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RoboRally Crash Course Design
Keep It Simple
by Teeuwynn Woodruff with input from Glenn Elliott

You've played all of the RoboRally courses from the Course Manual -- all 32 of them -- so many times that their twists and turns are burned into your retinas, and you can visualize them with your eyes closed? Now you're wondering what's next? Where can you find more courses on which to demonstrate your superior robot wrangling and punctilious programming? The solution, to borrow a phrase from Field of Dreams, is "Build it, and they will come."

How do you go about constructing a balanced board on which to display your talent and skill? Simply study the design tips outlined here, then let your imagination run wild. Remember, the RoboRally universe is filled with machinery, lasers, pits, walls, and flags. And you get to blow up your friends' robots. What better way to stir the imagination?

General Design Hints

When designing a RoboRally board, it's important to avoid the temptation to make the only path to a flag a convoluted maze of twists, turns, conveyor belts, and gears. Simplicity is a good rule of thumb. Use straight paths instead of tight switchbacks (where walls force a robot to turn back and forth, snaking its way to the flag). Although switchbacks can occasionally make a challenging flag approach, the general rule is that a straight sprint will make for a faster board. Switchbacks can often cause a game to bog down as programmers struggle to get their robots to the *^!^@* flag. Just traveling a straight line can be a challenge in RoboRally!

It's also important to keep track of what elements to place a flag beside. Don't place a flag next to more than one wall or pit, and be especially careful to avoid placing a flag in a corner. It's extremely difficult and frustrating for players to maneuver their robots onto a flag placed in a corner because the immediate approaches are cut by half, and the maneuvering area is restricted even more than that.

Similarly, it's usually a bad idea to place a flag next to a gear or a turn in a conveyor belt. Either of these can ruin the best plots and cause a game to drag while players struggle to reach the flag.

The general rule, then, when designing a board, is to place your flags in the open. Players will have enough difficulty struggling with their card selection and other robots. They don't need the added aggravation (and delay) of contending with interfering terrain features. Conveyor belts, gears, and pushers create interesting obstacle courses and spice up the game, but the flags themselves should remain open enough so robots can fight each other, as well as the board, to reach their goal.

Flag to Flag

Another factor that budding board-designers need to consider is how far apart flags should be from each other. Traveling from point A to point B in a RoboRally game is not the same as traveling from home to work. There are, however, some similarities.

In both cases, actual distance does not necessarily equate to how long the trip takes. Your daily commute may be five miles as the crow flies, but you have to drive on the roads and deal with traffic, lights, road crews, deranged bicyclists, and other obstacles. A potentially ten-minute drive can actually take twenty minutes. In the RoboRally game, walls, conveyor belts, pits, and other perils can separate two flags by many turns of maneuvering even though they are physically close to each other.

How do you decide how far apart to place flags from each other? As a rule of thumb, the first flag should be reachable in one turn from the docking bay. Subsequent flags should be no more than three "average" turns away from each other.

To determine how many turns a flag is from any other element, find out how many average turns it takes you to move a robot from one flag to the next. To determine an average turn, pick any five RoboRally cards and plot one turn's course. However, restrict what cards you can use in any particular turn as follows:

  • Use no more than one of any of the following cards, and no more than two total out of these four:
    • Move 3
    • Move 2
    • Back Up
    • U-Turn.
  • Use no more than two of any other specific card (Turn Left, Turn Right, and Move 1).

By following this rule, any five cards you use should equate to an "average" RoboRally turn.

Next up -- The Fine art of Board Balance.

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