Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Board Game Review - Robosoccer
It's been my slightly unpleasant experience that small-press publishers tend to make ugly games. This is not always true, but it seems to me that most of the do-it-yourself game creators want to publish their games without debt or investors, and this usually means they get a little skinflint with components, printing, and art.
Happily, Nestorgames gets it right. They could have made cheap boards with crappy pieces and ugly art, but instead, they have come up with a brilliant way to make durable, portable games with easy rules and great pieces. Boards are printed on mouse pads, playing pieces are laser cut acrylic, and the games come in round canvas zipper bags. Roll the durable pieces up inside the smushable board (I just invented smushable, and will be applying for a trademark on the term) and cram it all into the bag, and when you zip it up, it looks like a burrito. A logo printed on the end of the bag tells you what game is inside, so if you have a bunch of Nestorgames you can stack them up and spot just the one you want.
I must confess that I have not played all of their games. To be precise, I have only played Robosoccer. But I have spent some time at the Nestorgames website, and I've looked at all the games they have listed at BGG, and this mouse pad/canvas bag thing seems to be their standard format. Now that I have played the game, I can tell you that the format works great. The board can be rolled and crumpled, and still lay flat on the table when you're ready to play. The pieces are all kinds of sturdy, so you can knock them together a little inside the package and pull them out ready to play. Basically, this is a fun concept that will let you shove a game into a backpack and play wherever you wind up having to kill half an hour.
The game itself is pretty nifty, too. Thematically, it's about a couple teams of plastic robots trying to get a plastic ball to the other side's starting line. But in practice, it's essentially an abstract game with more in common with chess than Blood Bowl. Big robots can push smaller robots, small robots hop over bigger robots, and directional arrows on the board make a quick trip across the board an impossible task.
It doesn't seem like this game should take long, but a few very interesting elements make it incredibly strategic. You move the ball by passing it, which really means you trade places with your robot and the ball, as long as nobody is between the two. You can move one robot a turn around a six-by-six grid, but lots of the squares have arrows that prevent movement in specific directions. Walls block robot movement, but you can boot your ball right over them. With three different sizes of robot (in three very cool sculpts), you have to figure out when to block with a big bruiser and when to hop with a little cruiser.
Each side only has six total robots, so it's not like this is going to get too confusing. The rules are pretty basic. What's not basic is the maneuvering and planning and strategy you'll have to master to get really good at Robosoccer. On top of being incredibly inventive with components, this Nestor guy appears to be pretty darn good at designing games. Robosoccer isn't as deep as chess, but it's no limp-wristed wannabe abstract. It's a serious game that can be enjoyed nearly anywhere - and that makes it a pretty smart buy, if you ask me.
In fact, I can think of several really great reasons to buy this game. It's a perfect road trip game that you can set up in a truck stop while you wolf down a short stack of blueberry pancakes and a cup of hot coffee. It's a great stocking stuffer, because the whole game really does fit inside a sock. It's really easy to store, so you could buy it just to add it to your collection of fun two-player games. You could even stuff it down the front of your pants and make it look like you've got an armadillo in your trousers (imagine her surprise when she finds out you had a game in your underwear!).
If you like abstract games, or know someone who does, you should seriously consider picking up Robosoccer. It's fun, portable, and attractive. Unfortunately, right now it can be tough to get unless you're in Europe, because Nestorgames is in Spain and doesn't have any US distribution (at least, not that I can find - it's entirely possible that he has paid unwed mothers ungodly amounts of money to swallow the games and fly them into the country illegally). But seriously, companies this small should be supported directly, by ordering right from their site. Hopefully shipping won't cost more than the game.
Nifty, fun components add a lot to the game
Easy rules with smart game play
Just for two players
Very abstract (which might be a pro, if you like abstracts)
Only available direct from Nestorgames... which is in Spain
You can peruse all the offerings from Nestorgames right here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 6:23 PM