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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser

Flashbacks from a cartoon robot TV
Last weekend's Sunday session – Andy, Donald and Gav making us four – opened with Andy's due choice (my preferred of his last call from 2 IIRC)- Roborally. Preferred it might've been, but the prospect of playing this early Richard Garfield design filled me with a perplexing mixture of anticipation and reluctance. I'm pretty sure that latter sentiment was mostly down to all the lengthy games I've lost against 'Uncle' Martin. What was perplexing was the strength of that sentiment, even if it was only momentary. Let me explain.

My Roborally@BGG stats notwithstanding, I've played this game an awful lot; so much so that my set is pretty worn, the program cards especially- as was noted on Sunday. So I like it a lot. More than that: in a very real sense my fondness for Roborally surpasses my grognard's passion for the WW2 tactical boardgames I love so much to play. The comedy of errors that is Roborally gameplay plays a big role in this, naturally enough; but the game haunts this gaming geek's imagination for one reason above all: Twonky.

Meeting the Twonky (inspired by the 1953 comedy SF movie of the same name; and- on a somewhat wackier note, here too with clips!) back in the late 90's was like a bolt out of the blue for yours truly. Strange to relate, that little robot TV spoke to me with force and immediacy of the ilk I'd experienced when I was creating my favourite dark-night stalker- Katana, all those years ago. I was bewitched by the Twonky's sardonically quizzical expression and it became more than just a playing piece- it became my in-game avatar; and that in a game in which the playing pieces are functionally identical.

All of which might sound peculiar, but it makes perfect sense if you accept the proposition that games are indeed art. Following that line of argument it is easy to suggest that games access the same depths of the unconscious identity as do other art forms, albeit perhaps much less predictably.

What went down
Andy chose the boards and their layout; then- a dash of random selection later, we were ready to race across the factory floor seen below (Twonky marks the start).
Andy, Donald and Gav selected their bots:
  • Andy: Zoombot.
  • Donald: Hulk X-90.
  • Gav: Spinbot.
And we were off.

The events of the game were quite straightforward:
  • Twonky got off to a good start, quickly tagging the 1st flag then making a clean getaway.
  • Zoombot, Hulk X-90 and Spinbot weren't so fortunate, getting tangled up in bouts of shoving and counter-shoving which cost at least 1 bot a life.
  • The result was that Twonky had negotiated the difficult corner belts around the 2nd flag long before the others were making their exits from the 1st flag; this lead was to prove unassailable, and I won comfortably.
Score
Linux OS
1
Windows Vistas 0

AfterthoughtsThis game was something of a revelation to me. It reminded me how much I like Roborally, and of how and why that liking is tied up with something which has little or nothing to do with how the game actually works.

The game was also educational for the lads. I had explained the principles of flag placement at least once before, to no avail. This time was different. The sight of Twonky haring off into the distance was enough to convince people of the importance of careful flag placement to determine the kind of race you want to run. I've got a taste for some more Roborally fun in the near future, so people might get a chance to exercise these new insights sooner rather than later.

There were also a few rules issues which came up:
  • Checkpoints: "should not be placed in a corner formed by 2 or more walls", Roborally Operating Manual, p.9.
  • Wrenches, repairs and options:
  1. Drawing an option on a 1-wrench square, or 2 options on a 2-wrench square-'Turbo Wrenches' option, Armed and Dangerous, p.2.
  2. The bit about 1 repair and 1 option on a 2-wrench square was a houserule, but it's also an official rule of the new Roborally (p.8).
  • Retaining program cards while powered down for the sake of possible locked registers: explained in the Roborally.com FAQ; which notes this is official and "an actual modification to the rules".
That's all she wrote. :0)

Back from the future
Awed by the preceding display of my programing prowess, our tricky trio decided to scupper me by taking us back to a time when there was no electricity, the ever-popular Settlers.

I started with a slightly subpar resource base and needed a key build for which I was in close competition with Gav. Resource roll followed trading request without Gav getting what he needed, and with me heaving silent sighs of relief each time (I didn't want to telegraph anything). Eventually I managed to get my build so that Gav's development was cut off. In the face of his defeatist wails of despair, I reminded him that I'd come back only recently from a similarly bad situation.

Meanwhile Donald was powering ahead on the other side of the island. We entered the endgame with Donald in the lead and Gav and I snapping at his heels. I invested in some Development cards in the hopes of seizing a quick win with VP cards, but to no avail. The relentless advance of Donald's mighty resource base proved unstoppable in the end:
  • Donald: 10.
  • Gav: 9.
  • Me: 9 (including 2VP).
  • Andy: 7.
Manic machine 1
Dauntless dwarves 1
Abacus-powered goats 0
;)
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