Science Gift Ideas: RoboRally


Allow me to introduce you to one of the coolest board games you’ve never heard of. In RoboRally, players steer robots around a factory filled with lasers, pits, and conveyor belts in a race to reach the finish line. Each round, players are dealt a random set of instruction cards, with which they must program their robot with the five moves that will best get them closer to the finish.

I’ve set up a little demonstration of how a typical round plays out. Here are Spinbot (red) and Twonky (purple), racing for the first goal post (green).

Twonky VS Spinbot
Twonky VS Spinbot

Players controlling the robots Spinbot and Twonky are dealt seven random cards, and each pick out five to lay face down in the sequence they think will best serve their goals.

Twonky Spinbot
1. Move 1 1. Move 1
2. Move 2 2. Rotate Left
3. Move 1 3. Move 1
4. Rotate Right 4. Rotate Left
5. Back Up 5. Move 1
Spinbot's Program
Spinbot’s Program

So Spinbot is programmed to move one onto the conveyor belt (1), which will then move it downscreen one square. Spinbot will then turn right (2) and the cog wheel will rotate it another right turn. Spinbot moves forward one, conveyor belt moves one. Spinbot turns left (4), conveyor belt pulls it to the left, forward one (5) and goal!

Twonky's Program
Twonky’s Program

Twonky’s going to move one (1), get pulled downscreen one, move two (2), get turned right, move one (3), get pulled left one, turn right (4), get pulled left one, back up one (5) and goal!

So what happens when these programs execute simultaneously?

Programs Execute
Programs Execute

How this actually plays Out is Spinbot and Twonky move, they both get pulled downscreen one, Twonky is facing Spinbot, so it shoots Spinbot for a point of damage (the more damage a robot takes, the less programmable it becomes), then Twonky moves forward two, pushing Spinbot into the pit, gets turned right, and is free to carry out the rest of its programming code to reach the goal. Twonky wins.

Now consider this scenario with four factory layouts (in the core set), eight goals, and eight robots running around shooting and pushing each other, with factory layouts confusing the mix and players mis-programming their robots (I am a master at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with a mis-programmed move into a pit right in front of the finish line). It’s easy to see why this game becomes an exercise in out-thinking chaos.

There are also plenty of free resources online too, as fans have made their own boards that people can print out and add to their collection. So not only is the game a great learning experience in spatial problem-solving, computer programming, and forward-thinking, but it has a strong DIY aspect as well.

So enjoy some “computer-driven chaos!”






3 responses to “Science Gift Ideas: RoboRally”