Red is the third box in the Stak Bots range; a new expansion that can be played either on its own, or combined with either or both previous boxes for a mega game. If you're already a Stak Bots fan, don't bother reading this review, it's more of the same, with some new interesting bots and twists on old mechanics, just go to the Kickstarter now and back Red. We won't be offended if you leave.
If you're new to the world of Stak Bots, then you're in for a treat. Each player has a Stak, this is both their army and their health. If a players stack is depleted that player is out of the game. A player can do one of three actions; add a card to their stack, attack, or discard a card from their Stak (called scrapping). It's all very straightforward.
But it isn't really that straightforward. Many bots have reveal effects; special abilities that fire off the first time a bot shows itself, either from being added to the top of a stack or the bot above it in the stack being removed. This is were the game’s tactics and chaos come from. If you're a clever player you can orchestrate these chain reactions to your advantage, devastating enemy stacks and giving yourself a clear advantage, but you are just as likely to start a series of reveals that cause complete mayhem and when that happens it's surprisingly fun.
You would think that having the game run amok with no control over the events would be a detriment to any game, but there's something gleefully destructive in watching a series of reveal effects completely change the state of the game. It's like watching a building burn down, you know you should feel bad about the senseless destruction and loss of property but damn it if it isn't fascinating to watch it all collapse in front of you.
However, for a lot of people this chaos is going to be too much, watching a carefully laid out plan fall apart due to little more than bad luck isn’t for some players.
Stak Bots Red being the new kid on the stack brings some new, and interesting, bots to the mix. Some are completely new, while others at a twist to an existing card. My personal favourite is the Elephant Bot – a heavy bruiser of a Stak Bot that although very powerful is easily defeated by the very weakest of bots.
So let's talk about the art. I always try not to make a big deal about a game's art, the reason I put so much effort into taking nice photos of the game are so you can make your own mind up. But you can't escape that Stak Bots art is, well, even calling it art seems a bit cheeky. It's crude, it's simple, it's... oddly endearing. If a big international publisher where to make a game with this kind of art we'd all be complaining in reddit, but when a small independent publisher comes out with this kind of artwork, for some reason it becomes more quaint, and with Red being the third Stak Bots set it's now getting to the point where it would feel very odd to have the art any different.
If however Stak Bots were a bad game, with bad art, then I would be burning it with righteous damnation. But you can't escape that Stak Bots is a great, if very chaotic game. That being said, with some careful tactical choice you can tune the game from anarchy to victory. Stak bots is also small and quick to play, meaning you can squeeze in a game in between bigger games or at the end of an evening.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.