Micro Bots: Duel Preview
Three. Two. One. ACTIVATE! Sweet words to anyone of my generation in the UK who watched Robot Wars when it was in its prime. The thrill of a re-purposed bread bin knocking seven bells out of a Tupperware box with a knife, is hard to beat. While Prometheus Game Labs’ Micro Bots: Duel might not be quite as violent on your table, it’s a cheaper and easier option for 1v1 robot carnage. With a smattering of Gloomhaven thrown in for good measure.
No, that sentence wasn’t the result of a fever dream or ChatGPT going off the rails. The main mechanism in Micro Bots will feel right at home to players of Gloomhaven.
Tinning your iron
A pun for the solderers there. The first thing that might surprise you in a game with such ambition is that it comes in a mint tin. I mean, it shouldn’t surprise you, it is called Micro Bots after all. But even so, it’s a tiny package. The game is made up of cards which represent the various weapons and upgrades available, the life and energy tracks, and the bots themselves.
Gameplay comprises each player playing a card from their hand face-down. The cards are revealed and played in order of initiative, which is a value printed on each card. There’s a clever mechanism here where each card is either a Weapon or Support type, and gets added to a row on either side of your bot’s card. Some of the actions’ values depend on how many cards are in each row, so there’s a nice tactical nuance in deciding what to play, and when. Support tokens bolster attack and defence values, and are played in secret.
If the Gloomhaven link wasn’t already strong enough, there’s the decision you have to make of when to play your recharge card. When you recharge you can retrieve all of your played power tokens and cards, which is great because you have them to use again, but suffers from the yin-yang balance of having weaker actions again. It’s a clever system which is more like a homage to the all-powerful dungeon-crawler, rather than a blatant rip-off.
Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto
It’s true that a lot of tabletop games require a good imagination to really immerse yourself in what’s happening in front of you. Micro Bots: Duel really stretches this idea to its maximum. The cool thing about robots battling is watching metallic creations using all manner of weapons to send sparks flying, circuitry and shrapnel raining down like confetti at a robot wedding. Stationary cards and a few small cubes tracking values doesn’t quite convey the same thing, so a lot of what’s happening has to happen in your mind.
The same is true of the range track. It’s a great idea. You can push and pull the cube up and down the track to represent the distance between the robots, which in turn changes the defence value. If the bots are far apart, the defender starts with three defence points, whereas two bots close enough to kiss leave you with a single point. That distance isn’t represented anywhere other than the cube on the card, which doesn’t help break that disconnect between what’s happening on the table and what’s happening in your imagination.
This is the inherent problem (if that’s what you want to call it) with mint tin games. The more you condense what your game is, the more sacrifices you have to make with your design choices. As you read those previous paragraphs, you might be feeling slightly deflated about the game, which is why I want to temper the negative with the positive. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination required, but at the same time, we’re talking about a complete, expandable game which you can fit into pretty much any pocket in existence.
I’ve had a bit of a grumble about the thematic restrictions because for some people it could be a deal-breaker. It’s really important to set expectations in a game of this type. You might not have cool robot minis or a wartorn landscape to battle on, but look at what you do have. The small footprint of the game means you can play it anywhere. It’s the perfect game to play on a train or plane journey, for example. While cost doesn’t usually factor into my review work here, I think it’s justifiable in the case of Micro Bots, because we’re talking about a game that costs £10! Ten Pounds… I’ve been to bars where that would barely buy a pint, it’s crazy cheap.
The presentation and iconography put games with much bigger budgets to shame, and there’s a very short learning period needed. You could play a few rounds, reset, and know that both players know enough about the game to compete on a near-even playing field. That’s a rare feat. I might not have played hundreds of battles, but I’ve played with every combination of the four included bots, and the balance is great. The Power Up expansion adds some nice tweaks to the ruleset by adding power-up cubes to the range track which you can use to power your bot up further, and clever Wildfire cards. If you’re comfortable with the base game, I’d suggest adding in Power Up as soon as possible, I really like the additions.
Micro Bots: Duel is an outrageously cute package. I’ve played other mint tin games, and few of them manage to pack as my punch as this game. The cardplay is sophisticated and could be lifted straight out of the game and dropped into a mini-heavy skirmish game costing £100+ with no changes. It’s a really impressive piece of game design. If you don’t mind playing the battles out in your head, for the sake of £10 I think Micro Bots is a great choice. Definitely grab the Power Up expansion at the same time, which will set you back a further £8. The two new bots on their own keep things fresh, but the added mechanisms feel like the way the game is meant to be played.
The Kickstarter campaign launches on 1st February 2023 – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/prometheus-gamelabs/micro-bots-duel-and-power-up
Preview copy kindly provided by Prometheus Game Labs. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Micro Bots: Duel (2023)
Designer: Simon Beal
Publisher: Prometheus Game Labs
Art: Gong Studios
Playing time: 30 mins