Robo Rally

Invented by Richard Garfield.
Published by Wizards of the Coast.
Reviewed by Julie M. Prince (

Game play: 8
Components: 9

When I first heard that Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, had a new game about to come out, I thought, "Great, another collectable card game to blow all my hard-earned money on."

But don't let the Garfield name fool you. Except in terms of originality, Robo Rally bears absolutely no resemblance to M:TG (which should come as good news to those who, like me, are utterly burned out on Magic and its many imitators).

In Robo Rally, each player controls a robot, guiding it through a hazardous path to try to be the first to reach the final goal. Cute pewter robot miniatures are the players' pieces; they look better painted, but you could leave them bare if you prefer. The game also comes with two decks of cards: the movement deck and the option deck. Each turn, players are dealt up to 9 movement cards, depending on how much damage their robots have taken. The movement cards include Move 3, Move 2, Move 1, Back Up, Turn Right, Turn Left and U Turn. Players program their robots five moves at a time, and once the program is activated, it cannot be changed.

The option deck includes special abilities that can be programmed into the robots, such as a double-barreled laser or a tractor beam. Options typically are designed either to mess up the other robots (by scrambling or randomizing their programs, pulling or pushing them off course, or doing extra damage when shooting them); or to help your own robot (by allowing it to move differently than the regular rules provide, giving you an extra program card each turn, etc.)

The game also comes with 6 boards, representing the factory floor where the race takes place. The factory floor is fraught with peril for the robots. Players have to time their programs just right (and then hope other robots don't push them off course) to avoid having their robots walk into a pit, be crushed by factory equipment, or be shot by the factory's built-in lasers. (Walking into a pit or being crushed means the robot dies instantly. Each robot can take 9 laser shots before it dies; however, there are special spaces on the boards where robots can repair their damage or pick up option cards). The board also has potentially helpful elements, like conveyor belts and gears which automatically move your robot (programming around these can be very tricky).

Each robot also has a laser mounted on its front. All lasers fire automatically each register phase (each turn consists of five register phases, including movement, board element movement, and laser fire). Lasers always hit the first available target.

The first 3 points of damage only cause the player to be dealt one less card per turn (i.e., if your robot has 2 points of damage, you get 7 cards instead of 9). When you have 5 points of damage, your fifth register becomes locked (meaning you are stuck with the movement card you had programmed for the fifth register phase, until you repair the damage or until you die). Each robot has 5 lives; when a robot dies, it starts from the last goal or repair point it had reached (these points are where the robot is archived). A robot can repair one or two points of damage by finishing a turn sitting on a repair space; it can repair all its damage by shutting down for a turn, but you have to announce your plans to shut down 1 turn in advance.

Players put 1-6 goals on 1-6 boards, agree on a starting point, and the race is on.

This is a fun and exciting game, but it can be extremely frustrating, too, especially when you're on your third try to reach the first goal, and some jerk pushes you off the board again. Of course, you can always push him off the board later!

The artwork, playing pieces, cards and boards are all very high quality, with nice computer-generated pictures on the option cards. However, the rules could be written better. They do not offer any guidance at all on the placement of the boards and goals. As a result, we tried several different ways, with varying success:

If you prefer a little less mayhem, you might try 6 goals spread over 2 boards. Also, for a shorter game, you could use 1 board and only 4 goals. You'll probably want to experiment to see what works for you.

Robo Rally relies equally on luck and skill. The luck is in what cards you are dealt and how the other robots' movement affects you. The skill is in making the cards you are dealt get you where you want to go, while maneuvering around the hazards and using the helpful board elements.

Robo Rally costs about US$35, and is available at specialty game stores. If you can't find it in your area, The Three Trolls carries it (call 1-800-342-6373). It's a fun game; and since it's different every time, it would be hard to get sick of Robo Rally. Check it out!

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell