One of the first things you need to remember about RoboRally is that it's a race (more of a steeplechase, actually, with obstacles littered across the race course). You want to maneuver your robot from the starting bay to each of the flag checkpoints, in order. Whoever reaches the last flag first is the winner.
The length and complexity of the race depends on the size of the board, the number of flag checkpoints in play, and how far apart the flags are. A short game will use only one or two boards and two flags. A long game has up to four boards and four flags. (The game comes with eight flags for those really hardcore racers who want to design their own courses. But there are no courses using all eight flags in the Course Manual. Some of you may take that as a warning.)
The heart of the game is programming your robot.
You receive nine Program Cards at the start of the turn. Each card allows your robot to perform a specific, simple action --
- move 1, 2, or 3 spaces straight ahead;
- turn right, left, or about-face;
- back up 1 space
Your job is to pick just five of those Program Cards and arrange them, in order, in your robot's "registers." Then everyone carries out their secret, programmed actions, one register at a time. That is, everyone performs the action in register 1, then everyone performs the action in register 2, and so on.
This is all very simple and nice. (But we never do anything nice.)
The factory floor is a nasty place to be under any circumstance, and it's especially bad when you're in a hurry to get from here to there. As robots bumble around on the race course, they take damage from lasers. Each point of damage cuts down your allotment of cards by one -- so, for example, with two points of damage, you receive only seven cards at the start of the turn instead of nine. Your options steadily shrink as damage accumulates.
It gets worse. The first four damage points only(!) reduce the number of cards you're dealt. The fifth damage point also locks a register. Whatever Program Card happens to be in register #5 when you take that fifth point of damage is locked in place -- you can't remove it or change it until the damage is repaired. And the card takes effect every turn that it remains locked there. More damage locks up more registers until eventually, you aren't receiving any cards and all your actions are locked in place.
If it gets too bad (and it will), you can power down your robot for a turn and repair all your damage. Just be careful where you do it, because you're a sitting duck while powered down. Not that anyone would take advantage ….
Finally, the factory itself is a significant obstacle in this racing process. It's filled with conveyor belts that shift your position, gears that rotate you in place, pits that drop you to instant destruction, and lasers that fry your circuits. Some of those things -- gears and conveyor belts -- can help your progress as much as they hinder it, but only if you're careful when programming your registers. What they can't be is ignored. Fortunately, they never actually move on the board. Their influence is 100% predictable, making them no problem at all if a) you had any luck in your card draw and b) you plan your move without making mistakes.
Why would you make a mistake? Because you don't have all day to think about what you're doing! This is a race, remember? There's no fixed time to program your registers. Instead, everyone signals when they're finished programming. When it gets to the point where only one player has unfilled registers, someone flips over the sand timer. The last player has 30 seconds to finish programming their robot. When the timer runs out, any unfilled registers get programmed at random. So take as much time as you want -- just don't take more than 30 seconds longer than the second-slowest player.
What You Get