Updated: Sep 15, 2020
In Bots Up, you are using cards to build a combat robot and putting it into a fight to the finish with the robots created by your opponents (the game takes 2-5 players). Think of it as Robot Wars - the card game.
First you've got to build your robot. It'll consist of a head, body, two arms and two legs; if you're lucky... In the preview prototype we played on Board's Eye View, you have to build the robot from the six body parts cards you are dealt and you are allowed one blind swap of any number of cards. A robot can't have more than one head, one body or more than two arms and legs, so if you end up with a surplus of any body part then that card will be useless to you and you'll be going into battle with a robot missing one or more body part. This looks odd (especially if your robot is missing its body rather than just an appendage) but it's not fatal in game terms - there's even a possibility in the combat phase that you'll draw a card that lets you pick up more body parts - but there's no denying that it looks and feels wrong. The designers have already taken this point on board and are introducing some changes so that everyone will be able to start the game with a completed robot.
Each body part has an assigned 'health total' between 2 and 7. The yellow body parts are the most common and have the lower values, rising through reddy pink to blue, which have the highest values but are rarer. In the combat phase, you'll be drawing and playing battle cards to take down the health of opponents' robots; hoping that they don't have defence cards with which they can protect themselves from damage. Certain cards allow or require you to draw and play more powerful Power Play cards: these tend to have much more powerful effects but there's always a chance that a Power Play card will help an opponent considerably more than it helps you. When you reduce the health of a body part, you cover its health point box with a token representing its new health. This works really well; to the extent that we were surprised we hadn't seen it used more in other games.
The rules refer to players 'using clever skill, strategy and just a teeny bit of luck' to take down their opponents. To be sure, there's scope for tactics in the hand management combat game - especially with higher player counts where there's a choice of target. That's much less the case in a two-player game, where you are just drawing battle cards into your hand and playing them against a single opponent. If you're playing Bots Up as a two-player game, we'd recommend both players build two robots apiece to send into combat. This gives you both more choice of targets and so scope for more tactical play.
In Bots Up, Matt and Rosie Parrish have incorporated a distinct charm into their design. The cartoon robots are appealing but not so cute or anthropomorphised as to make players have any qualms about smashing them to bits. The cards offer the potential for a good light game but Bots Up is hindered by the fact that play is determined more by the luck of the draw than by the choices players make. In the preview version we played at Board's Eye View that was especially the case for the all-important robot building stage that starts every game. We felt that what was needed here was more of a mini game to build your robot - ideally so that all robots go into combat complete. We experimented simply with card drafting, with players taking a card and passing the hand on. This wasn't perfect but it gave players much more agency and was much more satisfying than the set up in the original rules. Matt and Rosie have made some changes in the version that's coming to Kickstarter, so we're keen to see how their amended bot-building rules stack up.
Bots Up is due to come to Kickstarter on 15 September and, as we've indicated, we expect to see tweaks to the rules to make the robot building stage less of a luckfest. We hope so because, with some very manageable tweaks, Bots Up has the potential to be a very entertaining family and filler-length game. Click here to check out the KS campaign.