If it isn’t obvious, I really love games. I love all the various mechanics, I love the systems, and I love sitting around a table laughing or arguing with friends and family. I also take games very seriously. They elicit raw emotion just like any other form of art; from rage to joy to the heartache of betrayal, games are powerful forms of media. They’re also toys. I know some gamers and reviewers don’t like hearing that, but it’s true. We don’t just play games, we play with games. It can be easy to lose sight of that. Thankfully CMON rarely does which is why I’m here to gush over Gekido: Bot Battles.
There’s a saying in the food world that we “eat with our eyes first”. I think that’s partially true for games as well. I’ll happily admit that Gekido initially caught my interest because of the gorgeous pre-painted miniatures that dominate the tablescape when you play. They’re the kind of component that can – and in my case do – adorn your shelf when they aren’t looming large over an arena of frantic robotic carnage. When not being used as décor, you’ll move these figures around a modular arena in a tactical dance of death hoping to be the last bot standing.
In a system that will be familiar to anyone who has played Yahtzee or King of Tokyo, combat in Gekido is performed by rolling and re-rolling a few colorful dice in search of specific sets. This system is my favorite part of Gekido because it’s rife with tension and the drama. When 5 of a kind can mean doing 25% of a bot’s health in damage as you rip out some critical circuit, the table tends to pay attention.
It’d be exciting enough except that there’s a critical element of risk in this title. Unlike the other games I mentioned, you don’t get to casually take your re-rolls and shrug it off at the end while you make the best out of a bad set of dice. After the first roll a player has to lock in their target attack. This is risky because failing to achieve it means turning a portion of that damage in on yourself as you overload your own system. Suddenly everyone cares about all of your rolls; gasps and groans fill the air as you beat the odds and find the 3 green symbols you desperately need.
Risk weaves its way through all the little systems in Gekido. Each space on the arena comes with benefits and disadvantages. Some spaces offer dice mitigation while others give bonus damage or special power cards at the cost of reduced defense. The center space provides the strongest boon: draw 3 power cards and keep one. These cards do everything from bring a bot back from the brink of destruction to allow you to target two bots at once. They’re powerful, but drawing those cards means taking 2 extra damage from every attack until you can move out again.
Tactical players can learn to leverage these benefits and minimize their downsides. In a great system that spreads the carnage out and prevents ganging up on someone, players have to spend target locks to attack. Once you attack someone you can’t attack them again until you’ve attacked everyone else. Clever movement and coordination can mean using powerful abilities while no one is free to capitalize on your weakness. There’s a lot of dice in Gekido¸ but strong tactics and navigating risk well will win the day.
And if it doesn’t, at least you go out in a blaze of glory. Health in Gekido is tracked by a column of 6 sided dice. Each time you take damage you tick a die down until it’s removed and you begin ticking the next one. Each time a die is removed, your bot gains powers and abilities. Each of these colorful robots is unique; Overkill gains defensive abilities while Slicer can gain the ability to change the dice configuration they’re looking for avoiding damage. I’m not sure what M3-0W does because everyone reaches for killer CatBot before I can. No matter what the differences are, this system of escalating power provides more drama to the battle while taking the sting out of damage. Go ahead and blast me for 15 damage: a now-more powerful Tyrannobot is coming right back at you.
Gekido is a joy to play. It revels in the presentation and tactile experience of slamming beautiful toys on the table, while providing an engaging tactical combat system for the gamers at the table. It’s easy to teach and get into, and pulling off a combo of die rolls and power cards is oh so satisfying. My mom is still celebrating destroying both my brother and me with that CatBot.
Featured Image Credits: CMON
Image Credits: Rafael Cordero