404:Law Not Found Preview

404 law not found
There’s an alien spaceship attacking but someone has loaded the forward missile tubes with bananas. Somehow the monkey has escaped his cage and has found its way into the cloning machine. Someone has loaded the navigation computer with the wrong charts so now you’re completely lost. Yes, it’s another day on the Lucky Break, a spaceship with some of the most advanced robot helpers that money can buy which has made the human crew rather lazy. Unfortunately the new microchips for the robots where defective and now all the robots have had their directives scrambled.

404 law not found board setup
404 is full of strong iconography.
404: Law not Found is a board game about these crazy little robots currently raising funds on Kickstarter. This preview was written based on prototype components and rules, so the final product may look and play, or even smell, different to the final product.

In 404 you play as one of the robot crew but instead of being loaded with one of Asimov’s famous robot laws your robot has got its circuits in a twist and now you’re trying to ‘improvise war’ or ‘destroy cloning’. The aim of the game is to complete your three laws before the other robots on the ship. To get your robot to achieve its laws you need to program it. This is done by choosing a series of program cards to create a sequence of movements and actions. During each turn you are dealt a hand of cards to choose your programming options, your options are limited but one of the nice design features of 404: Law not Found is that the programming cards are double edged effectively doubling your options, it limits your choices without feeling too restrictive.

404 law not found board game
404's stack system takes a bit of getting used to but it is quite unique.

Interacting with items on the ship involves working with the stacks. There are a host of tokens in the game that represent all the physical items, including the living crew, these can be picked up and dropped by your robots using the programming cards but are always arranged in stacks. These stacks are quite a complicated system to get your head around at first but soon become second nature. For example you may need to pick up an engineer (he’s too lazy to walk) but because he’s two items down in the stack you’ll also have to pick up the banana and the alien artefact to get to him.

404 law not found event deck
Things are never easy on-board, meteors and aliens are a constant threat.

Of course you’re not the only inhabitants of the Lucky Break, there’s also the human crew and the science department’s test monkey. These, more fleshy parts of game do have minds of their own and sometimes may do something to help, or more likely hinder the robots. It is probably 404: Law not Found’s biggest detractor in that the human action phase is the clunkyest part of the game. There is a flow chart to follow to determine what the meat bags do each turn but it’s quite a large flow chart and, especially during early games, running each crew member through the options can be long winded. On the plus side it’s not a complicated process just lengthy. After a few turns when you may be down a few humans, probably because one of them got used as engine fuel, and you are more familiar with the process it flows a lot more smoothly.

With a bunch of robots moving around left, right and centre it’s not long before chaos takes over and all hell breaks loose. You may need to get the cloning gel to clone a scientist but another robot has loaded it into missile tubes. You may be trying to get to the navigation computer but another robot has shoved you into space and you’ve accidentally killed the engineer you were carrying. This chaos is the most frustrating and the most gleefully enjoyable aspect of the game. You may have created the perfect programme for achieving your directive but it’s almost a guarantee that another player is going to screw up your plan. Being knocked off course will always have unforeseen circumstances but these circumstances generate the humour in this game, and it’s what gives these plucky robots a soul that your human crew lack.

404 law not found mission card
An example of the kind of crazy directive you're currently trying to achieve.

As if the other players aren’t enough to knock you off course then the game also has a series of external events to contend with. An event card is drawn every turn that could represent an alien attack or a meteorite shower. These generally do bad things but can be averted by firing weapons or activating the correct engine. Many of these events are linked to the laws; you may be required to destroy an alien spaceship and so they are key to the game. The Lucky Break isn’t just floating around aimlessly in space, your crew is in fact on a mission and there’s also a random mission card drawn. Your human crew, if still alive, will conduct these missions of their own accord but if your robot is carrying the correct crew member for the mission they get to use your robot’s special ability. The problem is I’m not sure the game needs it. There’s enough to deal with as it is, and these missions add a layer of complexity to an already complex game.

404: Law not Found is like trying to solve a puzzle where the pieces are constantly moving. It is chaotic, bonkers and downright silly, but it’s also hugely entertaining because you know that the silliness is your own fault. Games shouldn’t all be straight laced and serious, some should be daft and fun. The programming mechanic makes it easy to draw parallels between 404: Law not Found and games such as Roborally and Space Alert but 404 is strong enough to stand apart. If you’re desperate for a comparison, then 404: Law not Found is like writing a piece of software that plays Monkey Island on board the ship from FTL.

404 law not found board game
404: Law Not Found is a very silly game but its also very rewarding.
404 is complicated at first, with the human AI standing out as a cumbersome concept but this complication is because 404 is a game bursting with new ideas and mechanics. These new concepts take a bit of getting your head around and because of this there’s a learning curve. You are richly rewarded for taking the time out to learn this game because 404: Law not Found is something very unique and in this day and age that is hard to find.

If you want to know if 404: Law not Found is a game for you I need only ask you one question, is the concept of firing a monkey at an alien spaceship your kind of fun? If so I suggest you check out the Kickstarter project. If not then you are a soulless human being whose favourite colour is grey.

404: Law Not Found is raising funds on Kickstarter now.

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