Sunday, April 09, 2006


Robo Rally and the State Department

Some friends introduced me to Robo Rally last night. It's a fun little racing game where each player tried to get their robot to the flag first. It works like LOGO, where you plan your move five steps in advance. The tricky part is that you draw cards to determine what moves you can make, the board has obstacles on it that can change your course and speed if you hit them (or block your progress) and if you cross paths with another robot they can push you around too. It's a lot of fun trying to anticipate everything you need to take into account in planning your path, though it can be a chore to make sure you're moving the game pieces exactly the way that the cards, other pieces, and board obstacles say they should be moved. Clint and I both said you'd think this would be a videogame, not a boardgame, especially given its theme. Apparantly it was invented back in the 80s, though it occurs to me that turn-based roleplays were beginning to be played on PCs around that time. Anyway, I figure you could probably do it in DHTML now, or maybe flash. Though neither of those would allow the cool feature Clint suggested--first-person playback of the last turn.

On a totally different note, I'm re-reading (again) Six Days of War, and as it describes the days before the shooting started, it just jumped out at me that the US State Department seemed to be just as obsessed with appeasing bullies and thugs back then as they have been in the current situation. In that case, while the Syrians were sending terrorists into Israel and firing artillery at Israeli farms, the Egyptians were conducting a massive military buildup in the Sinai and forcing UN peacekeepers to get out of the way. Against that, Israel specifically avoided moving troops or doing anything else to provoke the situation, but when they asked the US to send some weapons and/or a warship to visit an Israeli port, State told them to stop acting belligerant.

Now, a diplomat's job is to try and calm people down before they start fighting. They're not in the business of making threats or pointing guns at the other side. But I think the major iniquity in the situation above points up an actual flaw in American society. In any organization, each individual will typically be committed to doing their own job the best they can. That would seem to be exactly what you want, except that in a political organization (like the pieces of the government that deal with foreign countries) the "job" is really to advance a viewpoint. You're not making widgets and trying to shave 30 seconds off the assembly time to increase productivity. You're representing the interests of your country in the world, and when someone threatens your friends you need to back them up. You need to do that even when it means some of your savage beast-calming music doesn't get played. You need to do that, not because I or someone else thinks the other side are asshats that need a beatdown, but because if the government's position is going to be that the other side has to back down or get shot, then every part of the government needs to consistently say that. If they don't, someone is going to think we don't care what they do, when the opposite is actually the case (think of Saddam Hussein and April Glaspie in 1991)

RoboRally is freakin' great. I'm glad you liked it so much. Some more fragile people would automatically hate any game they came in last place on. Carolyn ultimately won, then I made it, then Christian, then Shannon. They didn't want to finish but I was pre-dealing their future hands and moving their pieces for them, and a 2-person turn was more than 3 times as fast as a 5-person turn. . .

You can get it at That site is to board-game-selling what is to board-game-reviewing: Simply the best. They even sell the Cheapass Games games ( for 20% cheaper than does! (Lightspeed: under $5. Worth it.)

It's about $42 shipped.
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