Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy birthday to RD/KA!

Four years and counting
Today is RD/KA!'s 4th birthday. My gaming blog began life on Saturday 13th August 2005 with the first of a series of reports on the 63rd Worldcon. In those 4 years 350 posts have covered games, comics, movies, books, food, and sundry other topics of interest to gamers; but as the 'Labels' list at the bottom of the page shows, writing about the games I've played has been staple fare. There have been highs and lows as regular readers will know, but you can be sure of one thing: as long as I'm playing games, I'll have something to say about them. Onwards and upwards! :-)

Another Sunday session
We were the four for Sunday games we'd been the last time. Gav was keen for more Risk and Andy was hankering after a game of Roborally, which I fancied too. So that made a plan.

Designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: the Gathering fame, and first published by Garfield Games in 1994, Roborally was published in a new edition by Hasbro/Avalon Hill in 2005. I own the original edition and 3 out of 4 of its expansion sets. I've not had a chance to look over the new edition in detail, but I confess I don't like the look of it too much. Or, to be more precise: there are 2 features of the new edition I don't much like the look of.

The first of these is the replacement of the original virtual bots- ie. counters representing each bot, with the docking bay. Virtual bots are a solution to the impossibility of stacking the bot miniatures when the situation demands 2 or more bots occupy the same square, eg. at the start. I'll freely grant that the new rules might be simpler than the originals, but I'm not sure they're more fun. That is to say: I'd like to think there is an extra layer of potential chaos offered by the old virtual bot rules.

One amusing example I can remember involved a bot, a virtual bot and a proximity mine. The 2 bots were adjacent to each other and the real bot dropped a proximity mine. The question arose: would the virtual bot set off the proximity mine? We perused the rules:
  • Virtual bots don't interact at all with other bots, virtual or otherwise; they interact normally with everything else.
  • Dropped/launched devices are active as soon as they are dropped except to the bot that set them, which has until the end of that register phase to move away.
And so the proximity mine went off under the bot which had dropped it!

The other feature of the new game I'm not keen on is the timer: a 30 second timer is set when the penultimate player has finished programing their bot. I have stoutly resisted suggestions to use time turns in Roborally for years; I'm hardly going to applaud when a new edition makes their use official.

For Sunday's game I canvassed for a board a lot simpler than that we had raced across the last time we played. Winning assent I chose a layout which was fairly open and which used simple board elements, but on which there were still enough different elements for maximum entertainment value. The result was the layout below.

Back Stretch and Pit Row

I cleverly neglected to record the flag locations; but I can remember the start and the 1st flag, because Twonky reached those 2 locations.

The game was entertaining as ever. Highlights among the hijinks were:
  • Donald lost his life on the first turn.
  • Gav was the first to reach a flag.
  • Gav's bot remained virtual for an unprecedented 4 turns.
Most entertaining perhaps were Donald and Andy's encounters with an express conveyor belt. Donald arrived there first. Calculating his move, he figured that he was doomed:
  • From the start point (X marks the spot) they were unable to get off the belt.
  • Whichever card they played then, the conveyor was going to move them to the edge of the board.
  • Once there, they faced 3 equally destructive choices:
  1. Let the belt carry them off the edge of the board.
  2. Move onto the pit.
  3. Move onto the oil slick, from where they would slide across to the conveyor, which would carry them off the edge of the board.
Fortunately for Donald, it turned out that he had an option which could save him: Overload Override which allowed him to rotate and move in the same register phase, thus handily escaping the express conveyor before it carried him to his doom. Andy wasn't so fortunate.

The final insult for Andy was that it was Donald's fault that Andy's bot had ended up on the conveyor in the first place. Andy had picked up the Robocopter option. He had finally decided to use it and his bot began to move at a fair clip. Then he was lasered by Donald: his Robocopter was shot off: and his bot was dumped back on the factory floor. His curses were colourful.

Gav was making solid progress while all these hijinks were going on. He won the game with a solid lead:
  • Gav: 4 flags.
  • Andy: 2 flags.
  • Me: 1 flag.
  • Donald: 0 flags.
C++ CPU: 1

I really like Roborally, and this game was no exception. I'd like to play more often, to which end I think we'd have to consider how to stage the game as filler. The key to this is single board layouts, and choosing the right number of flags according to the difficulty of the board.

With time still at our disposal we turned to Risk as Gav had requested. With hindsight Gav might be regretting this because he was the number victim of circumstance in our game: he was playing yellow; eliminating all yellow armies was my mission; so Gav was the consistent target of my unrelenting attacks.

  • Andy: occupy Asia and S. America.
  • Donald: occupy Australasia, Europe, and 1 other continent.
  • Gav: eliminate all red armies (Andy).
  • Me: eliminate all yellow armies (Gav).
The turn order didn't favour Gav because his turn was after mine. I was able to pick 3 or 4 lone yellow armies with some opportunistic attacks in my first turn. After that I quickly took S. America, which gave me a solid base which was never seriously challenged. Nobody had paid any attention to N. America during setup and it was left untouched until the endgame, so I was able to leave a minor frontier force to secure the South and turn my attention to Africa. This too soon fell to my green hordes.

Meanwhile, Andy was trying to secure Asia. Unfortunately for him his efforts were constantly foiled by Donald's and my attacks from Australasia and Africa respectively; neither of us were keen to see 7 armies/turn appear on our borders.

Elsewhere, Gav finally bit the bullet and launched an attack against my strong Icelandic outpost. No one could understand why I was holding Iceland in such strength. The answer was simple: Gav had territories nearby and I was massing for an attack. Gav pre-empted me and broke through Iceland into the virgin lands of N. America, from where he later fought his way through into central Asia in an effort to put as much distance as possible between his armies and mine.

By this time my position was largely unassailable. I was eventually able to seize N. America with the help of a timely set of Risk cards. My mission long since evident to all, Andy tried to stave off my increasingly inevitable victory by finishing Gav off himself. This failed. I won the game next turn, cashing in another set of Risk cards to amass a huge army which I promptly sent through Kamchatka to finish off the handful of yellow units still on the board.

Final position
  • Andy: 9 territories (all in Asia).
  • Donald: 11 territories (Australasia and Europe).
  • Gav: -
  • Me: 22 territories (Africa, S. America, N. America, Kamchatka and Japan).
Puny microprocessor 1
Glorious world conqueror 1
Grunts still counting on their fingers 0

I think I was well served by my mission which, barring lucky setups, I feel is a bit easier than one which involves controlling continents. This is because:
  • The mission isn't geographically defined so that it is less susceptible to bad setups.
  • Other players's attacks on the player you must eliminate contribute directly to your victory.
It'll take a few more games with these missions in play before I can be sure. ;)

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