Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Hitting the Table: Gekido: Bot Battles

Let me start with a heads-up for you: I'm going to say a lot of things that make this sound like a bad game. There are a number of things about this game which deserve criticism. But - and this is a significant but - I still think this is a fun game that is worth having in your collection.

At Origins, I spent a lot of time around the CMON booth. It's where a lot of my friends family were.  The first game that I demoed in the booth was Gekido: Bot Battles.

Remember how Rise of Augustus is often described as "strategy Bingo" when introducing it to a new person? Gekido is "strategy Yahtzee."

The game is themed around an arena battle with robots trying to destroy one another.  Each turn, you pick your target and then move and attack them. You can also hold your move until after the attack.  The arena is only nine spaces, so getting them in range is very rarely a problem.

All attacks are melee attacks with a range of "adjacent."

To attack, you roll dice. You get a total of three rolls, and can keep as many (or as few) dice as you want after each roll, trying to get specific combinations.  After your first roll, you need to lock dice into the attack you want to use.

Some attacks have a feedback issue - if, after three rolls, you haven't completed your attack, then you take damage instead.  More difficult attacks do more damage.

This all seems pretty straightforward so far, right?

Now let's add the wrinkle (that also adds most of the problems):

There are a ton of ways you can modify the outcomes.

As you take damage, you unlock powers. Some powers are simple (take less damage on attacks, for example).  Some powers are less-clear ("force an opponent to re-roll their dice").  There are also terrain modifiers for the board. And, of course, there are cards that can be used as part of an attack (or defense).

You can only use one power per roll. Keep in mind that each attack can be up to four rolls. And that's where this game introduces Timing Issues.

Each attack goes like this:

  1. Attacker rolls dice
  2. Attacker assigns dice to their board to choose an attack
  3. Repeat until either the chosen attack is successful the dice have been rolled three times.
But now we add powers, and the timing of power use is not in the rulebook.  There are some powers that let you roll additional dice (or that short your opponent a die for their first roll). Those are clearly played before Step 1. There are other powers that are clearly played after Step 1.

But what happens if I use a card to flip a die and then my opponent wants to force a re-roll?  Whose action takes priority, here?

Remember: Each player can only use one power per roll (whether it's the robot's powers, a card, or a board effect).

Suddenly the timing looks like it could be this:
  1. Attacker may activate a power or play a card.
  2. Defender may activate a power or play a card.
  3. Attacker may react to defender play if they did not do so in in Step 1
  4. Roll dice.
  5. Attacker may activate a power or play a card if they did not do so in Steps 1 or 3 above)
  6. Defender may activate a power or play a card if they did not do so in Step 2 above
  7. Attacker may react to Defender play if they have not used a power so far this roll
  8. Attacker assigns dice to their board
  9. Repeat until either the attack is successful or the dice have been rolled three times (four if an "extra re-roll this attack" power was used).
"React" is defined as "may play if the Defender did and may not play if the Defender did not."

Here's the thing, though: This timing sequence isn't spelled out in the rules. Maybe it looks like my nine-step list, only it should say "Defender" where I typed "Attacker." Maybe I need to flip "Defender" and "Attacker" only in steps 1-3 or in steps 5-7.  There are four different timing options, there.

This forum thread suggests that the process is:
  1. Defender may activate powers and/or use cards
  2. Attacker may activate powers and/or use cards
  3. Defender may play the "Cancel" card
  4. Roll Dice
  5. Defender may activate powers and/or use cards (if they have not already done so this roll)
  6. Attacker may activate powers and/or use cards (if they have not already done so this roll)
  7. Defender may play the "Cancel" card
  8. Attacker assigns dice to their board
  9. Repeat as needed.
There is still a minor issue with that thread as posted - it doesn't address the "only one power/card per roll" thing with regards to the Defender's cancel option. But that may be just for simplicity's sake in the post. The poster (Sean Jacquemain) is someone I know and trust (he's a former Asmodee Demo Guy, and an all-around great guy).

I may put together a reference with that timing that I can laminate, print out, and keep in the game.

Again, because this bears repeating occasionally while I tear this game apart:

This is a fun game. It is the only board game that we brought home from Origins that was 100% new-to-me. We'd planned to bring Delve home, and there are a few other games that we'll be picking up when they appear at Fantasium (which reminds me: I need to e-mail them to touch base ... ).

The game has a handful of (minor) component-based shortcomings, too.
  • The floor tiles are blank on the back. Had they been double-sided with different terrain on both front and back, there would have been a wider variety of arena types available. It's a missed opportunity, but not a deal-breaker.
  • There are only nine floor tiles, and there are a limited number of ways to assemble them into a "legal" arena, because four of those nine are corners and one of them is the center. It's another missed opportunity to make the arena more dynamic and interesting.
  • The insert is weird. It's plastic-molded to hold the robots perfectly, which is fine, only one robot is on the back of the insert (so you can see it through the window on the back of the box). So you need to remove the insert to put the game away. 
  • The game includes two kinds of dice and there are two spaces in the insert that could be for those dice, but it's really not clear. 
  • There's no space in the insert for the board itself. If the board were a traditional four-fold (or even two-fold) board, that'd be one thing. But when the board is nine separate squares, there really should be a spot for it in the insert.
  • The insert won't hold sleeved cards.  This is a very minor complaint and should be filed under "Eric whining."


I don't buy games I don't enjoy enough to want to play them multiple times.

There is errata for this game (follow that link and scroll down). Honestly, it's very minor. Two boards say "upgrade" when they should say "power" instead. Of course people are complaining about it. Personally? Errata happens. And sometimes you only find rules flaws once a game is in the wild.

So now that all that negativity is out of the way, let's talk about the fun of the game:
  • Timing issues aside, the game is very simple and easy to learn. You can almost play it with eight-to-ten-year-old children. And there are probably children in that age who could handle it.
  • The included bot figures are adorable and awesome. Which improves the Kid Appeal.
  • The dice are brightly-colored, and the player control boards make it clear which faces are opposite one another for purposes of "flip."
  • The bots themselves not only look different, they also (mostly) play differently, as each bot has a different set of powers and the attacks do different amounts of damage.
  • Each bot has a "duel" version for two-player games as well. Again, these play differently from the non-duel versions of the same bots.
  • There are six bots, and the game caps at 4 players. This, combined with the (somewhat) modular board means that it won't be The Same Game every time you play. The fact that there are cards is a further level of randomness to shake things up a bit.

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