For those of you that have never played, it is one of the most chaotically fun board games ever, pound-for-pound. You steer a robot through an obstacle course (one that involves, over the course of the various expansions, lasers, flamethrowers, radioactive waste, crushers and bottomless pits, among other things) using your hand of cards to program the robots. On a given turn, for example, you might tell your robot to move three forward, turn right, move two forward, turn left, and back up one. The trick is that everyone lays down their cards, and then flips them over at the same time. So your robot might, on that example, move forwards, get rammed two squares back while turning right, move two forward onto a conveyor belt that moves it sideways two more, turn left and go two squares further down the conveyor belt, then back up into the path of a flamethrower. (Timing rules resolve which cards happen first in the event of a question.)
This is pretty universally regarded as a great game. If anyone has a complaint (and of course, some people do, because I don’t think there’s ever been a game that every single human being has liked) it’s that the game is a little book-keeping heavy. You have to remember the sequence of events on each phase of each turn (When do lasers fire? When do crushers crush? When do conveyor belts move?) as well as the timing rules, and the slightly complex-but-brilliantly-insane rules for damage. See, as your robot gets damaged, it has less “memory” to process your commands, resulting in a smaller hand size. If your hand size gets smaller than the number of cards you need to lay down each turn, you have to leave some of your cards in place from turn to turn. Thus, a heavily damaged robot from the previous example would end each turn with “turn left” and “back up”, and you’d have to decide what order to place your only three cards in before the robot ended the turn by swiveling and reversing.
The other complaint, which is minor, is that there’s a limited number of boards and a large space requirement. You need a big table to play Robo-Rally, and even with the total number of expansions, there are only 26 courses. Admittedly, that combines to make…oh, crud, I can’t remember whether this is combinations or permutations, but either way it works out to an insanely huge number…but the point is, it’s a game that begs for a custom board editor.
Oh, and as one tiny final issue, as cool as the whole thing sounds in your head, it really does mostly involve pushing little miniatures around a board in practice.
All of these issues could be resolved with a good Robo-Rally computer game. (Yes, I’m aware that Game Table Online has a computer version of Robo-Rally. I have never, on any computer I’ve ever owned, been able to get it to work. Nothing against the undoubtedly hardworking programmers who made it, but “able to work” is, in my mind, a primary component of a “good” computer game.) With a computer handling all the timing issues, turns would move smoothly and easily (and very quickly, too. A game would go from several hours to about thirty minutes.) A board editor for Robo-Rally the computer game would be child’s play. And if you wanted, the computer game could store the turn-by-turn info and transform it at the end into a CGI cut-scene video of your robot’s odyssey through the factory floor.
Seriously, with the exception of that last part, this could be done as a Facebook game, a smartphone app, a Flash game, pretty much anything. It is a greatly popular board game already, and would be even easier and more intuitive as a computer game. And it’s just crazy fun, too. Can’t we, I dunno, get a Kickstarter going to buy the rights from whoever’s got them, and make this happen or something? Because in my head, this is awesome.