RoboRally Variants

RoboRally is designed by Richard Garfield, published by Wizards of the Coast
These comments copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated December 10, 1997. I may be adding more ideas later.

RoboRally has the potential to be a great game. Oddly enough, it has some clunky rules and set-ups that actually detract from it, and ignores some excellent possibilities. Here's a list of our house rules we play by - offered for you to pick over, take what you want, and leave the rest. Gaming pleasure being such an individual thing, I don't imagine too many people will like to play RoboRally exactly the same way I do. Fine with me!

Please note that I did not originate most of these ideas. Some were picked off the net, others actually from the Armed and Dangerous rulebook, others from friends of mine, and a couple really are my ideas.


  1. Set-up
  2. Option Cards
  3. Recompile
  4. RandomBot
  5. Pit Hatches
  6. Portals
  7. Chop Shops
  8. Grand Prix Three-Lap Race
  9. Non-Race Games
    1. Free For All
    2. Capture the Flag
    3. Kick the Can


We never use the starting suggestions they give in the book. First, there are too many flags for our taste: we don't like to play more than two-three hours, and a game set up with all six flags takes six hours, minimum, we've found. We usually play with three flags total - four, if we want a long game. Three flags: start on #1, touch #2, the game ends when someone touches #3. About a one- to two-hour game, usually.

We also rarely use more than two boards - sometimes only one. Occasionally we'll use three, stretched all in a row, but never more than that. On two boards, then, our standard set-up, flag #1 is placed near the far end of one board, flag #2 near the far end of the other board, then flag #3 somewhere not too far from flag #1. This means that whoever touches flag #2 first has to come back into the teeth of the straggling players. This makes for a more player-interactive game, which we like. Spreading the flags out in a square or circle, as the rules suggest, means the leader tends to stay in front of the pack and the game gets boring all too easily.

In keeping with our desire for shorter games, we only allow three lives: after your third death, you're out of the game.

Sometimes we start flag #3 on a long conveyor belt, and move it each phase. If it leaves the board or falls down a pit before we can get to it, we all lose!

Option Cards

We like option cards. We really like option cards. Here are some of the way we incorporate them:

  • We've removed some of the lemons from the deck, to make it more likely you'll get a good option when you draw one.
  • Start the game with each player drawing three option cards: keep any two of them you wish.
  • Option cards are kept hidden until used, at which point they are revealed the rest of the game.
  • You never lose an option card when you lose a life.
  • If you power down, you gain an option card upon powering up.
  • When any player touches flag #2, all players who haven't yet touched flag #2 receive an option card. (We would do the same for other flags, too, if we played with more than three.) Yes, this means that in a four-player game, the fourth player will have gotten three extra options this way by the time he/she gets to the flag! Keeps things in balance ...
  • We limit the Fire Control to five uses - otherwise, it's too powerful.
  • Sometimes - some rare times, I admit - we separate option cards into three piles: pure movement options, pure weapon options, everything else. Shuffle the piles, label them. You can draw from any pile you want when drawing an option card.


We're now experimenting with giving everyone the recompile option for free - that is, every robot has a built-in version of the Option Card Recompiler: you can get a redraw by taking one hit. (No, you can't "shoot off" an option card to count as that hit.)

We haven't played it long enough to know if we'll keep the rule, but so far it looks promising - it's the obvious thing to do when you're dealt nine turn cards ... So we think it'll remove some of the luck - a close game is usually decided by who gets the better cards the last turn or two - yet it has its own built-in limiting factor: you take damage when you recompile.

If you already have four or more points of damage when recompiling, whatever card you place in your last changable register will be locked in place from the recompile damage. If you already have registers locked in place, those cannot be changed by recompiling, of course.

Remove the Recompiler option card from the deck if trying this.


Sometimes we start with an unused Bot about a quarter of the way between our first and second flags - which means it's also about three-quarters of the way between our second and third flags.

This Bot gets five random cards every turn, turned over during the normal phases, and seems to always foul at least one player up - great fun!

The RandomBot never has any option cards - though we may give it a weapon someday, who knows? We'd probably draw option cards until a weapon that doesn't require any decisions came up, and use that, returning any other options drawn to be reshuffled back into the deck. I suppose we could even give it a weapon that requires a simple decision, and draw a random card to decide: a movement card means use basic laser, a turn card means use the option, or whatever.

It takes hits as normal, but the first four have no effect on it. Fifth through ninth hits lock registers, as for other robots.

When it dies, return it to its start space for activation next turn. Whoever is in last place gets to decide its starting facing - draw cards from the deck and high unique number gets to if there's a dispute about last place.

Pit Hatches

Pit hatches are solid panels which, when first activated, slide out of the floor adjacent to pits. They completely cover pit openings, and are strong enough to support robots and any options they may be carrying.

The second time pit hatches are activated, however, they retract into the floor, and any robot standing on a pit at this time falls to its destruction.

The next activation closes the pit hatches, then the next reopens them, etc., until the game is over.

To use pit hatches in RoboRally, you need to make a Pit Hatches Status Card. This can be anything from the size of a business card to a full sheet of paper. On one side, legibly print or write (the clearer the better):


(Robots fall in)

On the other side of the card, print or write:


(Robots do NOT fall in)

The pit hatches begin the game open, so place the card conspicuously beside the board with the PIT HATCHES OPEN side up.

Pit hatches are activated every time a robot runs into a wall. It doesn't matter how hard a robot hits the wall, the switch is activated once and only once when hit by a robot. That is, if you begin the turn facing a wall which borders the space you're in, it doesn't matter if you play a Move 1, Move 2, or Move 3 card - the pit hatches are activated once and only once from your movement. You can also back into a wall to activate a pit hatch.

It is assumed that every wall has a pit hatches activation switch in it, and that each switch controls hatches over every pit in the game, even large ones such as the center of the Maelstrom. However, there are no pit hatches on the board Chasm - those aren't pits, but are chasms, which have no hatches. Likewise drains are not pits, or the water board would flood if you closed them ...

Note that only walls have pit hatch activation switches. The ledges on the board Coliseum do not, for example. You can ram a ledge all day (I've done it) and the pit hatches won't change status.

Activating pit hatches is simplicity itself: go through the program cards in numerical order each phase, as usual. Every time a robot hits a wall, flip the Pit Hatches Status Card over. Thus it's possible for:

  1. Robot One to close the pit hatches,
  2. Robot Two to move over a pit, then
  3. Robot Three to reopen them.
If Robot Two ended the phase on a pit hatch, it would drop to destruction at that point - but if it had moved beyond the pit during its turn, it would have faced death and lived to laugh about it.

Deciding when to run across pits is a risky business - but sometimes it can win a race for you. You can plan to bump a wall, turn, then move over a pit - but will it still be covered by the time you move over it? What if another player is planning on using the pits that turn - or simply hitting a wall as a matter of circumstance? (It happens a lot, in our games ...)


I really don't like Portals as they are written. Too easy to move long distances, especially for the leader, which is the last thing RoboRally needs.

So at this time, we have some house rules about portals:

  1. If you end your turn (Phase 5) within two spaces of a portal (including counting diagonally), then you must, after phase 5, draw a card from the undealt portion of the programming deck. Check the middle digit of the unique three-digit number:
    • If it's 6-9 or 0 (50% chance), then nothing happens, continue with the game.
    • But if it's a 1-5, then the card in the corresponding register from the turn just completed is locked in place for the next turn. There is no damage - the portal doesn't hurt you - but something in its activation device caused a temporary glitch in your programming.
  2. If you end any phase in a portal, it acts as a mini fortress: you may not shoot nor be shot while inside a portal. You are still susceptible to having a register locked in place, however, if you end phase 5 in a portal ...
  3. We want some rule to prevent the leader from using a portal, but haven't come up with a good one yet ... suggestions welcome.

Chop Shops

We like these so much that we now use the Green Flags that came with Armed & Dangerous as Chop Shops. We distribute them as equally as possible to all players, who each get to put them on the boards where they want.

I've also color-photocopied a Chop Shop with three open spaces touching it, and pasted it onto a thin board. I drop this onto Circuit Trap, converting some of the conveyor belt sections into open floor with a Chop Shop - makes that board much friendlier but not necessarily too easy.

Grand Prix Three-Lap Race

If you turn the three new boards from Grand Prix so that all the names are best positioned for you to read them, then put the Canyon in the middle of the table, with Back Stretch above it and Pit Row below it, you have a lovely counter-clockwise race track - hence the name Grand Prix.

We then place the flags just inside the fast conveyor belt corners on Back Stretch and Pit Row, and on the outer edges (upper level) of Canyon. Instead of having to touch the flags, you have to go outside of the four corner flags, and inside the two on Canyon. First one to complete three laps, counter-clockwise, wins.

This makes the game more like the title of the expansion set: a Grand Prix race. While it might seem hard to pass someone on the fast conveyors, since you push them, notice that the leader is a target for the second-place racer, who is a target for the third- place racer, etc. Makes for an interesting - but long - game.

To be fair, we remove the Shield Option card from the deck for this variant.

Late addition: after our last game, we decided it was too grueling to do again. We got about 2.5 laps, and sank into bloody chaos - five hours later, we gave up. I doubt we'd ever try more than one lap again!

Still, I'm glad we experienced it, as it makes a good tale to tell now (notice the past tense ...).

Non-Race Games

Sometimes we don't want to race, but play some other game using RoboRally. Here are a few other ways to play.

Free For All

This is played on a single board. Each player chooses a flag to start on, and starts near an edge, so that no two flags have line of sight to each other. If playing with lots of people, you'll have to start some one space away from an edge. Start with options, as listed earlier in this article. The object is to be the last surviving robot. Three lives each, go to it.

Sometimes we play Wrap-Around Free For All. This means if you go off one side of the board, you reappear on the other side of the board, exactly opposite. Very confusing - what fun!

Capture the Flag

This is best with six or eight players. If you have seven, let the fastest programmer control two robots on the same team.

Split into even teams. Each team picks a board, decides separately which edge will touch the opposing team's edge, and where the flag will start (near the opposite edge, if you have any sense). Then each team member chooses where his robot will start - it must be more than nine spaces from the edge touching the opponents' edge. Robots cannot start on the same space - no one starts in virtual mode. Then place the boards down, put the robots and flags on the board.

The object is to capture the enemy flag and bring it to your back row. First team to do this wins.

Once the boards are both set-up, but before the first programming phase, team members may secretly talk strategy: decide who goes forward, who stays back to protect the flag, etc. You can assign code names to general or even specific parts of the board, if desired. This may be useful because once the first programming cards are dealt, any communication done with your team members must be said out loud, so everyone in the game can hear. Team members tend to push each other down pits accidentally in this game, so it's useful to be able to say something like, "I'll go through zone A - don't enter it or shoot into it!"

If you are lined up to shoot your laser at a teammate during the laser firing phase, oh dear: you've just shot your teammate, sorry. (Lasers operate on the shoot first, ask questions later principle.)

To capture a flag, move onto its space. Remove the flag from the board, put it in front of you: you are now carrying it. To capture a flag from another robot, simply bump it, or be bumped by it, even if in moving in reverse. The robot carrying the flag must surrender it, even if it is the one which moved into the space of the other. This is the only way to hand the flag off to a team mate, also.

You may not pick up your own flag until it has been picked up by the enemy. Once you have recaptured your own flag, you must move at least one space closer to your home board edge each turn, or you may not move that turn except to turn in place. You must drop the flag on the first space adjacent to your home edge that you reach, and you or your teammates cannot pick it up again until an opponent picks it up first.

A robot cannot use any option cards while carrying either flag. A robot cannot carry more than one flag at a time - if two robots carrying flags bump each other, they swap flags!

Each robot has three lives. If you die before touching a wrench, you return to life anywhere along the edge farthest from the opponents' board.

Kick the Can

For two to four players. Similar to Capture the Flag, but there is only one flag (called the "can" in this game - use flag #6), placed near the center of the board. Players start at the edges of the board, spaced roughly evenly around the can. No two starting spaces should be in line of sight of each other. Place a red flag on your starting space, and a green flag with the same number from Armed and Dangerous on the space exactly opposite the board, as traced through the center vertex.

The object is to bring the "can" to your green flag - whoever does so wins.

Movement of the can is identical to carrying a flag in Capture the Flag - see those rules. Again, each player has three lives, but you reappear on your starting flag if you die before touching another wrench.

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