It isn’t a secret that I like checking out licensed games. Back before they were popular (and were honestly pretty terrible), I always liked giving them a look. Even after losing the time from my life that I can never get back from playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Heroes in a Halfshell Card Game, I am still not dissuaded. Though I might be a little more choosey… so I was a little hesitant about trying a game based on Robotech.
The 80s and 90s were a great time for introducing now-popular franchises. It gave us Transformers, G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., Jurassic Park, Dino Riders, and more, many of which have since had some good board game adaptations. Robotech: Reconstruction is an attempt to add Robotech to that list of successes. It is a game for 3-4 players and plays in 1-2 hours. The best experience is with 4 players.
The gameplay here is reasonably straightforward. There are four rounds, and each faction gets a turn in each round. A game that plays to its maximum length leads to a total of 16 turns. Each of the four factions has a unique victory condition that you will be working towards throughout those four turns. The first round is begun by the Robotech Defense Force (RDF), but future rounds rotate so that each faction potentially will start a round.
Each player has a hand of Event cards, which are the primary drivers of the action on your turn. Each turn you choose one to play. They are each keyed to a specific faction, and the actions that occur when playing that event often have an impact on that faction’s goals (either negatively or positively).
After resolving whatever the Event card that is played instructs you to do, the faction that is named on the card also gets to carry out a free action (generally something basic like moving or attacking), if it is not currently their turn. After this bonus action for another player, if any, the active player gets to perform any two actions on their player board to advance their own agenda. Lastly, the Event cards also have a column with all four factions’ symbols in a varying order (thematically, this represents who is most likely to react to the event happening). Whichever faction is nearest the top of this column and has not taken a turn this round gets the next turn. There is a board with faction markers that makes this easy to keep track of, though it is fairly easy to remember anyway.
The actions available to each faction are mostly uniform, though there is some slight variance depending on flavor and the faction’s unique objective. In general, each faction has ways to move, recruit new units, and gain income, as well as other more unique actions such as attacking, building cities, and influencing civilians. All of your actions are fueled by Protoculture, which you generate every round during the Resolution phase, can pick up from the board, or boost with income actions. Managing your Protoculture against your needed actions to obtain your objectives can be important. Each of the four factions can interact with each of the basic actions in different ways, tying into their ultimate objectives, which lends to the game’s strategic complexity.
Once each faction has had a turn in a round, there is a resolution phase in which every player gets to carry out certain actions in a specific order. This process could be cumbersome, as there are many steps, but there is a board specifically designed to walk you through the process each round. If no one has achieved their victory condition, after this resolution phase, you move on to the next round.
When you first sit down to play, it becomes apparent that the straightforward seeming rules for the round/turn hide the fact that there is really a lot going on. It is easy to get overwhelmed and not see how you are to achieve your objective. The simplicity belies the intricacy of its setup. No matter which faction you are playing, among your opponents you will have one half-ally, one half-enemy, and one full enemy. You will often need (and want) to work with your half-ally towards common goals, and often not be overly antagonistic towards your half-enemy (naturally, your full enemy, the interaction is much more straightforward).
For example, the Robotech Defense Force finds itself an ally in the Robotech Expeditionary Force. The RDF must retreat to cities at the end of the round and must rely on the REF to keep the outlying territories in check. At the same time, the RDF is somewhat at odds with the Anti-Unification League, as they both seek to control the cities, but there are not open hostilities. Lastly, the Zentraedi Rebellion is in full opposition to the RDF, and the two can attack each other (the RDF can never attack the AUL units or the REF). This sort of political web exists for all four factions.
As such, while your actions and choice of events are very important, there is a degree of politics involved as well. The board state is available for all to see, and you are strongly encouraged to work with your half-ally, and even sometimes your half-enemy, to try to stall someone who is close to winning long enough for you to catch up or reach your objective. The only truly hidden information in the game are the event cards in your hand. Working together can be facilitated by playing Event cards to grant a specific player bonus actions, or by the trade of Event cards at the start of a turn (each turn, you optionally may trade a single Event card with another player). Of course, no one says you have to honor any promises that you make…
Not everyone will enjoy that sort of political aspect, but it feels appropriate to the source material. What will be more universally liked is just how well-designed the factions are. While they all operate under the same basic rules, the feeling of playing each is very different. The REF assembles its robotic army and deploys them en masse to the battlefield. The RDF has its own army of mecha, and is just trying to keep the peace and keep the Zentraedi civilians happy, while the ZR covertly works to undermine their efforts (only being openly hostile when they are exposed). The AUL recruits its members specifically to go out and find their own cities, outside the RDF’s civilization. In the space of this review, it is impossible to go over how each specifically works, but what is most interesting is that when you have learned one, it’s easy to pick up the others since the basics are the same.
The most visible aspect that sets each faction apart from the others is that they all also have a “leader:” Rick Hunter for the RDF, Khyron for the ZR, the REF Flagship, and Minmei for the AUL. This leader is represented by a standee instead of a token like the normal units. In many ways, these leaders function like normal units, but each faction interacts with its leader in a different way. For example, the REF deploys its mecha from the location where the Flagship is located, and the AUL can recruit new partisans from the city Minmei is in (she’s giving a concert). It is a nice little wrinkle that makes each faction feel a bit more unique.
There are a lot of things to like about this game. One small thing I would point out, however, is this is a game that has a lot of what I like to call “fiddly bits.” That is, there are a huge amount of tokens. This is understandable since if they opted for something like minis or even standees, the game would no longer be small and relatively cheap. Generally, that’s not a problem, as the gameplay is good. The only issue with it in this case is one of readability, which does have an impact on the game. Some of the tokens representing the different units are difficult to tell apart. In particular, the RDF has two different units (their mecha and the Veritech Fighters), for which the difference is very important. The tokens, however, are so small and the differences so subtle that it can be hard to tell at a glance which are the fighters.
Overall, this is an enjoyable game that succeeds at what it sets out to do: make a fun and thematic game based on the IP. It was not entirely what I expected going in, but Robotech: Reconstruction ended up being what I wanted. The inherent interplay between the factions, and the choices you are presented with on the Event cards is really the core of the game. This builds a strong foundation for the rest. There are often interesting choices that you have to make because the cards don’t always give you exactly what you want. Is it better to take more actions and benefit your full enemy with a bonus action just to get a certain effect or set your ally up to take the next turn, or play it safe and play your own card, getting fewer actions? These sorts of questions are engaging and they happen frequently throughout the game.
There is a 3-player mode, in which the REF is handled as an automata, but it takes a bit of the fun interaction out of it. The RDF no longer has a half-ally, just a half-enemy and their full enemy, which tends to make it feel like you’re just on your own. The automata REF is helping you but it just doesn’t feel as effective as working with another player. That said, if you don’t have that 4th player, it approximates the game enough that you can still play so it ends up being a worthy inclusion.
Robotech: Reconstruction is a game that is both simple and complex at the same time. Looking at the rules, it is easy to understand the flow of the game, and how and when you are taking your actions. At the same time, the complexity comes from those actions themselves. Knowing what to do specifically takes quite a bit more, as your options are many, while your total actions over the course of the game are fairly few. You need to find a way to be efficient, particularly since it is possible for a game to end on rounds 2 or 3, as a player could achieve their objectives early if they aren’t sufficiently countered. Figuring those aspects out is a bit of a puzzle, and can take some time (multiple plays, even). For a game in such a small box, it is surprisingly dense.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A solid adaptation of the franchise, with politics, alliances, and mecha blowing each other up.
• There are interesting choices to be made throughout the game
• The “alliances” set up with each faction having a triangle of half-ally, half-enemy and full enemy is fairly unique, and is supported well by the gameplay.
• The theme is on point.
• Some of the tokens are hard to tell apart, which can have a significant impact on gameplay.
• The game is highly political with a dash of backstabbing, which could be a turn-off.
• A steep learning curve due to the large number of choices compared to the very limited amount of time to complete your goals.