Robots! They’re more popular today than ever before. Don’t believe me? Just check the last two thousand years of recorded history. For hundreds of years, no robots. But then, within just the last century, an explosion of robot-related revelry. Oh sure, one may argue that electricity, semiconductors and microprocessors may have something to do with it, but putting that accurate logic aside for a moment, the fact remains, robots are everywhere: books, movies, industrialized factory assembly plants, even in dance moves.
So, it was only a matter of time before these soldered circuited cyborgs spilled over into our board games. Games such as Volt: Robot Battle Arena, which is filled with mechanical mayhem. So, my fellow android aficionados, will we get a charge out of this current game, with its focus-on automatons, or will we blow a fuse? Plug in to this high energy review, and we’ll find out if Volt: Robot Battle Arena gets its wings.
Volt: Robot Battle Arena gives each player control of a robot in little robot stadium, in a contest against one another to accumulate points and take their opponent’s bots out of commission. Each turn, players secretly program their robot with commands to move and fire blasters at each other. Then, everyone’s commands are revealed simultaneously, and each player’s instructions are carried out in numerical order. The result is an environment of calculated chaos, as a robot’s actions may affect each of those that come after it. As a result, while your robot will end up doing what you told it to do, it may not end up doing what you intended it to do. Let’s take a closer look at how the game plays.
Now, if one is going to discuss a competitive robot programming game, a comparison to 1994’s RoboRally is going to be inevitable. In both, the players command robots in an environment that will cause your commands to, just as likely go haywire, as to go as expected.
I played RoboRally a decade ago, and found the experience to be as enjoyable as eating a sandwich in a public bathroom. So, when the opportunity to play Volt came along, my expectations were not high. But, didn’t want to let my past experiences with another game in a genre, either positive or negative, bias my opinion of a new game. So, I reset myself to my factory default setting, and tried to go into Volt without any preconceptions.
And I’m glad I did, because in doing so, I discovered what it was about RoboRally that caused me to hate it with the intensity of a thousand suns. In RoboRally, the focus seemed to be on programming and orienting your robots to not only deal with the robots operated by the other players, but to do so while simultaneously working within a puzzle of conveyors and other board obstacles. And while such chaos can be fun, there just seemed to be so many things to keep track of and that could override your plans, that, in my experience, random commands seemed to be nearly as effective. I was left with the impression that, it was just a #2 pencil away from being algebra homework.
And that’s where Volt seems to differentiate itself. In Volt, the focus is from the other side, it's streamlined to focus on what your robot is going to do to one another, instead of how the environment is going to prevent you from doing it. The focus on Volt seems to be less about dealing with the environment (conveyor belts, etc.) or micormanaging your robot’s orientation, and more about dealing with each other. Everything is player-centric, instead of environment-centric, and the result requires much less bookkeeping.
This shift in the focus makes the game much more enjoyable to me. It’s still chaotic, but the chaos comes from a different source.
So, was there anything about Volt that I felt lacked power?
Well, first off, while some may appreciate the fact that Volt isn’t as layered an experience as RoboRally, while others who are looking for a more complex experience may be disappointed.
And, while I just got done lamenting the complexity of RoboRally’s environment, I’d like to say, at the risk of contradicting myself, that I’d like to see this game offer an expansion that takes it up to six players, with more power-up abilities, and maybe adding some obstacles, such as conveyors, traps, or other items. Tokens that you can add to or remove from the board at will, depending on how technical and complicated an experience you want to have. I’d like to see if Volt could handle more complex obstacles, board layouts and environments in the same streamline, easier to digest manner.
Scenarios, like capture the flag, hold control points, would also be interesting to see.
Also, as with any game that uses a board with squares, one of the first places my mind went was wondering if it would work with hexes. Hexes may make it too complex, but then again, maybe not. The movement is a 4-way grid, but weapon attacks are an 8-way one. Would having both be a 6-way grid tie them together in such a way that they’re easier? Or does the difference in the two prevent people from getting confused, since movement is 4 and firing is 8 way? The “90 degrees, 45 degrees” phrasing was a little strange. Why not just one position clockwise, two positions clockwise? But now, I’m getting nitpicky.
So, does Volt get its wings? Because it offers the strategic planning with unpredictable results of a robot programming game, but streamlines it so you can focus on your interaction with each other, instead of struggling with your orientation and environment. Streamlined, but it still scratches the itch for this type of experience, it certainly does.
Now, if only someone would make a game that focused on the repair of tiny fighting robots, we’d have all the bases covered.