Robot Empire is the card game of the post-human world. With a story centered on robot overlords, with monsters that fight alongside them and humans who serve as single-use support cards, it’s the shiniest dystopia I’ve ever seen. At its core, Robot Empire is a one-on-one battle card game, inspired by games like Magic: The Gathering. Players can summon, upgrade, and battle with robots and either monster allies, with the goal of reducing the opponent’s life points. Many of the mechanics will seem familiar, as common mechanics like “tapping” have been borrowed, while other mechanics will seem just on the edge of familiar but with interesting little twists.
It’s these interesting twists on existing mechanics that, for me, made the game an interesting play. For example, at the beginning of the game, all players are allotted 20 life. Before the first turn, however, they can sacrifice some of that life to gain more energy, allowing them to do more with the early turns of the game. It’s these kinds of gambles that Robot Empire does quite a bit of. Another example is energy, the resource used to play pretty much any card. Players receive 3 energy back at the end of every turn, and certain cards can increase that amount, but, if you want any more than that, you’ll have to mine for it. Mining is one of those delightful gambles. In order to mine, you require a robot with jump jets (i.e. flying) and they must be removed from active play for a turn. This means, in exchange for energy, you’re sacrificing an attacker or defender, possibly giving the enemy a shot at your valuable life points.
The other aspect of the game that stood out to me was its versatility. Robot Empire is playable using one large deck, shared by both players, or like a traditional battle card game, with two decks tailor-made by their owners. I particularly love this aspect of the game, because it allows for the introduction of the game to new players without the usual issue of one player having an inherently superior deck. By sharing one larger deck, both players have an equal chance, making even introductory games fun and challenging for both players.
One final aspect of note, which you’ve probably already noticed from the pictures, is the art style. Robot Empire features a beautiful retro design for the robots, harkening back to the way robots were drawn during the golden age of science fiction. Often, while playing the game, I found myself marveling at the art. If given a proper print run, like Kickstarter backers will likely receive, I’m sure it’ll be even more striking.
It’s not all flowers and rainbows, however. Due in part to the game’s lack of a discard mechanic, often cluttering the player’s hands with cards that aren’t immediately useful, and partly due to the large number of different card-types in the game, winning Robot Empire feels as if it’s contingent more on luck than strategy. Without the ability to shed the dead weight, the luck of the draw is a major contributing factor to whether a player wins or loses. All things being equal, the strategy plays a large role, particularly when it comes to the gambles discussed above, but, if you have a handful of upgrades without a compatible robot, it doesn’t matter how strategically you play.
Overall, Robot Empire is a fun two-person battle card game. The unique play-style, allowing either one or two decks, making it perfect for introducing new players or bringing along as a “in case we get bored” game. In some ways it feels like a work in progress, but that’s probably because the sample I got was. Like all card games, things will be refined as more people play it and work out the kinks.
I think Robot Empire is a “buy” for people who enjoy games like Magic: The Gathering without the large recurring cost of keeping up with the latest sets and acquiring the super-rare and powerful cards.