Droids is the first game I have come across from the recently announced Eurogames line. The company is French and seems to be publishing a mixture of new designs and revamps of the 'better' titles from the long defunct International Team. This doesn't sound like a world-beating strategy to me, but then I'm no businessman.
Droids, as you might imagine, is all about robots. Six cute plastic models stress this point if you hadn't already worked it out from the box art. Production is good, with thick card gameboard and counters and a high quality box. UK retail is about £30 and if it runs to form I doubt it will be found much cheaper in France. I am told by Francophiles that games are deemed luxury items in France, so this explains the, err, non-aggressive pricing.
Good production at a price then, but what of the game? Droids reminds me very much of a old computer game that ran on the Apple II called Robot Wars. In that game, players designed and programmed combat robots with trade-off combinations of weaponry, armour, movement and radar. This was achieved using a then unique language sub-system within the program - very impressive for the early eighties. The robot's task was to enter an arena where they and other robots, man or machine made, would fight it out to the end in a kind of demolition derby. I am definitely not accusing Droids of plagiarism (there may not even be any connection) but I can't think of many instances where a boardgame has been reverse engineered from a computer game. The opposite is often true, but that is another soapbox.
The beauty of the silicon game was that there were plenty of ways to win. Tactical innovation created lightly-armoured robots that whizzed around firing randomly, chunky robots that moved slowly getting beads on anything that moved and even robots that stood quietly in the corner, waiting for a close range shot if anything came by. The best designs proved to be a compromise of the three that moved along the walls taking aimed shots where possible. Call it sophisticated Core Wars if you like, but this was great fun and honed your programming skills to boot. Robot Wars went on to great things, including a US national championship run through Computer Gaming World, but sadly passed away with the demise of the Apple. Whoops, that had all the signs of a nostalgia attack and even I forgot to add it to my approved computer game list.
Droids is unfortunately a poor relation of that fine game, not because it is a boardgame, but because the 'programming' options are much more limited and all the planning has to be done during the course of the game rather than in advance. The droids under your control are sent off on missions in the arena, some of which are combat related, others involve salvage operations or rescue. These missions are outlined in the scenario book and show layout of 'terrain', number of droids involved, whether there are any independent 'worker' droids and what you have to do to win.
Having set up the board, and with your coloured droid standing awaiting guidance, you send him program instructions. These take the form of counters with icons that you place in sequence at the edge of the board. Each instruction is aligned with where the robot will be at that point in the turn and each program step is executed in sequence for each droid in play. For instance, the command sequence for the Blue Robot may be to move forward three squares, turn right, fire, walk forward, swim the inexplicable stream and then fire again. Of course, if another player happens to shoot him at the end of the second phase (by guessing on which line of fire he'll end up), your turn is spoilt somewhat.
The real trouble with the game, which in theory should be a lot of fun, is that it is all so very obvious. That's a dangerous word as I am told that I have a semi-logical brain and can get my head round most computing concepts, so perhaps I am the wrong person to say that it all seems 'obvious'. The reason I can't see the appeal is that you have a free choice of command chits, you can see clearly what is needed and what the best tactics are for that turn, so you program the robot accordingly and wait to see what happens with a horrible sense of predictability. When it does happen, you aren't very surprised and the only spark of novelty is when you get your tracks shot off or when another player does something weird. Aside from this, interaction is minimal - perhaps it needs a 'bug' rule where things can go wrong, where commands aren't available or players can amend each other's instructions.
As a result, Droids is a 'so what' game. Quite fun the first time, in rapid decline thereafter, it cannot be said to be either worth buying or worth the money. The idea is good, the components are lovely (and a big selling point, of course) but ultimately there isn't enough there to maintain the interest. Not recommended, but you may wish to test it for yourselves.
On to the review of Longs Distance Double or back to The Designer Responds....
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