Generally speaking, robots come in two flavours: handy helpful chaps, or murder machines. At least that's what Hollywood has taught us, anyway. It's a pretty solid logic too. If it isn't cute, making funny noises and delivering drinks, it's probably from the future, has a desire to wear leather and shoot people. The nice ones are what we prefer in our group. Angry robots are too much fuss. Coincidentally, we recently had the opportunity to try out a preview copy of Robo Junkyard by Evan's Games. It's a cute hand management game with take that elements throughout it. It's not quite themed on the trigger happy, shotgun wielding death-bots... But it's incredibly fun nonetheless!
Robo Junkyard is an easy to pick up and access game. The game is played in rounds where players compete to have played all their cards first. You gain credits for discarding all your cards and earn more in a round for being the first to do so, too.
Starting the Game
To set up, players choose a robot and grab their respective decks. They then shuffle and deal four cards. Of these cards, they choose one to put into the "The Collection". This is an area where one card goes from every player. These are not exactly out of play, but do not count towards having no cards. Players then place the remaining three cards into an extra stack, look at the remaining eight cards as their hand and choose one to add to that stack. They will all now have a seven card hand, four card stack, and one card in the collection.
In Robo Junkyard, players take turns to play cards of increasing values into The Pile. This is where all played cards go. If you cannot play a card onto the pile, you must pick it up and play continues with the previous player. When a player has used the cards in their hand, they pick up the extra stack. Once these are played they are out of that round. When all but one player has played their cards, the round ends and players gain credits. Two for the player who left the round first, one for anyone else who used their cards, and the last player starts the next round.
How Is It Different?
The game is not as simple as it sounds, however, as all cards have abilities on them changing the state of play. What's more is that some cards destroy the pile, meaning it's out of the round. Whoever destroyed the pile plays the next card. The other card playing choice is that you can play multiple cards of the same value, so long as the meet the expected requirements of play (still ascending). Also, the gameplay is ever so slightly asymmetrical - players' decks are different by one card each. This doesn't impact the outcome of the game massively, but does mean you can't anticipate every players' next logical move. As soon as any player gains six credits, they are crowned the Robo Junkyard champion!
How It Feels to Play
Robo Junkyard is a simple game with lots of depth within it. Simple in that anyone could pick it up and play it. Depth with how you play the cards determining how likely you are to win, beyond simple numbers. If you've got a strong memory and a good understanding of your opponents' tactics, you're going to have a strong game.
Downtime and Being Out
Some card games where "players go out" are player elimination based. This means they no longer continue playing - a huge red flag for some gamers... We don't mind it, it makes us more competitive, but we've played with those who avoid it like the plague. Breathe easy! Robo Junkyard is not player elimination. You are out for all of a few minutes and then you're back in the game. There's little to no downtime between rounds. You simply sort the cards back into their respective piles, repeat set up and go. It becomes fluid and effortless. There's also the benefit of playing for shorter, too. Going out gives you scope to watch other players and work out their tactics.
Importance of the Stacks
That initial stack and collection are more important than they may be given credit for. As much as the cards are drawn at random, which one you choose to put into the collection is important. As mentioned, it isn't part of the cards you need to play, but it's worth accessing it when you can - especially when in a pinch! I always played as low as card as possible to the collection. This was simply because I had a bad habit of playing as large a card as possible to ruin the next player's chances of beating it. This meant I was always susceptible to suffering the dreaded four's ability... Play a card of lower value. My opposers knew my play-style, and took full of advantage of it. My partner was more about destroying the pile. It prevented the likelihood of her having to pick up a massive stack, but also meant she got to play another card straight away.
The robots are different in more than just their designs - their decks differ too. One card in every robot's deck has a unique ability to them. Now normally this would create a situation for players to all choose the same one. One must be better than the others, right? No. Wrong. The abilities are, as always, situationally advantageous. These are usually the five card, not always, but within that some have unique placement rules too. The other cool thing is that these are uniquely usable by their respective robots. If you pick up the pile and receive unique cards, they are automatically sent to the discard and out of the round! This cleverly prevents a cycle occurring of endless ability use.
Can It Become a Loop?
With some numbers games, there's a massive risk of cycles occurring. One player plays a card, another picks the stack up, and somehow then roles reverse with an endless cycle of to and fro. Even with abilities, there's risk until someone messes up... Robo Junkyard doesn't have that (of what we found) and you can out play your opponent. It takes thinking, knowledge of the cards available, and knowledge of the cards' abilities. And, if all else fails, there are tonnes of ways to blow up the pile!
Robo Junkyard is a delightfully fun game with cute artwork and a solid level of depth. For what it is, there's a lot there. We thought it screamed family friendly and showed its best regardless of player count. We couldn't find any snags in gameplay or substance, but will acknowledge it's a filler. There's nothing wrong with that, and it lends itself to it brilliantly with its fast turnaround and ease of access. We thoroughly enjoyed Robo Junkyard and it's a game we'll be taking to play with younger family members or to end a games night in a calmer manner. Keep an eye out for the Kickstarter when it goes live early this year!