PuzzleNation Product Review: Are You a Robot?

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Whether you’re playing a board game like Clue or a card game like Werewolf or Mafia, you and your fellow players have accepted the challenge of a very different form of puzzle gaming: the social deduction game.

Social deduction games operate under a simple premise — the cards determine the role you play — and from that point forward, you’re trying to determine who is secretly a danger to you and others in the game.

In this particular case, there might a robot lurking among the humans aboard your space station.

You see, in Are You a Robot?, all of the players randomly select a card. There’s always a human card for every person playing the game, plus one robot card. (So, for instance, if five people are playing, you have five human cards and one robot card in the deck.) You shuffle the cards, deal out one to each player, and put the last one aside. Everyone looks at their card (but doesn’t show anyone else) and discovers their role for the game.

Now, at this point, there’s between zero and one robots in the game, and the rest of the players are human. The humans want to suss out if there are any robots disguised as humans, and the robot wants to get the humans to accuse each other and whittle down their numbers so the robots can take over.

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[A whole lot packed into a little envelope.]

This is the social aspect of the game. There are three things players can do in order to figure out who is who: shake hands, shoot a laser gun at another player, or talk. If the players all agree that there are no robots in play, two players can agree to shake hands. If there are no robots in the game after all, the humans win. If a robot is present after all, the humans lose.

Humans can shoot other players, but robots cannot. If a robot is shot, it’s gone from the game and the humans rejoice. If a human is shot, three things happen: the shooter is immediately removed from the game, the human who was shot comes back to life and returns to the game, and there’s a chance another robot slips into the game.

This element of chance involves all of the players closing their eyes, any robots secretly revealing themselves, and all of the remaining players turning in their cards. Those cards are shuffled randomly, a robot card is introduced, and the cards are redistributed to the surviving human players.

It’s possible everyone remains human, and it’s possible one of the humans is now a robot in disguise.

The game now resumes, and the players must once again figure out if there are any robots in their midst. (And your mind immediately begins spiraling out with possibilities. “Did so-and-so not shoot me because he believes that I’m human? Or because he’s a robot and can’t shoot me?”)

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[The set up for a four-person game: instructions, four human cards, and one robot card.]

Play continues until either the humans have eliminated any possible robots (and have shaken hands to confirm this) or the robots have overwhelmed the game and the humans have been whittled down to a single player.

In my estimation, Extended Mode, designed for 5 or more players, is the most interesting version of the game. The core game is for two or three players, consisting of two human cards and one robot card. Adding a second game allows for up to four players, a third game allows for up to six, and so on.

Our Extended Mode testing involved eight players (and four copies of the game), which allowed for multiple rounds of play, the introduction of several possible additional robots, and so on, making for a deeper, more engrossing (and nerve-wracking!) play experience.

And that’s the beauty of Are You a Robot? when compared to similar social detection card games like Mafia and Werewolf. Not only can you have satisfying play experiences with fewer people but the element of randomness that comes into play with more players adds tension to the game. (In Mafia and Werewolf, the number of antagonists is set at the start of the game. In Are You a Robot?, the number might increase, or it might not. It’s a simple change that adds so much.)

An elegant balance of silliness and suspenseful, consequence-loaded gameplay, Are You a Robot? is a winner with any number of players. Bring your laser gun, bring your skepticism, and bring along a couple of sets so everyone can play.

[Are You a Robot? is available (for $2!) from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Reviews: ROFL!

Here at the PuzzleNation blog, we love spreading the word about new puzzle-solving experiences of all sorts.

So we were intrigued when we heard about a new puzzly party game that utilized textspeak and abbreviations. We contacted the folks at Cryptozoic about it, and they were gracious enough to pass along a free copy of ROFL!, allowing us the chance to give it a thorough PuzzleNation vetting.

And ROFL! is a seriously fun time.

Masterminded by John Kovalic (artist for games like Munchkin and Apples to Apples, creator of the comic strip Dork Tower), ROFL!’s concept is simple.

Players try to create abbreviations of pop culture terms, phrases, and quotations for other players to decode, using only the symbols available on a standard keyboard. (So basically, numbers, letters, punctuation, and a select few others.)

So everyone takes turns being The Guesser (the one who must unravel the abbreviations conjured up by the other players, The Writers), starting with the person who used the fewest characters in their abbreviation. You award points for correct guesses (to both Guesser and Writer), and whoever has the most points after three rounds wins.

Groups of up to seven can play (three is the minimum needed), and with hundreds of possible messages (the cards are double-sided to maximize options) across six categories, you’re not likely to run out of new abbreviations to solve anytime soon.

(Plus with personal whiteboards, markers, erasers, and tokens, you have everything you need boxed up and waiting for you.)

ROFL! slots beautifully into the same party-game niche as Taboo and Scattergories: games that rely on the ingenuity of your fellow players to make the most of the gameplay, and ones that evoke fits of laughter with total ease.

I recruited four fellow puzzlers to try it out over lunch, and not only were we playing within minutes, but the laughs were rolling soon after.

I’ll give you an example from our second round:

The quote to guess was “It’s quiet over there. Too quiet.”

So I quickly scribbled “ITS QT > THR, 2 QT”

13 characters. So I placed my marker on the 13, and luckily, I used the fewest characters, so the Guesser turned to me first.

There’s only one guess per Writer, but I was optimistic.

The guesser got the first part easily. “It’s quiet over there…”

But then she paused. Uh-oh.

“It’s quiet over there… Two quarts?”

Everybody burst out laughing. (She did end up getting it on her second try, but the points go to the second Writer in that case.)

From a puzzle perspective, figuring out how to abbreviate quotes and sentences (all while the sand in the timer quickly dwindles) is a terrific puzzly challenge. After all, anyone who solves crosswords is intimately familiar with unscrambling unlikely (and sometimes baffling) abbreviations, and with the proliferation of textspeak thanks to greater and greater smartphone use, you’re sharpening your ROFL! skills every time your phone vibrates.

But writing your abbreviation is also an exercise in strategy. Do I risk using fewer characters in order to go first (first guess is worth the most points), or do I hedge my bet and go for clarity, even if I’m second or third to go?

Here’s an example from our game:

The quote was “Live long and prosper.”

So I put all my eggs in one basket and wrote “L L & PSPR”, hoping that “prosper” would carry the load and the Guesser would be able to figure out the rest from there. With only 7 characters, I was the first Writer on the board.

The Guesser was stumped, though. Time ran out before she could even guess.

The next Writer stepped up. (She used 9 characters and was next in line.)

Her abbreviation was “Lg Lv & PSPR”, and even though she accidentally mixed up the order of “live” and “long”, the Guesser immediately blurted out “Live long and prosper!”, securing them 2 points a piece.

In this instance, it was worth using a few extra characters and sacrificing being first in order to get the points.

With the social aspect, the improvisational aspect, and the puzzly aspect, ROFL! pushes a lot of ideal game-playing buttons, and it does so with style.

(And don’t tell the bosses, but the game was so popular that we played again during work hours the same day. *wink*)

All in all, it’s a good time for puzzlers and board game fans alike. John and the Cryptozoic Entertainment crew have a real winner on their hands here.

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