I’ve played a lot of Magic the Gathering in my time and I’ve always thought the dueling card-wizards concepts would translate fantastically to a video game. Of course Magic has its own port from real-life collectible card game to a video game but it doesn’t do much other than recreate the game on a virtual table. The Trouble with Robots takes card gaming concepts and makes them into a true video game in its own right rather than a simple virtual representation. It’s also a game I instantly fell in love with.
The Trouble with Robots tells the story of an army of bureaucratic robots landing on a fantasy world and kicking the inhabits out of their dwellings to build shopping centres. It’s irreverent and charming, with funny little comments on modern societies: The robots put up no-smoking and keep off the grass signs, try and put the centaurs in stables and evict the elves from their tree-houses as they are deemed “un-safe”. Getting irreverent fantasy right is sometime’s a hard thing and I find it annoying more often than not but Digital Chestnut has nailed it. It’s light hearted and for a serious no-nonsense gamer like me to enjoy and even laugh at the jokes is really saying something.
Every stage you construct a deck of 7 cards before you battle (5 in the earlier stages). To begin with you have a very limited selection of cards but this grows with stars gained from each subsequent level. Your aim is to fight your way through waves of robots using the cards from your deck that are dealt to you. Cards do what you would expect; summon units, damage enemies and buff and heal your units or a combination there-of. The action happens in real time and each stage is divided into waves. You have no control of your units once summoned but they all act appropriately; melee units waiting for the enemies to crash onto them while the archers pepper the approach force with arrows. You have a wand that recharged over time with cards all costing the same basic unit to cast as well as the ability to zap individuals enemy units.
It’s a sweet system that’s easy to pick up so you can start fiddling around with card combinations rather than battling to come to grips with arcane rules and chump blocking tactics. The difficulty level in general is also pretty slight but rather than complain about never being thoroughly challenged I think I just really enjoyed the laid back approach the game has. That said there is a few challenge levels thrown into the mix that offer a much larger amount of waves to combat as well as the harder difficulty levels (which certainly aren’t rage-fit inducingly hard by any stretch). I happily whipped through the game on medium in about 8 hours and instantly started again on hard.
Once you defeat the leader of the robots and tie-up the dwarf-elf interracial love story plot (which I think exists purely to make a joke about dwarves liking girls with beards) you unlock the limited mode. I was very happily surprised with this addition that adds an extra layer of fun to the game. Limited mode, as the name would imply, limits the amount of cards you can choose to build your deck with by half. I found myself relying on a couple of cards during the course of my first play through, so limited was a nice way of opening my eyes to other card combinations I had missed.
Don’t let the flash-game-esque visuals fool you, Trouble with Robots does look basic but it has a decent amount of depth. Everything is simply and effectively presented and the content on offer isn’t overwhelming by any means but enough to keep you entertained for hours. Hours of relatively stress-free charming entertainment. It’s even got great music and the title track distinctly reminds me of Banjo-kazooie for some reason, which is always good.
As I said before I’m a magic the gathering player and I love card-combos which is working out two or more cards that work well together. In Trouble with Robots there isn’t a huge amount of scope for great combos but there was enough for me to think I was being clever, such as one card requiring another card to be discarded to be played paired with another card that still activated when discarded. There’s a decent amount of scope to focus on different strategies too but again not overwhelming just enough to dig around in.
The way the game relies only keeping your unit alive to ensure you have enough later on for the larger waves of robots means that the game feels feast or famine in terms of winning. I either really, really won by a large amount or simply got wiped out early on. This is just how the mechanics worked so there isn’t really the scope for nail-biting, intense oh-my-god-hang-in-there-fuck-yeah-I-won moments. It’s a criticism but the game works better as a whole with a relaxing easy-going experience.
I can’t stress enough how charmed I was by The Trouble with Robots. While not offering a massive pit mine of strategic options, it’s more a treasure chest of fun toys to play with. It does computer card gaming in a brand new way and the pacing and rhythm the game asks of you is addictive and pleasurable. It’s one of the few games I’ve been motivated and entertained enough to plough through any additional post main game challenges presented to me. The Trouble with Robots is getting dealt 4/5 magical cards.