The Cardboard Hoard: A Playtester's Review of Giga-Robo
I first played Giga-Robo at GenCon's First Exposure Playtest Hall last year, and was asked afterward by designer Alex Cheng if I wanted to be a "test pilot" while the game was still in development. He mailed me a prototype copy shortly afterward, and I've been playtesting it ever since.
In these months, I've really come to appreciate the depth Giga-Robo has to offer. There are many player vs. player fighting games available, but this game features a great mix of strategic planning and tactical decisions, a number of unique pilot and robot characters, a beautifully realized thematic vision, and most importantly, an incredibly fun gaming experience.
The game starts before the battle even begins, as players choose their pilots and robots, each having their own distinct strengths and weaknesses, the combination of which becomes their individual player boards. From there, decks of sixteen cards are chosen from the corresponding sets of pilot and robot cards, along with special abilities for both the pilot and robot, further honing the players' strategies.
When the battle begins, the strategies are tested on an interactive, three-dimensional hex-grid city complete with skyscrapers, craters and rubble. Players must decide when to be aggressive and unleash a devastating attack with extra power dice, and when to hold back, conserving fighting spirit in an attempt to catch their opponent off guard with a brutal counterattack. While there is a lot going on, between the movement, attack cards, modifiers, and dice-resolved conflict, both the turn structure and the overall game play are intuitive and the game has a good flow.
Giga-Robo also has an interesting way of handling the cards in the game that I haven't seen in any other games. Instead of having a shuffled deck of cards that a hand is drawn from, there is a cool down meter on the player boards with three numbered slots. When beginning the game, players will put the sixteen cards they chose into the slots that match the numbers on the card -- either one, two, or three. Every turn, the cards "cool down" and slide one number lower. Any cards in slot one go into your hand and are available to use. When you use your cards, they go back the numbered cool down slot. It makes longer term planning much more feasible and takes away the typical card game issue of "getting a bad draw."
Pros: Giga-Robo is a highly thematic experience, and while I can't comment on the game's components as I playtested a prototype copy, the game's artwork is gorgeous, and along with the design of the cards and the boards, really helps to create a believable thematic universe where giant robots are rampaging through a city, facing off in city-crushing combat. The game, while complex, has a low learning curve, and is easily taught in one session. The number and variety of the pilots and robots keep each game feeling fresh and unique, and create a lot of variety and replayability. The game also plays equally well from two through four players, although higher player counts add significant play time.
Cons: The thematic, direct-conflict nature of this game is likely a Eurogamer's worst nightmare, which I'm sure comes as no surprise having read this far into this review. The game also has situations where key conflicts are settled with large handfuls of dice, and despite the game having some mitigation elements, there is still considerable randomness. At three and four players, the game also has player elimination.
Full disclosure: I was a playtester for Giga-Robo, and received a prototype copy of the game from the publisher.