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Robotech: Force of Arms Review



Quick Look: Robotech: Force of Arms

Designer: Dave Killingsworth
Artists: Andora Cidonia, Joel Lopez
Publisher: SolarFlare Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com



Review:


Robotech: Force of Arms board game box art SolarFlare Games Everything Board Games

When I received this game to review, it looked interesting. I’m a big fan of sci-fi anything, so I was excited to give it a go. What was my surprise, then, when I discovered that Robotech is also a TV show from the 80s! Obviously I had to switch gears and head on over to Netflix and see what all the hullabaloo was about. After watching the first few episodes, I can tell you that the show is a lot of fun (except for episode 4 which had a bare behind/shower scene, which was rather shocking and unappreciated and now I’m too scared to continue watching). 

But what of the game, you ask? 

I was just getting to that, so I’m glad you brought it up! Board Game Geek classifies Robotech: Force of Arms as having aspects of area control, grid movement, hand management, and take-that. I would like to add “bluffing” to that list, if I may. While there isn’t a lot of grid movement (if any, depending on your point of view), the hand management and area control aspects of the game make for some neat gameplay experiences. Couple that with the bluffing—laying fighter cards face-down so your opponent doesn’t know if you’re attacking or defending in a row or column—and you’ve got yourself a solid mind game of outthinking your opponent.

Initial Impressions


Robotech: Force of Arms game-end scoring board game

It took me one 30-minute game to really understand how everything worked, but after that, subsequent games moved along at a nice pace. The strategy also evolved as players became more familiar with the mechanics and card abilities. 

The game itself is small, containing about 50 cards and 40-ish tokens. It doesn’t take up a lot of table space, either, which I’m always a fan of. Heck, the game even included two (2) baggies! One for the cards, the other for the tokens. I love when games include bags for the cards and other components. Makes my life that much easier.

Going back to the TV show itself, I’m actually glad I saw a few episodes before I jumped into playing because the game made a lot more sense after that. That’s not to say the game was confusing for me before I saw any of the actual show. In fact, the rules and gameplay were still pretty straightforward. But it’s nice to know the history behind the game, and that includes some of the jargon on the cards. 

The Experience


Robotech: Force of Arms Board Game Cards image SDF-1

I enjoyed every play of Robotech: Force of Arms. I found the second game to be the most fun, as I now knew what I was doing, and turns didn’t take too long. After that, however, the replayability started to feel a little...burdensome. Alright, maybe not "burdensome" per se, but there didn't seem to be much more excitement as brought out by the game. I attribute this to the cards and abilities. Each player has a separate deck of faction cards; however, most of these cards all have the same abilities on them, regardless of faction. Those differing in ability are still too similar to make much of a difference (in my supremely humble opinion, anyway). Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy each game I played, but there does come a certain plateau that doesn’t seem to make any more playthroughs better. 

I think this plateau is more pronounced when playing with the same person over and over again. By frequently playing with different people, you will be facing off against different processes of thought, different strategies, and tactics you may never have thought of. Variety in opponents is Robotech’s best friend, but it’s still a good time even with the same opponent time and again (just don’t expect the experience to keep getting better).

Robotech: Force of Arms is relatively quick to play, so its great for a fast game or two while the kids take an afternoon nap (because, let’s face it, once they’re up, there’s no way in the far reaches of space that there will be time for a game until they go back to bed for the night). I was pleasantly surprised by the fun-factor this game provided, and while it won’t be making it to the table as frequently as some other games, it certainly has its place in my game library.

And now, without further ado, I give you the Nitty Gritty.



Setup:


Robotech: Force of Arms Review Setup Board Game
This is how it all begins...
Shuffle the Ship cards (not including the alternate SDF-1) and deal them face-up in a 9x9 grid, leaving the middle space empty. Speaking of space, place the Empty Space card in the empty middle space (or, as I lovingly call it, “the Empty Space space”).

Give each player all the cards and tokens of their assigned faction. In the first phase, only the Fighter cards will be used. Players start with two Spy tokens, and will earn any others throughout the game.

Players decide which two edges of the grid they want to control (the edge directly in front of the player and one of the two side edges; the other player will control the other two edges).

Gameplay:
There are three main phases in Robotech: Force of Arms, and I'll discuss each in order of appearance.

Strategy Phase


Robotech: Force of Arms Board Game Card Game by SolarFlare Games
After players move Ships during the Strategy phase, they place two Fighters next to any row or column they control (Red controls bottom and right, and green controls top and left).
In this phase, the starting player replaces one Ship with any other card in the grid (swapping places). Then, that player plays two Fighter cards next to a row or column on an edge they control. Then the second player does the same, and play continues in this way until both players have played all their Fighter cards.

Each fighter has a number associated with it, as well as an Attack or Defend icon (top-left corner). At the end of the game, all Ships in a Fighter’s row or column will be attacked/defended according to the number of the Fighter and its corresponding icon (attack/defend). This is good to keep in mind when placing Fighters. But remember, your opponent will be moving Ships around, so plan accordingly.

Some Fighters also have special abilities on them which grand more tokens to use throughout the game. If a Fighter with an ability is played face-up, then you gain the tokens as stated on the card. Any Fighter played face-down is hidden knowledge from your opponent, however if a Fighter with an ability is played face-down, no tokens are collected.

Spy tokens negate another token played (except Protoculture tokens). Ship Lock tokens keep any assigned ships from being swapped around the grid. Protoculture tokens proved +2 attack or defense, depending if it is placed on an enemy Ship or friendly Ship. +1 Attack and +1 Defend tokens are also available, which can be assigned on whichever ship you would like to give a little extra nudge to.

Token Phase


Robotech: Force of Arms Review Token Phase Benjamin Kocher
Next, players take turns putting tokens on ships.
Once all Fighters have been played, players take turns (beginning with the starting player) placing tokens. The first player places a token on a ship, and then the other player places a token. This continues until all the tokens have been used. (Except Spy tokens. They can be kept for the next phase.)

Hero/Command Phase


Robotech: Force of Arms Review Command Cards Hero Cards Everything Board Games
Examples of two Heroes and two Command cards.
Now, in reverse player order, players will take turns playing a Command card or Hero card until each player has played three cards. A maximum of two Command cards may be played, and only one Hero card can be played, so plan accordingly. These cards grant special actions and abilities which could make or break your victory.

Scoring


Robotech: Force of Arms Board Game by SolarFlare Games Review Scoring
Time to see if you actually were in your opponent's mind, or if you just got royally hosed.
Technically, this is the fourth phase. However, it’s basically the end of the game and now you’re just tallying points. After the Hero/Command phase ends, flip over all the Fighters so they're all face-up.

Points are gained by a player having either more attack value on a Ship, or more defense value. Each ship has a defense value on its lower-left corner. Defense tokens and Protoculture tokens (if played on one of your own ships) bolster that number by the amount shown on the tokens. Likewise, defense Fighters all grant additional defense values to each Ship in their corresponding row or column. If the defense value is greater than the attack value, the player who owns the Ship takes it and keeps it, thus gaining the score shown in the bottom-right corner.

Attack value is granted by Fighters in a row or column (in the same way as defense-giving Fighters work), Attack tokens, and Protoculture tokens (on enemy ships). If a player’s attack value is greater than their opponent’s defense value, the attacking player wins the Ship card and gains those points.

If both attack and defense values are the same, nobody gets the ship.

The player with the most points wins! In case of a tie, the rule book says to continue the battle (i.e. “play again”). Personally, I like to know who wins, especially since I may not be getting another game in right after that one ends. If I were to create a tiebreaker, I would say it would be the person with the most ships in their possession. If a tie still persisted, then I’d have to think more on that. But at least you have a house rule for tie breaker to go off.

Theme and Mechanics:


Robotech title screen 1985

As you may have read in my rambling introduction, Robotech is based off the 80s anime of the same name. The lore goes that a spaceship crashed on Earth in 1999. Ten years later, the good people of Earth were able to officially launch their space-defense program (reminds me of some present-day news from the POTUS). No sooner do they break the proverbial champagne over the new program than alien ships are detected approaching. Gadzooks! Well, thus starts the war. And that’s where Robotech: Force of Arms comes into play. Humans, using advanced technology repaired from a crashed alien ship, must fight off the too-human-looking aliens by outthinking the opponent and engaging in fierce combat. Likewise, these offshoots from humanity must outthink the crafty humans in order to win the war for themselves.

Welp, that was probably more theme than you ever wanted. But, as I am wont to say, I’m a theme guy through and through, so I tend to get a little carried away some times.

As for mechanics (moving right along…), they’re simple yet effective. Move one ship in the 9x9 grid and swap places with any other space. Then, play a fighter card—either face down or face up—next to the grid on one or both side(s) that you control. What’s interesting about this is the fighters. With powers ranging from 1 to 6 in both attack and defense (two of each numbers, one of each attack or defense), there is a lot of thought that goes into where each fighter should be placed. Likewise, some fighters grant bonus tokens if played face up. So, do you risk giving away your strategy in order to earn a few extra tokens? Or do you keep that fighter face down and bluff your way through the battle?

Considering there isn’t a lot of mechanics, this bluffing game creates more strategy than I originally thought when first learning the game. Likewise, where players play tokens during the Token phase, and which Command and Hero cards are played, can really leave players sweating, trying to think about what their opponent will do, and trying to play the best cards for the situation while still being ready to counter their opponent’s next move (which may not be what was expected).

In all, I think the mechanics are fitting for the type of game this is. 

Artwork and Components:


Robotech: Force of Arms tokens board game
The different types of tokens (in all their glory).
The artwork is simple, but I still really like it. It’s nothing fancy—just pictures of the ships or characters from the show. I like that look, however, so it works for me.

Components are your standard, good-quality cards and cardboard tokens. Everything feels fine, and while it could be worse, I wouldn’t expect it to be much better, either.

The Good:
  • Easy to learn and quick to play.
  • Mechanics and card text support the theme quite nicely.
  • The game came with two (2) ziplock baggies!

The Bad:
The amount of replayability this game has could very well depend on who you game with. For some people, it could be played a hundred times or more with the same person and still be a blast. For others, half a dozen games with the same opponent may be reaching the point of no return.

A few bits of jargon on the cards might be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the show. However, the instructions on the cards are clear as can be, so anything you don’t understand won’t impact your game any. 

Final Thoughts:
Robotech: Force of Arms is fun. I like it, and I like that I can feel as if I’m actually commanding my fleet and fighters while out-thinking my enemy. The reveal during the scoring phase is a lot of fun, too, as players moan and/or rejoice upon seeing which fighters were placed where, thus setting in stone success or failure. 

There’s a good amount of bluffing in this game, which certainly adds to the enjoyment factor. The mechanics are simple yet effective. It could be overplayed, but after a little time away from it, it will most likely be fresh again. For me, there’s something to be said about ship-to-ship combat that doesn’t include miniatures or dice. In all, I'd say it's a fun game, but could outlive its welcome if overplayed. 

Players Who Like:

If you like to bluff your way to victory, Robotech: Force of Arms may be your cup of tea. You may also like it if you’re a fan of quick, tactical games. If you like the Robotech show at all, then you’ll get a kick out of Robotech: Force of Arms. 


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About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.

Robotech: Force of Arms Review Robotech: Force of Arms Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on August 07, 2018 Rating: 5

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