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Conrad Zimmerman avatar 11:10 PM on 01.12.2008  (server time)
On the Table: Robo Rally

This week, I'm covering what could be the greatest board game asset to any online service's arsenal: Robo Rally. Robo Rally is a fast-paced robot racing game. Each player takes on the role of a super-computer AI who spends their days in the mind-numbing task of operating a factory. At night, you take solace in the best way you can: torturing the poor robots who work for you by forcing them to compete in a deadly race across the hazardous factory floor. The first player whose robot tags all the flags scattered around the floor (or the last to survive) wins.

Each turn, you program your robot's movement with five commands. They can be told to move forward up to three spaces, back up one, rotate left or right and make u-turns. The commands are represented by a hand of cards and the number you receive is based on how much damage your robot has taken. After all players have laid out the commands face-down in front of them, the chaos begins as each command is revealed in sequence and executed simultaneously. Once the robots have executed a move, the environment reacts. Converyor belts move, gears rotate and crushers reduce robots unfortunate enough to be underneath them to dinner plates. And, as if that weren't enough, every robot fires a laser in front of it to damage anyone in their path. As the robots take damage, the possibility of getting the cards you need to prevent them from falling into a bottomless pit decreases.

It's not all bad for the robots, though. Wrench stations exist in a few places on each board that, should you be lucky enough to reach them, can provide much needed repairs. Land on a double-wrench and you have the chance to take an option card that might improve mobility or equip one of several powerful weapons.

Good planning is the key to Robo Rally, both in navigating the dangers of the floor and dealing with your competitors. While it's helpful to pick away at them with your laser, getting yourself into a position to push them off a precipice can be much more effective.

The main game comes with four (double-sided) boards. Modular board design and the ability to place the rally flags anywhere allows for no two factory floors to look the same. Over the years, between four expansions and the new release under the Avalon Hill label, there are a total of twenty-eight board designs. The largest game I've ever played consisted of twenty boards and twelve flags with eight players. It took up an entire bedroom and ran for six eight-hour sessions.

This would make an ideal XBLA or PSN title. Automating the tasks of shuffling and dealing cards, along with a time limit for setting your program, would allow the game to take a manageable amount of time to play. Add in a board editing system and there's unlimited possibilities. Even just releasing an expansion pack of boards or optional equipment every few months would keep the game fresh and have gamers coming back for more.

We've already seen Wizards of the Coast, the company responsible for the original release (and now owned by Hasbro who re-released it under Avalon Hill) work with Sony on Eye of Judgement. Getting Robo Rally online seems like it could be a slam dunk and might even force me to invest in a PSTriple. I'm not normally the type of person who begs, but I'd be on my knees doing more than pleading to see this game in a network multiplayer environment.

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