Bunker Project Log

27 Aug

Ricochet Robots


The Abstract Apocalypse game night started with Pottse and I playing “Ricochet Robots”. Mrs. G was putting Prince Thud to bed. The three-year old DemonPop was tearing ass all over the place, and father-in-law wasn’t yet back from his galavanting. It was a perfect time to learn rules whilst everything settled around us.

Ricochet Robots is a game that can be played by as many people as can see the board. There are no “turns”. There is only a problem that must be solved. This problem is to get a single robot from its current position, to a specified position on the playing surface.

The surface itself is comprised of four double-sided 8″ x 8″ boards. Each is a grid, with walls here and there, and occasionally colored symbols. The four boards are joined together in one of the corners with a plastic piece having four protrusions. This makes about 384 possible layouts, if I remember my remedial math.

A board section

A board section

Once the boards are laid out, four square colored chits are placed randomly on the grid. Then the corresponding-colored robots are placed on those. These markers are necessary to keep the original position of the robots.

All laid out

Completed board with placed robots

Finally, there is a pool of chits that represents each one of the colored symbols on the grid. These are placed face down on the table. Each problem is created by revealing one of these symbols, and placing it in the board’s central area. The color of the symbol defines which robot needs to be moved. The color and the symbol define the destination on the board. As soon as the problem is presented, all players try to figure out the shortest number of moves the robots need to make to get the target robot on the destination square.

The destination chit:

Destination Chit

The destination square:


The trick is, a robot can only move straight, and has no brakes. They can only stop when they hit a wall or another robot. Any robot can be moved in any sequence, but each one of these moves counts toward the total.

To the observer, Ricochet Robots is a bonecrushingly boring game. I know this because Mrs. G (who, admittedly, has the patience of a Piranha) said “boring!” the second she saw it in “action”. The reason is, once the problem is revealed, the players just stare at the board. There is no movement, no talking, no anything until the first player announces their opening bid. For example, “I can solve this in 12 moves.” Once that happens, the hourglass is flipped, and then even more brain-burning, cog-churning, (and totally silent) cerebritude ensues.

What is unseen is the amazing internal drama: “Is there a faster way?” “Can he see where I’m looking on the board?” “Oh crap, time’s almost out!” “Oh man! I’ve almost got it!” “I’m a genius!” and “Uh-oh… what were my moves again?” For an oldie moldie like me, remembering anything 10 steps out is pretty tough. Pottse was coming up with solutions 22 steps long that involved moving all four robots in different orders. After a day at work and then dealing with rodents, I just let those go.

So, if your brain hasn’t melted down, and you can come up with a more efficient way, you call out your bid. Then you have to wait for the time to run out, which is hard because until it does, you have to remember that sequence of moves you committed to. Once it does run out, whoever had the lowest bid describes the steps taken to solve the problem. If you were right, you get the chit. If you were wrong, you get the derision of your peers, and the next best bid is attempted.

The game went well, once Mrs. G decided to listen to the rules and stop being bored. As usual, she decided it was her “favoritest game evar” once her initial knee-jerk reaction wore off. Eventually, father-in-law, who shall be heretofore known as “The Wall” joined in, but didn’t fare so well. Pottse, the wonderbrat, coasted out with at least six trophy chits, setting the tone for the rest of Abstract Apocalypse. I just enjoyed the experience, with middle of the road performance.

The most important lesson was, “YES, YOU CAN MOVE ALL THE ROBOTS.” I say this is in all caps, because it is really frustrating to explain the rules, and particularly this salient point… twice… and still have the mouth-breathers go “OH! I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD MOVE ALL THE ROBOTS.”

But, this is what I expect from my wife’s side of the family, so it’s all good.

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