Way back in the distance past (in 2013), Z-Man Games took over publishing of the English versions of Hans im Glück games from Rio Grande, promising continued production of popular games and reprints of certain out-of-print titles. Cue a new edition of Ricochet Robots, originally released (in Germany) in 1999. One generally assumes that if a game is popular enough to warrant a resurrection, it must be good. Does this hold true for Ricochet Robots? There’s only one way to find out. Read the rest of this review.
How It Plays
The rules for Ricochet Robots are straightforward, and in fact fit nicely on a double-sided 8.5×11 sheet of paper, a decent chunk of which contains a parts list and variant optiosn.
First, you randomly assemble a board using 4 of the 8 included double-sided board sections. Then the 4 robots are added randomly to any position. (A 5th Silver robot is included as a variant option).
Players do not control a single token or set of pieces. Instead, the board is “public access.” A token is revealed which has a colored symbol on it. The goal of each round is to find the quickest path to get the matching colored robot to the position with that symbol on it.
Robots can only move orthogonally (that is, left/right and up/down, NOT diagonal). A Robot continues moving until it hits an obstacle, which could be a wall or another Robot. This counts as one “move”
Players must race to find the solution that gets the Robot to its destination with the fewest number of moves. Robots of any color can be moved, and each counts towards the move total, but the matching colored Robot MUST be the one that gets to the destination.
The catch is, players must figure out the solution in their heads – no moving the robots around to figure out the best path. When someone figures out a solution, they call out the number of moves required and flip over a 1-minute timer. Anyone else who finds a better solution can put in their “bid.”
When the timer runs out, the player with the best bid must show their solution. If they cannot, it passes to the next best bid, until someone can prove their solution valid. If they do, they claim the token, and a new round begins.
The game ends when a player has collected a certain number of tokens (depending on the number of players), at which point that player is declared the WINNER!
Problem Solved, or System Failure?
When I first heard about Ricochet Robots, I thought it was some kind of dexterity game that involved trying to flick your robot home around obstacles and other robots that would ricochet off each other. Unfortunately, the reality was much different than that.
Fortunately, I found the actual game that WAS inside the box to be rather enjoyable and engaging.
The important thing to realize (aside from the fact that this is not a zany dexterity game) is that Ricochet Robots is a different sort of game than usual; it’s not a strategy game, a thematic game, a chaotic game, or a filler game. It’s more like a competitive puzzle.
Even after reading the rules and understanding what kind of game it was, it took actually playing it to see how enjoyable it was. In the previous paragraph, I did NOT say “so if that’s not what you’re looking for, you’ll probably want to stay away,” and that was on purpose. Puzzle game or not, Ricochet Robots is surprisingly engaging, and I recommend giving it a shot even if you’re not sure you’d be into that kind of game.
I think what makes the game rewarding is that, since the setup is random, there’s no guarantee of a simple, elegant solution. It’s not a Sunday Paper game with one “correct” solution each round that will make you feel stupid if you can’t find it. Most solutions (in my experience, at least) have required at least 8 moves, and upwards of 15¸ which seems like a whole lot of moves when you’re looking at the board. If you can find a solution, no matter how wild, wonky, and indirect it seems, you may end up claiming the point just because you shouted it out first. In the meantime, it’s fun to see what solutions other people come up with and it seriously activates your brain juices to try and figure out a solution.
That being said, while the rules are simple and the puzzle is engaging, this type of thing definitely “speaks” to certain types of brains more than others. Players who aren’t as good at solving puzzles, or who have trouble stepping through a solution in their head without being able to move the robots, or who just don’t have as good visual/spatial abilities, will likely get frustrated if they play with someone who does have those things. It does seem possible to learn and increase your skill as you play, but there could definitely be a very obvious mismatch.
The game’s components are minimal – 5 Robots, which are cute little things, 5 markers (used to remember the original positions of the robots while testing a solution), a sand timer, 17 tokens with symbols, and 8 double-sided boards for a variable setup. The quality of all these components is excellent. Cardboard is nice and thick, the robots are a unique sort of miniature that is very functional, and… well, the boards are double-sided. Cool. The only real issue that popped up is that occasionally, a Robot sitting next to a wall would cover up that wall from one player’s perspective. They’d find a good solution, but then realize that they were moving through a wall they just couldn’t see. That can be frustrating, as it can waste time and cost you a point if you’re working out a path under false pretenses, or you’re taking a few extra seconds to make sure of all the walls. It’s not a huge issue, and I don’t know if there’s anything the graphic designer could have done differently… the walls are thick on the board, its just that they can get covered up by the robots, so be aware of that.
The variable setup is a nice inclusion, but it doesn’t radically change the game experience. The only major difference between boards is that some of them have diagonal, colored walls with special rules; robots of matching color pass through those walls, while other robots bounce off at a 90 degree angle and continue onward. These walls add difficulty and complexity to the solutions of the puzzles. Other than that, a puzzle’s solution can be radically different if the starting robot was even one space over, so you won’t run into the problem of “solving” a particular layout. It is nice to be able to change up the board, but other than the diagonal colorized walls, the boards don’t have a different “feel “ to them.
Ricochet Robots is a different kind of game, for sure. It’s competitive and brain-burning, but it’s has no long-term strategy or engaging theme. But it was challenging and interesting, and it may be worth having on your shelf just to add a little variety to your collection. The challenge of the puzzle drew me in and I was pleasantly surprised by this gem.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing us with a review copy of Ricochet Robots.