Sunday, September 9, 2012

Scrapbots: Build ‘em, Break ‘em, Blast ‘em to Bits

By Julian

The arena doors open and out stride the mighty robots ready for battle.  The cameras click on as the bots race towards the middle to press the point button or grab a shiny new weapon.   The bots may be walking  scrap heaps, but at least the sponsors donated some parts from this decade.  Soon, the mayhem really begins.    After two or three shots, that old targeting computer almost started working.  Finally, a shot lands, sparks fly, and someone’s favorite missile launcher explodes into shrapnel.  The crowd goes wild.   No point in crying over lost parts.  Getting blown to pieces is just part of the game when you are playing Scrapbots, a fun and hilarious mech fighting game we had the great fortune to play at PAX last weekend.  You'll see Randy and I in the pictures.  Angie's behind the camera.  We're also playing with Jonathan Liu of GeekDad, his friend Alex and our friend Rick Collins who designed the game.

Designer Rick Collins (middle right) teaches us how to play.

First You Build Them

At the start of the game, you have to build your bot.  A simple draft mechanic is used to distribute 7 parts to each player.  There are weapons, armor, shields, AI assist, and special parts.  Each has a place to slot in on a player’s bot.  Depending on how many parts you put into your bot it can be Light, Medium or Heavy.  The lighter it is, the harder it is to hit, but the more points our opponents get for actually landing a shot.  I built a light bot, Randy went with medium and Angie went with a heavy.

Angie's heavy bot.  As you can see, she had...a few weapons.

Then You Break Them

Once the bots are built, it’s time to fight it out.  The gates open and the bots are ready to go.  The arena is littered with Sponsor Items.  These are extra cool parts that players can pick up and use.  There is also a button that starts in the center and moves around each time it is pressed.  Hitting the button is worth one point and it moves around to encourage a little running around the battle field.  The turns play pretty fast and simple.  Each turn you get two actions.  An action can be used to move one hex or attack one player in range.   

Movement can be aided through the use of Jump Jet Fuel.  It can be spent for extra movement, but it is a rare and precious resource in the game.  Shooting your opponents is as simple as rolling 2 dice and seeing if you hit your target (8 for a Light, 6 for Medium, and 5 for Heavy).  You can just shoot at your opponent’s broadside or take a -2 to the roll to try and hit a specific part.  At the start, you will miss a lot (these bots are made from scrap after all), but missing is actually made kind of fun through a system Rick calls “the economy of failure.”  Each time you miss you gain a chance cube.  These cubes can be spent to increase a roll by 1 per cube, to gain more jump jet fuel for 2 cubes, or to take another action for 3 cubes.  The more you miss, the more you get.

To add to the madness, each player also has a hand of four cards for playing special effects.  Each player can play 1 card each turn.  At the start of your turn, you get to draw back up to four.  It gives players a fun incentive to play cards on each person’s turn (so they can draw more) but keeps things from getting too crazy by limiting each player to one effect each turn.  Cards can give bonuses to hit, place walls and pits in the arena, fix your bot, refuel your jump jet fuel, and do a variety of fun effects.

Finally You Blast Them to Bits

You win the game by scoring the most points.  Points are earn first and foremost but landing a shot on another bot (3 points for Light, 2 Points for a Medium, 1 Point for a Heavy).  You earn an extra point for destroying pieces of other bots.  One of the fun dynamics of the game is that players get to choose how they want to suffer the damage and which parts they will sacrifice to keep going.  As parts fall off of the bots, they get smaller, lighter, and harder to hit (unless they were already light).  A few cards will let you repair and halfway through the game there is an intermission that lets you fix up your bot a little bit.  However, sooner or later they will start to explode.  In an arena fighting game, you might expect a little player elimination and the win going to the last bot standing.  Not so with Scrapbots.  Winning is all about points and destroying someone else’s bot is just worth 5 extra.  When your bot is destroyed, you are not out of the game.  You just build a new one out the spare parts you have left over.  Not enough parts?  Skip a turn, draw some parts and you’ll be up and running soon enough. 

I had a great time with Scrapbots and look forward to trying it again.  I really enjoyed the mix of strategy and absurdity.  From the sound of it, designer Rick Collins still has a lot of cool ideas to try out and implement for future playtests.  It will be interesting to see how the game evolves, but it’s already incredibly fun.  Scrapbots is being published by Clever Mojo Games.  We here at Growing Up Gamers wish Rick the best of luck and hope to see Scrapbots on store shelves sometime next year.