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VOLT: Robot Battle Arena | Review

June 17, 2014
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Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi | Artists: Emerson Matsuuchi | Publisher: Nazca Games, 2014
Players: 2-4 | Playing time: 30 min.

Before the robot uprising of the late 90’s, humans discovered a new avenue for gaining fame and fortune: Robot Battle Arenas. For some, it was a chance to showcase their engineering prowess; for others, just another cash-grab media sensation. Either way, these automated duels to the death became entertainment monoliths and being a part of them meant your chance at leaving a legacy.

DESIGN

VOLT: Robot Battle Arena, from Emerson Matsuuchi and Nazca Games, places you in an alternate universe, one exactly the same as ours, only if Robot Wars was featured on NBC Primetime and Grant Imahara was a much bigger celebrity. In this world, Robot Battle Arenas are top-dog when it comes to sports entertainment and corporations globally are trying to get in on the action. In VOLT, you and up to three other players will take to the arena, looking to show both your engineering and strategic prowess and compete for points gained by outmaneuvering and altogether destroying your opponents.

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VOLT is another addition to the “programmable movement” games category, as you and your opponents will be predetermining your entire turn in secret, then simultaneously executing those actions at once, most often causing a good amount of chaos and cries of “It was perfect until you…” and “Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen!” This is a mechanism that has been used in the past, but VOLT introduces a unique twist by using an open-ended dice mechanic for programming your moves across two separate control boards, one for movement and one for shooting. Add in a whopping 16 potential upgrade options, four different game modes, and four different arenas, and you have a game that looks and feels very different when compared to others on the market, or even when comparing separate plays of VOLT to itself.

The game comes with a wealth of things (dice, boards, tokens, player screens etc.) which are all well-made, though not particularly flashy. There is some nice art, but mostly the components feature iconography that eases understanding and facilitates quick gameplay. It isn’t over the top in terms of component quality, but it has some flair and all works well. The rulebook, at basically two pages, makes VOLT incredibly simple to jump into and generally explains things well.

GAMEPLAY

All players begin by assembling their basic player components. Everyone needs:

  • A robot with corresponding player screen (their “HUD”)
  • A Player Board
  • Three dice: red, white, and blue (Robot Fighting – ‘Merica’s Sport!)

Decide which of the four arenas will be used for play; each is generally the same, but the spacing of the Control Points can influence how heavily the game focuses on clever movement versus well-aimed laser blasts. Once set-up, roll the blue d6 to determine which of the Control Points will be active for this round. Now, LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!

PLAYER’S TURN404A0359

Players simultaneously progress through four stages of each round.

1. Place Action Dice: Players place each of their dice on a space on their player board; doing so will program their robot to either move or shoot in that direction. The movement distance or shooting range is determined by the die facing chosen. Dice resolve in Red – White – Blue order.

2. Reveal and Resolve Actions: Players remove their player screens and reveal their chosen actions. Actions will then resolve in Red – White – Blue order, with the lowest number of that color die going first. In the case of ties, programmed movements resolve before firing actions. If tied still, the person with the lowest total sum of all their dice will activate first.

When resolving movement, the players’ robot will move a number of spaces equal to the chosen die face, in the direction of the die placement. If movement would be blocked by another robot, simply push it along as you move.

When resolving firing, the robot fires in the direction of the die placement, with a range equal to the chosen die face. If the firing line would cross one or more opposing robots, the first robot to be hit would suffer one point of damage. Additionally, players hit by a laser of range two or more will also suffer a “disrupting effect.” These are as follows:

    • Two: Rotate dice on weapon controls by 45 degrees clockwise
    • Three: Rotate dice on weapon controls by 45 degrees counterclockwise
    • Four: Rotate all dice by 90 degrees clockwise
    • Five: Rotate all dice by 90 degrees counterclockwise
    • Six: Push the robot one space away

Each die color is resolved in this fashion. Once completed, players will clear their board and proceed to scoring victory points.


3. Score Victory Points: 
Robots that suffer three damage points are immediately destroyed and award the destroyer one Victory Point. Additionally, robots who fall into a pit are destroyed; if they were pushed, either by movement or by firing a shot with a “six” disrupting effect, the robot who pushed the opponent is awarded one Victory Point. A Victory Point is also awarded to any player who ends the round on the active Control Point, determined at the beginning of the round. If a point is scored this way, the die will again be rolled to determine a new active Control Point.

4. Respawn: Any robot destroyed during the round will respawn before the beginning of the next. Robots can be respawned on any empty space along the outermost edge of the arena. Then a new round begins.

Play continues until one player scores 5 Victory Points.

GAME MODES

After a few plays of the basic mode, you may be looking to spice up the robot combat a bit. This can easily be done by the inclusion of various upgrades. There are 16 upgrades included in the game and several different ways to play with them. The first is to simply draw one upgrade at random and allow all players access to that power during the game. Another suggested method is to hold a draft, where each player will end with three hand-picked upgrades. These can either be activated once per game, unlocked each round, or just immediately available – depending on your need for chaos. Additionally, there is a team-play variant, where teams of two work together to score 10 Victory Points, awarding one VP to the opposing team if friendly fire happens to occur. All of these game modes can be mixed, matched and altered to provide the experience that you’re looking for.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

We first got VOLT to the table during a weekly game night at our local shop. While the others finished up a game of Bullfrogs, I was able to break out the rules, give them a read, and have a proficient understanding for how the game plays. While I’d like to think this was a personal skill, it was most definitely a result of the simple and streamlined rules. Everything you need to know is spelled out quickly, with enough detail and examples to make it clear, even during a loud and crowded public game night. With one rules briefing, everything else you need can be found on the inside of your player screen—a clear reminder of the action resolution sequence and the different disruption effects.

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Of note in the design is the clever options for action programming. The dice system is easy to grasp, yet you may often find yourself wondering just how to go about accomplishing your goals. When to move or shoot, and which die facing to choose, gives a strategic skeleton to what often looks like complete nonsense when everyone simultaneously acts. Also, the tiebreakers are deceptively important. There have been a number of situations in our plays where players have intentionally used the tiebreaker system to their advantage, either exploiting the “movement resolves first” or the “lowest total resolves first” rule. Sure, hitting someone with a five-laser may have more of an effect, but settling for range three may help you avoid getting zapped and destroyed…

The gameplay is fast and furious; games shouldn’t take much more than 30 minutes, making a series of battles or a one-off slugfest equal options on a game night. VOLT really shines with a full compliment of players and a variety of upgrades included. This is robot death-combat after all, so the more chaotic, the better. While this may not appeal to everyone, there simply isn’t enough going on here to play without upgrades and still have it be enjoyable across multiple plays. If getting to the active Control Point flawlessly, only to have a stray grenade destroy a nearby opponent, thus activating their thermonuclear core and splattering your metal bits all over the arena floor doesn’t appeal to you, VOLT probably doesn’t belong on your shelf. However, if that’s exactly what you and your friends are looking for, VOLT provides a lot of options in a single box.

VOLT is a lighter game that innovates the concept of programmable movement. For a game about weaponized robot arena combat, there is a surprising emphasis on strategic planning and player interaction through action anticipation. There’s no dice-rolling or randomness outside of the human-element, which means wins and losses are truly only attributable to the players at the table. Add in a heap of customizable options and variant components, and VOLT manages to provide a really positive experience, one that will have you laughing, cursing and cheering (maybe all within the same game round).

LEAGUE RULING

LoNG_Stars_4Buns

VOLT has proven to be a welcome addition to our collection of board games. While we also own RoboRally, the robot-racing cousin of VOLT, we have found that there is more than enough room for both of these games as they serve a largely different purpose. VOLT is an excellent option for gamers looking for a light strategy game that is prone to a little, or potentially a lot, of chaos. Planning your movement is as much about personal strategy as it is about reading your opponents and, given that attacking and racing to the checkpoints are both viable win conditions, it is important to consider trying new things throughout the game, as predictability could be your downfall.

 

Though there are these fun strategic options, the game is very lighthearted and easy to get to the table with just about anyone. I managed to teach both my Mom and a completely new gamer at the same time and met with success. Frankly, any game that can manage to swing that has a place on my shelf.

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I was only able to get in one play of VOLT and I had a lot of fun, even though all of my programmed movements always turned into epic fails. The mechanic of using colored dice and the order you placed them on your control board was interesting and a new concept for me. The game really has you plotting out your movements and trying to predict what your opponents will do just like in a chess match. The game itself is designed very well and has high quality components and good player scalability. The game is also very easy to teach to new players and you can get the game going very quickly. I would love to get this game to the table again. Maybe this time I will do better?

LoNG_Stars_4Smee’s Two Pence

While games such as RoboRally feature plenty of robots either exploding or plummeting to their destruction, the carnage is a sideshow to the main plot; not so with VOLT! Cackle with glee as you snipe your opponent from afar, or ‘accidentally’ bump him into the oblivion of a bottomless pit as you both fight for control of the arena, King-of-the-Hill style. Featuring a deceptively simple set of programmable actions and a number of available upgrades and play modes, VOLT is easy to pick up, allowing more complex strategies to be added in; sure to keep things fresh through repeated plays.
Personally, I’ll award VOLT four stars, and a thumb up in the Light Strategy category.

LoNG_Stars_4Ben

I will reiterate what the others have said above me. VOLT is a chaotically fun game that is easy to learn. It also offers a fair amount of strategy with the need to plan out your movements while anticipating your opponent’s. I really enjoy playing this one, especially after adding in the upgrades that can make things even more hectic. The one mistake you can make playing VOLT is taking yourself too seriously. Even with perfect planning your opponents can easily get in your way and you will forget to take certain things into account while moving around the board. VOLT will make a great addition to any game collection.

 

LoNG_Stars_4Dan

I spend most of my time playing VOLT from the depths of the numerous pits scattered around the board; my robot always seems to find a way to fall in them. I am not very good at this game but that doesn’t dampen my experience one bit. For having such a simple, innovative base mechanic, the amount of thought that goes into planning your moves and deciphering your opponent’s moves is quite enjoyable even for the most hardcore strategist. Win or lose, this game provides a great social experience for you and your friends as you try to outwit, out maneuver and “pew pew” each other all around the board. While the base game is fun, you will easily get the most out of your VOLT experience with the upgrades that can be equipped to each of the robots to make them unique; adding an extra layer of complexity when determining your next move. I strongly recommend this for groups where chaos is allowed to reign free!

LoNG_Stars_4_HalfKelly B!

I think that VOLT is an awesome game! It took a couple of rounds to get the hang of it, and I won’t lie, I still want to roll the dice every time we play. It is such a novel thing in my mind to not roll them, but to just pick whatever number I want. I love it. I have spent many a game smirking behind my board thinking “I am totally gonna kick some butt and win this objective” only to have Biff shoot me into a pit because I stupidly didn’t think about the fact that I would be moving first when I chose my final action to be a movement of only one space. VOLT allows players to plan strategies for the most efficient movement while laying the most absolute destruction; the trouble is that it allows everyone to do that (in a very fun way). A player might think they’re the most devious only to be pushed into a hole and die. I frequently get blown up in this game and I still love every second of it!

 

The League would like to thank Emerson Matsuuchi and Nazca Games for providing a copy of VOLT: Robot Battle Arena for review. For more information on VOLT and other Nazca Games titles, head over to www.nazcagames.com.

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Matt H. (Buns)

CONTENT MANAGER/PODCAST HOST : Perpetual consumer of all things board, card and game. Lover of dice, card sleeves, and fancy meeples. Jack-of-all-games, Master of none.

  • blnichol

    Great review guys! It sounds like the game play is similar to Pirate Dice, but has something more to it. The components seem pretty good, but man I wish there were custom dice with the actions of them!

    Would you say the game is more chaotic than Robo Rally?

    • I’d say that Robo Rally is more chaotic, just by the dint of there being more board features to go around. Twisty conveyer belts are always a source of trouble, along with crushers, pushers, and on-board lasers. :)

      VOLT places you on a markedly smaller board, so there’s possibly more /human-caused/ chaos, however.

      • Ben

        Since Robo Rally has a bigger board, I would say there is more opportunity to stay away from the chaos until you have to get close to other players, whereas VOLT has you in constant chaos. I’ve had games of Robo Rally where I was able to plan everything perfectly and stay away from people, therefore avoiding chaos. Unless of course I just accidentally leave myself on a conveyor belt and fall into a pit…