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Tabletop Game / Robo Rally

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2023 edition box art
Robo Rally is a board game from Wizards of the Coast, a product submitted to the company by Richard Garfield, later published under the Avalon Hill imprint and in 2023, published by Renegade Game Studios. The game is a deceptively hard rush to get your robot to touch all of the flags in order, while avoiding the other players.

The Excuse Plot is that the players are Master Factory Computers, and they are extremely intelligent, manipulative and bored. They decide to reprogram some of the factory robots to do a race across the floors. Did I mention they have to avoid pits, lasers, fire, radioactive waste, oil spills, pushers, conveyor belts and crushers along the way? Oh, and of course the other robots. The robot can also acquire random, unique upgrades which lets them do everything from shooting two lasers at once to using a jetpack to fly across the board.

The concept is fairly simple: Each player has five slots they can place a card in, which will change how their robot moves - both how far, and in which direction. After the robots all move, the floor tiles take effect, which can vary the gamut from "entering water slows your robot to a crawl", to "they are moved along the conveyor belt", to "take a point of damage from the laser beam", or simply "pushed off the tile they were standing on". The more players there are, the more crazy things get.

Tropes seen in this game include...

  • Adaptation Distillation: Robo Runner began as a web-based version of the board game but has since practically become its own game complete with distinct minigames and AI-controlled "scanners".
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The robots all try to sabotage each other. With lasers.
    • That's more the Master Computer telling it to sabotage their opponents. No, the real crapshoot would have to be the robots' independent personalities.
    • Lasers are only the start. You can acquire bombs, one of which goes up to, basically, "trash everything around for eight squares in every direction" to tractor and pressor beams. They don't sound dangerous, but using one at juuuuust the right time can send a 'bot into a Bottomless Pit. If they're unlucky.
    • Another example are the "smart" rockets, a gadget that can be programmed. They're highly unlikely to fly where you want them to.
  • Artificial Stupidity - Even better; you're the one who's making the boneheaded move, though often you find out too late.
  • Checkpoint: Each flag the robot touches serves as one, and they will respawn at the last one touched at their inevitable destruction.
  • The Chew Toy: The robots themselves. It's expressly stated in the manual and backstory as to why this is; the Master Computers spent their entire existence supervising chip manufacturing, and being bored out of their processors. Cue one hapless robot's navigation system malfunctioning, followed by it stepping on a conveyor belt, sent along the belt while being cut by industrial lasers, smashed by crushers, crisped by flamethrowers, and finally dumped down an endless disposal pit. The computers were amused.
  • Death Course: Fully customizable, at that! It includes, but is not limited to, conveyor belts, pistons, crushers, laser beams, flamethrowers, bottomless pits, pools of water, currents of water, and definitely not least, your fellow players.
  • Energy Weapon: As the robots' default weapons as well as Death Course elements.
  • Malevolent Architecture: Some of the stages do look like factory stages. But why does a factory need a death spiral filled with lasers?
    • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time! Also, the control computers were indescribably bored and probably messing around with the blueprints...
    • Perhaps the conveyor belt maelstrom is a garbage disposal?
  • Mercy Invincibility: Not very merciful, since certain weapons and tiles can still damage you while your robot is existing as a "virtual copy". What actually happens is the robot is sent back to the last checkpoint touched, and for one turn is immune to other players - but not most floor hazards.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Understatement. Especially once you add the extension.
  • Programming Game: In addition to the robots themselves, some weapons let you fire missiles, which are just as programmable, but with less "memory". Another challenge to the game is some hazards only take effect on certain turns, meaning you have to time when your robot will move through, or stop on, the tiles when they're "safe". Or else.
  • Rule of Cool: Why else would this game exist?
  • Subsystem Damage: That bit under "Programming Game"? This is yet another way things can quickly go pear-shaped. Once certain damage thresholds are reached, an increasing number of slots for your programming cards become "locked in" and can't be changed, forcing the player to use a self-repair "weapon" (if they have one) or just try their best to work around the new handicap(s). Of course, once all the cards are locked in, the robot is destroyed... and the robot respawns and the "mercy" invincibility kicks in for a turn.
  • Tractor Beam: The game features both tractor and pressor beams as upgrades that the player can opt to use instead of firing the laser. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Videogame Caring Potential: There is none. Ever.
  • Videogame Cruelty Potential: On the other mechanical grasping extension, there is an overabundance of this. Bump a bot into a bottomless pit! Hit it with remote-controlled rockets! Scramble its circuits! Lock it in place with goo and drop The Big One next to it!
    • Or have your own robot commit suicide because it's going to die next turn anyway.
  • You Bastard!: Not obvious at first, but you're playing as one of the Master Factory Computers... the same computers which are sending intelligent robots to their (or if you're very good) other's doom.