Robot Quest Arena has the look of a cutesy, friendly robot fighting game, but it can get quite brutal quite quickly as you and up to three other robots battle for supremacy of the arena and ultimate bragging rights. At its core is a deck building mechanism, and one that works as simply as you’d expect from the creators of Star Realms and Hero Realms. But that’s wrapped up in some interesting tactical decisions, and knowing when to be forceful, and when to cower behind a wall is really important.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the board is pretty sizeable, though that makes sense given you need a 7x7 arena space, as well as room for a shop of nine cards to purchase. Give yourself a bit of space to set this one up.
The card shop has three ‘always available’ options and those cards have their own named spaces on the board. You’ll shuffle the rest of the shop cards and lay out six which can be purchased on your turn.
As you’re setting up the arena, you’ll see where some of the replayability starts to come in, because you can choose where everything goes. For your first game, the rulebook comes with a helpful ‘starter layout’ to help you get used to the basic components and abilities, as well as giving everyone space to move around without encountering too many traps or pitfalls. As you become more comfortable with the game, you can alter the setup however you choose.
As a minimum, you’ll need spawn tiles for each robot, and it probably makes sense to add in some walls to make movement and line of sight slightly trickier, though you’ll end up with a lot of mix-and-match combinations you can choose from.
You’ll add a number of blue health cubes to the supply based on your number of players. When a robot is ‘destroyed’ during a fight or through other means, they’re removed from the board and respawn on their next turn, back up to full health. The game ends as soon as someone should respawn but there are no blue cubes left.
Player setup is pretty straightforward. Grab your chosen robot, starter deck of 10 cards (all decks are the same regardless of which robot you select) and take your starting health cubes and add them to your robot’s mat. The first cube is always a blue one (worth two points if you finish off a robot) and the rest are red and worth one apiece.
Pick a first player and you’re ready to fight!
Ready To Rumble
If you’re familiar with deck building games, a lot of Robot Quest Arena is going to come naturally to you, making it feel cosy and familiar from the outset. On your turn, you’ll draw five cards and then play them in any order until you’ve resolved all effects that you can (or that you choose to) before discarding and drawing a new hand.
As with all deck builder games, you start with a pretty weak and limiting set of cards, but quickly getting better and more powerful options as you go.
In the base game, cards are split into one of three categories – batteries (which allow for movement or currency to buy from the shop), functions (which allow you to ‘break’ some of the basic constraints) and attack (which give you the power to damage or destroy other robots).
You can play a battery card and convert it into movement, with basic batteries in your starter deck being worth one move each, or can be used to buy things from the shop. Purple cards will typically give you some useful abilities which I’ll talk about a little below, but also specifically movement points as opposed to battery power. That means you can’t choose to move fewer spaces and use the rest as currency – batteries are either, movement has to be movement. Red attack cards come in to flavours; melee or range. A melee attack will mean you have to be orthogonally adjacent to another robot, whereas ranged attacks can come from further afield. Each attack has a damage value that means you take health off an opponent’s robot mat and add it to your own victory point pile.
It’s perhaps worth noting at this point that you can buy separate robot booster packs that give you an extra mini, more tiles and more cards, and that the Kickstarter version had promo cards/tiles as well as an exclusive robot. For the purposes of this review, I’m excluding all those components and focusing solely on the base game, but be aware you might see other reviews or pictures mentioning defense, events or upgrades if you scour the internet for more information.
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right
Let’s talk briefly about movement in Robot Quest Arena, because getting around the arena is going to be a big part of both your defence and attacking plans.
Typically, your robot companion can only move orthogonally and can be hindered by obstacles (walls and other robots) or trap tiles on the ground so you may find yourself zig-zagging through the arena at times, particularly if you’ve spent a turn or two hiding behind a wall.
Some purple function cards help with this a little, breaking some element of the movement restrictions for that turn. The Jump Jets you start with give you two movement and allow you to ignore obstacles, meaning you can jump straight over a wall rather than moving around it. Other cards in the shop like Omni Wheels allow you to move and push diagonally as well which can also come in handy if you’re planning an escape, or a rampaging attack. Speaking of which…
Fight, Fight, Fight!
We should probably get onto the fighting shouldn’t we? The aim of the game is to wreak havoc on your opponents, while protecting yourself as much as possible. You can do this by getting up close and personal for some melee damage, sniping your opponents from afar with your ranged arsenal, or pushing them into walls or traps to hopefully land that vital blow.
When you play an attack card, you’ll resolve the damage by removing a number of health cubes from that robot’s mat and adding them to a separate pile that will count of victory points for you at the end of the game. Any red cubes you remove are worth one point, blues count for two. Here are also some chunky red crystals you can use to exchange reds at a 5:1 ratio if the supply ever gets diminished.
It's worth flagging here that whenever you damage a robot, their health turns into your victory points – it doesn’t get used to top-up your own health first. The dual value of the cubes isn’t complicated, but it can just slip your mind in the heat of battle, so if you’re playing with younger or new players, you might help them to make sure they have a separate victory point pile.
More often than not, you’ll be trying to land the decisive punch, taking the more valuable blue cubes and temporarily clearing the board up a bit. That said, a smash-and-grab hit where you can run away afterwards, while leaving your opponent reeling can be equally valuable.
Ranged attacks can be more powerful with the single mortar card dealing an almost always critical amount of damage whilst also not being concerned with line of sight issues. Other ranged weaponry does need a clear shot, so positioning yourself well and using your movement wisely is key. Line of sight is simple to understand – a straight line from your square to your target’s – if it’s clear you’re good to go.
You don’t only have to deal damage through attack cards though. Pushing an opponent into a wall chips away at their health, and pushing them into another robot will damage both of them, so you’re not necessarily out of the action if all you’ve drawn are movement and battery cards.
The arena can also be littered with traps like potholes and tacks, and pushing robots onto these tiles will trigger their effects as well, leaving your unscathed.
All the robots have a neat asymmetric power which can influence how you play. Pug, the pink hero can choose to spawn in the centre nine spaces, and anyone who begins their turn in that area takes a victory point from the supply. It leaves you vulnerable, but you can farm points if you stay alive. Crate (blue) is a bit of a unit, starting with more health than everyone else, and as such needs an extra movement to be used to push him around.
Strider, the red robot, can spend two movement once per turn to do a ranged attack, while Petri, the green Roomba looking robot gains a point and draws a card whenever they knock out a robot.
How you choose to play will probably end up being a mix of the hand you’ve drawn, your own personal approach to fight vs flight and what your player power can offer you, so it’s worth bearing all of those in mind.
But… It’s Too Cute To Be A Fighting Game
Well… kind of. I think the art is really well done, from the components on the cards to the actual minis themselves. It feels really consistent throughout and I think the style can probably go some way to helping introduce younger players into larger deck building games without it feeling too grown up. I’ve played with my daughter a few times, and I know of others playing with kids as young as seven, so I think it makes it feel accessible.
But don’t be fooled, you can be on the end of some pretty brutal turns if you’re not careful. I’ve talked about the Mortar already, but the Rotating Hammers can knock a robot out all on its own, and the Tesla Coil’s ability to be charged up by spending excess battery cards to deal a massive amount of damage can see big swings in points quite quickly. It might look on the softer side, but it can hit you hard.
Robot Quest Arena was one of my most anticipated games of the year, and it hasn’t disappointed me in the slightest. Deck building games are popular at home, but the flow of play, the art and the overall look of it really do combine to make something special. It even has its own official theme song on YouTube!
It doesn’t feel crowded at four players (and I’ve had a game with five using the expansions) and there were a few grudges that played out – eye for an eye stuff – but you weren’t constantly on the back foot or having to be aggressive when cards didn’t allow for it. At two players, you each control two robots in a team style so I think it plays well at all counts.
The game length itself scales as you add more blue cubes into the supply during set up, and to be honest, you can choose to throw even more in if you want a prolonged battle.
I like the variability in set up with the freedom to choose which tiles to place out, and where to put them, making each experience potentially different, and again allowing for a more gentle introduction for newer players at the same time.
If I’m nit-picking on the flip side, measuring range for some attack cards can take a second or two longer, but it’s hardly a deal breaker in any way.
I genuinely think Robot Quest Arena is a fabulous game so if it sounds like your kind of thing, check it out!
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