August 18, 2006 7:05 AM |
[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]
Most people have heard of Magic: the Gathering, the undeniably popular collectible card game from Wizards of the Coast. When it was released in 1993, Magic took the gaming world by storm and hasn’t slowed down since. I must admit that I cashed in on Magic as well by hustling people for cards at one comic shop and selling them at another. Ah, the heady days of youth.
Well, Magic isn’t the only game that its designer, Richard Garfield, made. Mostly he stayed in the CCG arena with games like Star Wars, Jyhad and Netrunner. The only games that he made that didn’t fall into that category were The Great Dalmuti and RoboRally, the latter of which is the subject of today’s column.
RoboRally is a fairly simple game. Each player is dealt a certain number of cards with different directions or turns on them and they have to choose five that their robot will execute that turn. The point of the game is to be the first player to touch all the flags. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is.
What makes the game really interesting is when you have several different people competing for the same goal and they don’t know which way anyone is going to move. The real kicker is that once you have all your cards put down in the order you’re going to move, you can’t change them. So, if someone knocks you off course, you could very well fly into a pit instead of making it to your target.
Then, on top of just programming your robot, you have to deal with the built in game mechanics and the board environment. There are walls, lasers and pits as well as conveyor belts that can throw you off track. That’s only part of the danger involved in playing ‘The Rally’.
It takes most people a while to understand the exact series of events required to play RoboRally to its fullest “jackass” potential. Most people, when they first start participating in any competitive activity, avoid direct confrontation. Everyone wants to go for the goal and the overall attitude is fairly light hearted. This all changes the second someone accidentally knocks another player off course and that player dies. Then it becomes a game about revenge. One sure fire way to keep people doing something is to encourage their competitive nature.
That’s why I use RoboRally as my gateway game. I like to get people to try something out that’s fairly simple and isn’t all that bizarre as their first time playing board games. The simple rules coupled with the sheer amount of chaos that can be caused by one collision usually keep people entertained.
Once people are playing and generally enjoying themselves, I have to tell them the horrible truth. You are one step closing to becoming a nerd. The second you begin cackling at what you made a little figurine do to another one, you’ve passed over the threshold and are ready for induction. Welcome to Thunder Dome, where Thunder is Nerd and Dome is… Dome. Never mind.
Either way, it’s a good tool to show people that things that are normally considered reprehensibly dorky and pathetic are actually quite fun if you give them a shot. I was once among the washed masses that looked down upon my smelly brethren. I was a football player, for God’s sake.
That all changed, though, and now I stalk through the night with my Ziploc bags full of game pieces, just looking for my next victim. All the cool kids are playing Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride. Don’t you want to be cool? The first one’s free….
[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for GameSpy, Firing Squad and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]
Categories: Column: The Gentleman Nerd