Favorite Things: RoboRally

Night & Day Studios’ founder Nat Sims on RoboRally:

I'm a dedicated fan and backer of Kickstarter. One of the earlier projects I backed was the Robot Turtles boardgame by Dan Shapiro, which hopes to teach programming concepts to kids. (A ton of other people backed it too and it helped inspired the current boardgame explosion on Kickstarter.)

Robot Turtles is something of a knockoff of the classic RoboRally by Richard Garfield (a fellow D&D fan who later created Magic: the Gathering). It replaces the sort of 70s geek-programmer vibe of RoboRally with a quirky, faux-anime feel. More importantly, the board is not whizzing around in 20 different directions, threatening a pit or a flamethrower, so there is more time to think.

My six-year-old daughter and I finally played Robot Turtles this summer, though I gave it to her last Christmas. The funny thing is, in that short time I think she got a little too old. She jumped through all the conceptual challenges (the concept of programming steps; the concept that the steps are the only instructions the robot turtle will follow, for good or ill; and even the concept of a subroutine).

Within an hour or so, we had kind of played through the game. I was tempted to have her make the jump to RoboRally right then, but it seemed too geeky and violent for her, and the conveyor belts and traps, which are intended to confuse grownups for comedic effect, kind of squashed the intellectual fun of programming the robots.

In short, we discovered a gap where, I believe, a new game could fit in. A boardgame, to better preserve the conversational and social aspects of play, but one that allowed a little more programming language to shine through, without RoboRally's pure melee chaos.

For now, we'll draft up our suggested home-rule add-ons for Robot Turtles, but I think a lot more could be done in this area. I look forward to seeing the next great programming boardgame.

Robot Turtles is on Amazon.

Wikipedia offers more on RoboRally.