Twin Tin Bots

Designer: Philippe Keyaerts
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Flatlined Games
Players: 2-6
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 50 minutes
Times Played: 25 with purchased copies
Previously Covered:

This is one of my favorite intersections.  It’s got it all: a roundabout, a fountain, and a tram that goes _through_ the fountain while simultaneously ignoring the roundabout pattern. And no lights.

Traffic patterns are fascinating to me. I don’t have some in-depth reason _why_ that I feel confident in, but they do. Part of it is probably related to an interest in unintuitive, but “better” ways to do things.  There are trade offs. If we do the intersection this way, we gain this benefit at the cost of that thing. I live much of my life this way. I don’t want to do things “by default”; I want to do things with intention and re-examine if I’m doing things the “best” way for me or am I doing them the way they’ve always been done without thoughtful inspection?

Here are some new traffic patterns. There’s a lot of potential.

As someone whose interests run counter to much of the board game coverage and publisher output that exists, there are times I feel compelled to cover games that I want to champion, and that we’ve only previously given a preview or first impression or not covered at all. Or I strongly differ from the opinions previously provided.  The games may not be new. But I want to tell you how great they are. This is one of those reviews.

Here’s a little of what Twin Tin Bots is like:

I bring all this up because for me, Twin Tin Bots is a game of traffic efficiency.

I don’t know what the theme of Twin Tin Bots is, but I imagine it’s something like: you’re a taxi driver in the Swindon Magic Roundabout (above) trying to ferry passengers _within_ the roundabout because it’s too hard to cross. Except: you’re driving two taxis at once, and while you’re controlling one, the other keeps doing what it was before.

Twin Tin Bots is a programming game in which each player controls two robots.  Your goal is to acquire gems: generally, from picking them up in the middle of the board and dropping them off at your base. The rub is that both robots will execute in the same order each turn, but you’ll only be able to slightly adjust the programming of one of them each turn. The other will continue what it had been doing before.

Each player starts with a collection of largely the same programming commands: forward 1, forward 2, rotate left, rotate right, pick up a gem, drop a gem, and ‘zap’. There is a small collection of unique tiles; these will be available for players who deliver lower-value blue gems, but each player will also start with one.  They include things like backwards one, hop over a hex, superpush, superzap, forward 3, u-turn, rotate twice to the left, rotate twice to the right, and so on.

Each robot has 3 programming slots, and on the first turn of the game, you’ll be able to give each robot one command (and it need not be in the first slot).  The actions will resolve from left to right, and then the next player will take their turn, programming their robot and executing.

In future turns, your programming options will be limited.  Largely, you will take one programming tile and add it to one slot (not one tile per robot, one tile total). Then execute.  Alternatively, you can wipe one robot’s programming completely; remove one tile from one robot; or swap two commands intra-robot.

Victory is going to be the most points, but here, I mean, I think that’s secondary to having fun.

Depending on the player count, there are various amount of three colored gems: blue, green, and pink.  They are worth 2/3/4 victory points if you deliver them, and 1/2/3 if your trucks are holding them at the end of the game.  These come out sequentially; once a gem is delivered, another will arrive from a timer track to the center of the board, or as close as possible.  When you deliver one of the blue gems, you’ll earn another of the unique programming tiles.

The game has two ending conditions, one is three complete rounds from when the last gem of the timer track has been placed on the board.  The other is a sudden victory of sorts if one player acquires a certain amount of points. (Frankly, I don’t teach the latter. We only play with the first.)

But anyway, your robots run around executing their program.  OK, maybe Swindon was a little organized. It’s more like this:

But what happens if, uh, things intersect.  If your Truckster tries to move forward and there’s another robot there?  Push it forward. (But you can’t push more than one without the unique superpush tile.  Also, you can’t push bases.) If your robot is programmed to pick up, and there’s a gem in front of you, but it’s being held by another robot?  Pick. Its. Pocket.

What about that “zap” tile? Well, the zap is some sort of electronic robot control ray that shoots forward up to two spaces and allows you to control that robot (yours or another player’s): have it move forward one, rotate in either direction, pick up, or drop off. There’s also a unique doublezap tile.

The board is double sided, depending upon player count. If this hasn’t been enough, the game also comes with mud tiles that requires extra moves forward to emerge from, immovable rocks, portals, and other terrain pieces. There are scenario setups in the rulebook. Or make it up.

I almost put up there at the top that it plays 4-6.  Everything says 2-6, but don’t play 2 or 3 (And play 4 on the 5-6 side).  Here’s the thing: It’ll feel like a fluke the first time it happens. One of your robots is innocently delivering a gem to your base (and that’s quite an accomplishment.  This game is a lot of work.). And then you’ll realize, your other robot is within zapping distance. If you program things like this and then like that, the rest of the game will be on autopilot: two robots working in synchrony picking up and spinning and zapping and spinning and dropping off.  No moving. Just spinning and zapping. How hard is it to set up? I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone try to do it, but I’ve never seen a 3-player game where it didn’t happen naturally. (Sure, the other players could run into you, but, uh, nobody’s got the time or control to do that.) The lower player count side of the board is one-hex too small.

If we had a rating above I love it!, I might put this there.  I’m now finished with the bad things I have to say about the game. (OK, almost, I’m not crazy about the art.  But. I find it incredibly functional, and I’ve come to appreciate how easy it makes the game play. Just don’t expect something Instagramable.)

I find this game quite difficult.  Not in the rules, but when you get a gem delivered, it may have taken much of the game and it will feel like a notable accomplishment.

You might want to focus on just one of your robots.  Let the other just drift away and bounce against the wall.  Something like this. (Which of your robots am I saying this car is in this scenario?  That’s an exercise best left to the reader. Also, sound on.)

But that may not be the most efficient.  How can you set your other robot on some sort of slow periodic orbit such that every 3 or 4 turns, it’ll surreptitiously collaborate on your efforts?

It’s sorta like that with both robots.  A certain programming strategy may get you the gem quickly, but if it requires you to then rotate and move and rotate the other direction and drop off….that’s your one programming tweak for many turns.  Could you instead have set it on a slower course — planning down time. OK, three turns from now, that robot can be on autopilot and I can tweak the other. How can you make that happen?

If you need to turn once to the right, programming rotate left means you can work with the other robot for 4-5 extra turns.

(Each player also receives a tile that once-per-game allows you to make two programming adjustments in one turn before execution.)

When you get zapped, how will you adjust?  When you get bumped how will you adjust? Heck – you may be helped by some of the accidental bump and run.

Invite your friends over. Set the game up. Put Yakety Sax on repeat. Enjoy yourselves.

I’ve never been able to feature Twin Tin Bots in the Not Hot Games Room (and currently feel disinclined to put one together this year), as it hasn’t hit that below-the-radar stage of only one person logging a play it a month, but it doesn’t typically hit more than 6 or so.  Those NHGR games, uh, aren’t always great. I find them interesting and worthwhile, but I don’t always “love” them. Twin Tin Bots hovers just above them in obscurity, but well above those in what you get from the game.

I hope you have a chance to try it.

(I’ve decided those other videos don’t have quite enough interaction. Maybe it’s more like this. Sound on.)

James Nathan

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (14 plays): Had James Nathan written this five years ago, I would have been fully on board with an “I love it!” rating.  Had he written it three years ago, I might still have edged towards “I love it!”. Now – well, on the plus side, I still like and am happy to play the game.  But it’s no longer in my collection – much as with Warhamster Rally, I found it quite enjoyable, but after a while I just wasn’t drawn to play the game more. Not a failing of the game, but really more an indication that such games aren’t ideally suited to me for the long term.  Still, I had a lot of fun with it for a couple of years, and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of programmed movement games.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it! James Nathan
I like it. Joe H.
Neutral.  John P
Not for me…

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