There’s something about battling robots that sticks in the geek imagination. Is it some leftover memory from the childhood joys of smashing cars and trucks into each other? Is it the customization options of different weapons, armor and equipment that lets everyone enjoy their inner gearhead? Is it the fact that any game that lets you make explosion noises with your mouth is 60% more fun? There are a lot of great games on the heavy side of simulation in the robot stomping genre but Arcane Wonders’ latest entry offers all the big battle rattle of mech-on-mech violence in the space of time it would take most people to dust off their Robotech boxed set.
Critical Mass brings together elements of classic card games, modern deckbuilding games and a shot of Rock-Paper-Scissors for giant, stompy robot action. We got a chance to climb into the cockpit and take these fast, massive battle robots for a spin.
Each box of Critical Mass comes with two mechs ready to build. Each mech represents a post-apocalyptic faction ready to take over the wasteland one thundering step at a time. The mech profile cards show the strengths and weaknesses of the robots along with two unique abilities. One is constantly active, the other can be turned on after something specific happens on the battlefield. Each player’s deck consist of cards that represent all the sweet tech the robot has to lay a beating down on its opponent. Cards live in one of three areas; on the right sits the draw pile in a deactivated state, on the left side lays the discard pile after having been used and in the player’s hand ready to play.
Players choose a card from their hand and reveal simultaneously. The card with the faster speed rating resolves first. A hit from a weapon disrupts the target and can lead to a lesser action or even an outright cancellation. Generally, heavier weapons are slower than light ones, so players have to weigh the likelihood that a light laser hit might render their massive chainsaw attack useless. Successful attacks chip away at a player’s critical systems that cause a nasty effect for the target on the turn any are completely destroyed.
In addition to attacks, the player also can play cards that evade attacks, pull cards out of the draw deck into the hand and pull the discard pile back into a hand to refresh a players options. Knowing when to dodge, when to recharge and when to attack is central to winning the game. Veteran card players can pick up on combos right away, but the bluffing element of revealing maneuvers means reading an opponent (or knowing what they’ve played) is also a vital skill. The reveal is often a moment filled with hoots of triumph and groans of frustration around the table. These vocalizations get louder when multiplayer games are added to the mix. Each mech must reveal a target in addition to an action. Those turns where three players target a fourth who evades every attack with a single dodge make that player feel like the world’s greatest mech jock…at least for that turn.
Each box comes with two different mechs, two sets of unique cards for each mech, and a common card pool of equipment that can be used by any mech. Multiplayer requires additional boxes and at the time of release there are two boxes with two different mechs available to pick up. The common cards offer an LCG/CCG style card pool to trick out mechs to their strengths, but each mech also comes with a quick build readout for those tables that want to get stomping ASAP. Players who buy both boxes will have enough cards to build one or two of the mechs to their specifications while still having enough cards left to put together a deck to teach friends how to play.
Critical Mass is a fast, fun stompy robot romp that’s fun for kids, adults, and anyone in between. Look for it on the shelf of your friendly local gaming store.
What’s your favorite giant stompy robot? Let us know in the comments!
MORE STOMPY ROBOT FUN!
- A Brief History of Battletech
- Giant Robots AND A Grimdark Future – A Look at Adeptus Titanicus
- Robots Vs. Monsters (Kaiju vs. Jaegers) Battle in Pacific Rim Extinction
Images Credits: Arcane Wonders, Rob Wieland
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. His Twitter is here. You can watch him livestream RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.