The Cardboard Hoard: A Playtester's Review of Deathbot Derby
Have you ever watched the television show 'BattleBots'? If you haven't, the premise is simple -- two robot builders each create weaponized, remote controlled robots and then face them off in a combat arena. Two robots enter, one survives. If that sounds like something that would be fun to try at home, keep reading.
Deathbot Derby is a quick, easy to play card game that simulates one-on-one robot combat. The game has two phases, the draft phase and the combat phase.
In the drafting phase, players will construct their Deathbots from decks of component cards, adding parts that will allow the robots to move and inflict damage. The players will lay each of these cards out, building their robots right on the table. There are even suggestions on each card to help name the Deathbots, so players can face off Ultra-Killa-Crusher against Mega-Kaboom-Tron. They will also each draft a secret weapon they will keep face down, waiting to be unleashed at the right moment.
Additionally, for the first game, the instructions have suggested training bots that have been balanced to play against each other, if players don't want to risk drafting before having a better handle on how combat works.
In the combat phase, players face off in a 10x6 arena which features obstacles and power-ups. The arena is created out of 30 double-sided cards, so the board set-up changes every game. The board is dynamic, and cards will flip as the Deathbots move through the arena, and when players choose to activate a special action in hopes of creating new obstacles for their opponent. Movement and combat are diceless, with players only being limited by the range and damage amounts listed on their cards. When any part takes too much damage, it stops working and is flipped to its disabled side. The battle of attrition continues until only one Deathbot is still (most likely barely) functioning.
Pros: The game is easy to learn and teach, and still provides many interesting tactical decisions in both phases of the game. The robot component cards are well balanced, and provide a potential 625 different robot builds. The artwork is excellent, and the artwork, mechanisms and theme combine perfectly to simulate two scrapped together robots fighting in an underground arena.
Cons: The game is full of direct combat, which can be a detraction for some. Occasionally, the game can be won in the drafting phase, if a player builds a bot that matches up particularly well against their opponent's bot. While the game features an interesting blend of mechanisms that work smoothly, there is no new and innovative mechanism that blew me away. That said, Deathbot Derby is more streamlined, and plays quicker, than other games it shares mechanical similarities with -- such as Ogre and Summoner Wars.
While Deathbot Derby is not the type of game that a night of gaming would be planned around, it is a solid two-player game in a small box and with a short playtime, making it perfect for breaking out during a lunch break, with a significant other, or waiting for others to arrive to a bigger event -- filling a similar gaming niche as Star Realms.
Full disclosure: I was a playtester for Deathbot Derby.