new items and weapons, but also to move around the board and shove each other. There are a variety of effects on the arena floor, both good and bad, and the beneficial ones usually happen if you manage to stay in one spot until your next turn (which is quite difficult). The center area gives you victory points for doing this, but there are also spots to heal, scrap your deck, or shove opponents onto spikes and traps. 

Does this sound kind of like another famous board game, King of Tokyo? It should. This game feels very much like King of Tokyo meets Star Realms, and it’s probably exactly as fun as you think that sounds. I loved King of Tokyo early on, but quickly tired of it, because I’m just not interested in simple dice games very much. Robot Quest Arena takes that “king of the hill” feeling and layers it with a much deeper (but still accessible) deckbuilding game. This is kind of a “best of both worlds” for players who love the card-combos of deckbuilding, but think multiplayer deckbuilders like Dominion are too non-interactive. Every turn in RQA, you are balancing your own deck progression against the desire to move around and beat up the other players.

Wise Wizard smartly separated Robot Quest Arena from King of Tokyo in another way, too: player elimination. Knocking the last hit point off of a robot earns you bonus points, but they respawn onto the map their very next turn. This means there are no hard feelings; this game is much more about making the best of a given situation, than attacking particular players or ruining someone’s fun. In fact, respawning can often be an advantage, since there are four respawn points, allowing for some repositioning. And since the game is actually driven by victory points, there are other ways to earn them through cards and effects.

As part of this review, I was also sent the first two expansions, which include two new robots as well as new card types for the market. Again we see the connection to Star Realms, as the new cards are, in Star Realms terms, bases and heroes/tech. They’ve been tweaked to fit well into the RQA universe, and are a lot of fun. I think the base game is just the right amount of content for new players and families (let’s say ages 9+); it would have been a bit overwhelming with the expansion content included. 

I have two complaints about the game, though, but they’re somewhat small and personal.  The first is that I vastly prefer engine-builders like this with two players, and the two-player here is a variant that I would probably never play over Star Realms. The multiplayer chaos can be fun, but you have to view it that way: chaos with some strategy, not a purely “deep strategy” experience. The usual multiplayer issues can happen: kingmaking, attacks seemingly focused on the wrong person, and so on.That said, it still fares far better at these things than the typical “multiplayer combat” game. 

The other issue is that the base game is eighty dollars. I admit the robots are awesome and do truly seem indestructible, but we’re a long way from the original Star Realms launching in a tuckbox for $15. The main target for this game is probably families and casual gamers who are completely competent but not competitive about it. And I’m not sure those groups will want to pay this much for a game. Which is too bad, because it’s quite fun, and I’m looking forward to playing it some more.

The Bottom Line

A colorful, fun, unique deckbuilding/battle mashup.

 

8.5

Derek Thompson