Don't Get Scrapped! A Review of Stak Bots

Stak Bots

If there's anything that TV shows like BattleBots have taught us, it's that the best possible use of robots is to watch them fight each other to the death. Sure, robots can come in handy for many productive uses, as well, but they're not nearly as entertaining. Stak Bots, by UK publisher DogEared Games, is a small Kickstarter-funded card game that pits stacks of robots against each other to use their unique attack abilities to gain victory.

Gameplay

Stak Bots consists of 60 robot cards. Each player is dealt a "Stak" of 9 cards at the beginning of the game, with 2 additional cards to serve as the player's starting hand. The object of the game is to eliminate other players by reducing their Staks down to zero cards. The last player with cards remaining in his Stak is the winner.

Each robot card contains the robot's name (indicating his attack ability) and a power level, which determines how much damage it can inflict on another robot and how much damage it can take before it is scrapped (discarded). Many cards also have an entry effect, i.e., an action that is performed as soon as the card is played or turned face up in the Stak.

On a turn, the current player draws a card from the draw pile and may then choose to play a card, scrap either the top card from his Stak or one from his hand, or attack another player. He may repeat any of these, in any order, as many times as desired. At least one card must be scrapped by the end of the turn and only one distinct card may be used for attacking on a turn (though the same card, if still alive, may be used to attack multiple times).

For the attack option, a player chooses an opponent's Stak to battle with. The top card on the attacker's Stak inflicts damage to the top card on the defender's Stak. The amount of damage inflicted equals the power level indicated on the attacker's card. In retaliation, the defender's card then deals counter-damage to the attacker's card. If a card has taken damage greater than or equal to its power level, it is scrapped. If the attacker's card remains in play, it may attack again with the same power level, but any damage it has received remains until the end of the turn.

Play continues until all but one player has been eliminated. The remaining player is declared the winner.

Stak Bots Components

Review

There is more than meets the eye in this small card game. There is plenty of opportunity for strategizing — players can take as many actions as they wish, add cards to their Stak in the order they choose, decide who to attack, and when. This open-ended play works well for players who want to pour some thought into their choices, although it requires a few plays to become familiar with the strategy and the different robot cards. The many robot cards offer a wide range of effects, which seem to balance well with the power level — that is, lower-valued cards have better effects while higher-valued cards have lesser or even negative effects.

The key to victory is balancing the cards' entry effects (which are mandatory to carry out) with the attacks. It is also important to consider which card(s) to leave at the top of the Stak, since these will serve as a first line of defense against an attacker. The fact that the defending card inflicts damage to the attacker in retaliation is very satisfying and most certainly helps to disable a powerful attacker: "If you're going to attack me, fine — but I won't go down without a fight." This helps ease some of the direct confrontation in the game and rewards the player who plans his defensive strategy well.

Stak Bots won't win any awards for artwork or graphic design, but it does have a recognizable style that doesn't negatively impact gameplay. There are plenty of different types of cards and game variations that should keep committed players coming back for more — not to mention an expansion pack produced by the publisher. In addition, there is also a free iOS version of the game for mobile gamers to enjoy.

In all, we found Stak Bots to be an enjoyable game from a startup publisher that is clearly committed to a continuing product line. If you like card games that balance the luck of the draw with plenty of options for strategizing, Stak Bots is worth a look.

Pros: Well-balanced cards, strategic planning, relatively easy to learn, lots of replayability

Cons: Could use more professional artwork and graphic design

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.