NanoBot Battle Arena Review: Othello Meets Chicken Fighting
When I first looked at NanoBot Battle Arena by Derpy Games, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. For those of you wanting a quick verdict: I say the game is one you can sit down and play a couple of rounds before getting tired. I would also recommend playing with up to 5 friends, 3 being optimum. For those of you in it for the long haul, I would say there are really 2 main things to talk about: presentation and execution.
The presentation of the game was great. When I first opened the box, the contents were very neatly packed and tightly sealed. There were 120 cardboard tokens in 8 cardboard sleeves. Each sleeve contained all 15 tokens from a single faction. The tokens had decent heft and were shaped well. The art took up the full piece on both sides: one side dark and one side light. My only complaint is the faction icon on the token. It is really small, and the faction icon is on the corresponding faction cards, which makes the icon important. The tokens and are color coded however, so the problem isn't that big of a deal. That brings me to the cards. There are, to my knowledge, 96 total. Each faction has 6 level-1 cards, 4 level-2 cards, and 2 level-3 cards. The levels determine the effectiveness of the card.
I do have some complaints about the rulebook. I personally think it isn’t very well organized. I remember trying to find what to do in the event of running out of cards in the deck, and trying to find if we should reshuffle or not. The rule was buried under some section that, while it worked, would have been more easily found under another heading. The text is also incredibly tiny, as if they didn’t want to pay for the extra sheet of color paper. The art also seemed a little less vibrant as compared to everything else, but was still useful and coordinated well with the rules they were explaining. As much as I harp on the rulebook, it explains the rules well enough, and covers a lot of weird questions you may ask. Overall, it is a good rulebook that is concise.
As I said, the rulebook does a good job explaining the rules. However, the best way to learn anything is by doing it. My first time playing the game was a little confusing. For the complexity of the rulebook, a turn consists of few steps.
1) Play a tile.
2) Play a card.
3) Draw a card.
4) End your turn.
That’s it*. That’s the game. This is both terrible and great all at the same time. It is terrible because, when it is not your turn, there is nothing to do. If you play with lots of people or with people that need to think, it can get slightly stale after a game or two. It is great because, once you get into the flow, a turn lasts several seconds. It really lets you have a fast paced game, which fits into the small narrative that Derpy Games has tried to establish. The tiles have directions, and you win by having the longest connected chain of tiles. You can place anywhere except at the end of an opponents chain, unless it is also at the end of your chain. So, how can you beat the person in the lead? That’s where the cards come in. The cards have all sorts of zany abilities, ranging from disabling opponent's cards to converting tokens to your side. Overall, the most fun card lets you take a token and teleport it to any valid space on the board. The most fun cards are surge, which lets you remove a few cards at the end of one of your chains, and a card that lets you teleport tiles. However, some cards are clearly inferior to the others.
Freeze and Growth are those inferior cards. Frost has the ability of letting you prevent another player from playing random cards for one turn. While interesting on paper, it doesn't actually do too much. Sure you mildly inconvenience an opponent, but your turn can be better spent affecting the play area instead. If you could at least see what cards they had, then it would be something worth considering just to get a feel for what that person is planning. Of course, the game is so hectic and changes so much, even that isn't very powerful. Growth is also a very interesting card… on paper. The card lets you play additional tokens based on the card’s level. Taking into account the faction advantage for playing as the Echidna faction, you can play up to 4 additional tokens on one turn. That sounds amazing. However, there is no down side for other players using it against a player with the faction advantage, unlike every card in the game. Considering that most cards can almost, if not entirely, nullify any use from those extra tokens you would have gotten by the time your next turn comes around, you essentially just wasted a turn. Of course, that’s only 2 of the 8 factions, so I just suggest ignore those exist, or make some house rules to buff those cards’ abilities. Those cards aren't a big deal, however, because games don't usually last long enough for there to be a big need for much strategy for much past the next turn. In fact, I'm not sure it is even possible, considering the board can literally be in a completely different state by your next turn.
Keeping in mind that organized chaos is part of the game, this is actually a fun game. You have to live in the moment, and choose something you feel is good based on what HAS happened, not on what you anticipate WILL happen. That is a major drag if you have lots of players, because then your moment takes too long, or if you don't have enoughplayers, because then the chaos isn't there. This is still a nice change of pace from a lot of strategy games. Too many games in the genre are decided in the first couple of turns, and this game does a great job at sidestepping that. There really is no way of know who will win until that last tile is placed. If you are looking for a fun game to purchase, I would suggest NanoBot Battle Arena, with the caveat of holding off on getting more than one pack until you actually play the game and make your own judgement.
*This only applies to the base version of the game.
If you wish to purchase the game, head on over to Derpy Games. Thanks to Derpy Games for supplying a copy for review!