Electron Dance
22Apr/162

Dabbling with… Insane Robots

The fifteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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While at IndieCade East in 2013, I had the fortune to meet the enthusiastic Rob Davis of Playniac. He was there representing International Racing Squirrels which was one of the IndieCade East finalists. Produced for Channel 4 Education, the game had a deceptive appearance, looking like some kind of a light-hearted racing game; it's actually about managing money and debt. (Check out Adam Smith's piece on RPS if you want to more about it.)

But since then, the only Playniac title I'd heard of was crowd game Cat On Yer Head. I'm afraid you can't get a Steam key for this game as it's strictly non-digital. And you need at least 20 people to play it. It's an ingenious game where you can't really say whether anyone actually wins or loses. That's not true. If the crowd has fun, everybody wins.

I digress. Playniac are back in 2016 with a title in development called Insane Robots. It was initially prototyped as a card game in 2013 and tested out over subsequent years, with Playniac only committing to the digital version in 2015. The fact that it started out as a card game will give you an idea what sort of game we’re talking about here.

Insane Robots is a turn-based battle game where supposedly malfunctioning robots are set against each other in a cruel hex-based arena of death. The core of the game is the robot battle itself, built around an interesting circuit-completion mechanic.

To attack you must complete a circuit. This means you need to put in place two attack components into the attack circuit and the strength of the attack depends on the combined component power. Placing components are actions that cost you “time” in your turn; activating an attack is also an entirely separate action.

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What this means is the real battle is over the circuits as you wind up trying to protect your components while sabotaging your opponents’. For example, you can ‘lock’ a component, preventing it from being swapped out, or ‘glitch’ it to increase or decrease component power as required. But there are only so many things you can do in a single turn, so you need to ponder the best thing to do. You also have to maintain a defence circuit!

I played through the tutorial and the entire first arena. What I found clever was how I couldn’t set up an attack straight away, so the game forced me into making use of secondary actions like ‘glitch’ and ‘hack’ which I otherwise would have avoided during my session. Scarcity was its own kind of tutorial.

There’s a lot going on here and I don’t confess to be an expert at this stage. I don’t know what governs the list of components made available to you every turn or anything about the ‘combos’ you can manufacture from different actions. It also involves an upgrade mechanism, where victories yield cash and cash can buy augmentations.

But anyway, if this sounds like your sort of thing, hop over to the Insane Robots page and sign up for the mailing list. (And extra thanks to Rob Davis for a copy of Cat On Yer Head.)

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I watched that video and am still not entirely sure how the game is played. :(

    Insane Robots sounds cool, though, so I signed up to the mailing list. Completely missed this one at Rezzed!

  2. Hey Shaun. I don’t want to explain it as you’re supposed to buy a copy of the game! Although as it’s so simple I’m sure word-of-mouth probably limits the sales potential. You can a free version (PDF) from the website but I’m not sure exactly what that includes. The first time I found out how the game played was when Davis provided me with the hardcopy above. Having said that, this video does explain the whole thing.

    It leads to highly unusual “player” dynamics; Davis says it turns a crowd into videogame console and that’s not a bad description. Also playing sessions are meant to riff off the rule set to generate something a little different (the yellow balloons are one such tweak, they represent cheese if you really want to know).


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