I’m a fan of the game RoboRally. For those who have never played it, RoboRally is a game in which you are using cards to program robots to travel across a factory floor filled with conveyor belts, pits, lasers, and other hazards. The cards have commands on them like “move forward two spaces” or “turn left” and you lay down five of them, then execute your “program”. You’re not allowed to touch your robot during this, and other robots can interfere. Inevitably, people fail to take into account a moving conveyor belt, another robot, their inability to distinguish right from left, and the robots perform a little dance of death, haplessly throwing themselves down pits or into crushers. It’s a game in which it’s more fun when things are going horribly wrong, and they will. Many people actively hate it. In fact, it seems like people either love it or hate it; there isn’t much middle ground. Most of the people I game with hate it.
When I first heard about Asteroyds (it’s spelled that way because its publisher, Ystari Games, tends to use titles with both a Y and an S in them) I was intrigued. A game in which you had to navigate an asteroid field by judging where the asteroids would go, not where they were? It sounded a lot like RoboRally, which was its blessing…but also its curse. Knowing how often I get to play RoboRally, I wanted to try Asteroyds out before I bought it, lest I have another unplayed game on my shelf.
Problem is, to try it, someone would have to buy it, and no one ever did. After not seeing it at all at my second Unity Games event, I decided to bite the bullet and bought it — an unopened copy, I might add — from someone in on BGG. (When I asked her how much it would cost to ship, she said, and I quote, “It’s a pretty heavy game, but I am anxious to sell it”.)
I got it and when I opened it up, the first thing I noticed was that it comes with one of the weirdest components ever: a timer. I don’t mean a sand timer or wind-up timer or anything, I mean this:
A digital kitchen timer, in its own separate package. Lest you think they hopped down to the dollar store and bought a box of these to include, look closer. The timer has “ASTEROYDS” painted on it.
In addition, the back of the timer package has some amazing “Engrish” on it. Now, I don’t usually make a lot of fun of this sort of thing because hey, these guys write English a hell of a lot better than I write Mandarin, but this package is something else.
It’s actually a pretty nice timer! It has a magnet, clip, AND little stand built in! The alarm is beyond irritating, though.
Arvid, Matt, Jim, and I gave it a spin last night. The rulebook is not good. Very basic questions essential to play are simply not answered. Some things are sort of mentioned in passing but never clarified or explicitly referred to again. We headed over to BGG to see if these rules questions had already been asked and answered there, but they weren’t. For someone to ask the question someone would have to play the game and it was clear that few people had done this. We had to make some judgment calls.
What we found was that there’s some fun to be had here, but you really have to be patient with it and prepared to deal with the fact that the first few games are going to be a little rough. The unfortunate thing is that you can knock yourself out of the game if you take too much damage, which Arvid did. Since, in the first couple of games, you’re still getting your head around how the asteroids move and how to pilot the ship (and you only have a very brief 50 seconds to make your piloting decisions) mistakes — and thus getting knocked out of the game — are very likely, and that’s not fun for anyone. After Jim also got knocked out we bagged the game and moved on to something else.
I like it and can definitely see potential (it’s actually a lot less frustrating and shorter than RoboRally), but I think we’ll have to get some of the kinks ironed out first. With a few official rules and some house rules I’d like to tackle it again.