As a huge fan of Robotech, I was very excited to see a number of new Robotech board games released in the last few years. These new Robotech games include Robotech Force of Arms, a Robotech themed card game from Solar Flare Games.
Robotech Force of Arms is a two-player only, competitive card game set during the Macross saga. It recreates a space battle between the invading Zentradi and the Robotech Defense Force.
Disclosure: A big thanks to Solar Flare games for sending us a copy of this game. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with the Robotech themed board game Force of Arms?
Robotech: Force of Arms was designed by Dave Killingsworth and features artwork from Andora Cidonia, Andrew Cramer and Joel Lopez. It was published in 2018 by Solar Flare Games.
Force of arms is a two-player, competitive card game set during the Macross Saga era of Robotech, the first series in the Robotech franchise. This game recreates a space battle between the invading Zentradi and the defending Robotech Defense Force (RDF) and includes a number of iconic ships and characters from the anime series. A single game only takes about half an hour.
To get a look at the cards and other components included in this game be sure to check out our Robotech Force of Arms unboxing video on YouTube.
So the main thing you get in this box is two decks of cards. There are a couple of reference cards and an “empty space” card along with two decks, one for the RDF and one for the Zentradi. The two player decks contain twenty-four cards each and are a mix of capital ships and attack cards. There is also one special card used only if the RDF transforms the SDF-1 during play. Interestingly, this doesn’t do anything mechanically but just swaps out the card for one with different artwork showing the transformed fortress.
You also get a number of tokens as well as a fifteen-page rulebook that is rather clear and easy to read. There are six special tokens for each side and a number of +1 Attack and +1 Defense tokens that the players share.
How is Robotech Force of Arms played?
You start by placing the Empty Space card in the middle of the play area and then surround it with both players capital ship cards, in a random order, so that you end up with a three by three grid.
Then you randomly determine the starting player by revealing one combat card from each player’s deck. The one with the highest total determines if they wish to go first or second during the first phase. The player going first now will go second during the command phase later.
Each turn, players must move one of their ships. They do this by picking a ship in the three by three grid and swapping it with any other card in that grid.
Then the player will play two of their combat cards somewhere on the outside of the grid. Each player owns two sides of the grid and each row or column can hold only two cards. The combat cards all show various Robotech mecha and have either an Attack value or a Defence value on them ranging from one to six. The card placed will affect all cards in the row or column that it is placed. Cards with attack value will help to capture enemy ships whereas ships with defence value will help to protect their own ships. Both of the player’s decks are mechanically identical.
In most cases, you play these combat cards face down but a number of them of the option to be played face-up, and when you do so the player playing them earns counters. There are counters that give a bonus to Attack, or counters that give a bonus to Defense, or Ship Lock tokens that prevent ships from moving, or protoculture tokens that count as either Attack or Defense +2. In addition to tokens that can be earned by playing combat cards face up, each player starts with two spy tokens which can be spent to cancel another player’s token or to peek at one face down card.
Play continues until all of the players’ combat cards are played. Note, every game every card is played. In the end, each spot on the three-by-three grid will be affected by four combat cards from each faction.
Next players spend the tokens they have earned. This happens in player order. +1 Attack tokens are placed on enemy ships, +1 Defence tokens are placed on your own ships and Protoculture can be played on either side’s ships.
After the token phase, players take in hand all of their Command and Hero cards. Each faction has four of each of these. Player will pick two Command cards to play as well as one Hero to use. These cards mess with what’s already been set up on the board by moving tokens, placing new ones, swapping ship locations etc.
It’s worth noting that these cards, unlike most of the game so far, are not entirely symmetrical. For example, the RDF has a card that adds Defence tokens whereas the matching Zentradi cards will add Attack tokens.
Once players finish playing Command and Hero cards they move onto a final resolution and scoring round.
Here players flip over all of the Combat cards and do some math. They look at each ship in the grid and add up all of the Attack values for the attackers and all of the Defence values for the defender, accounting for the four attacker cards in that row/column, and the four defender cards in that row/column, plus all the counters on the ship. In addition to this, most of the ships have an inherent defence value that is added to the defender’s total.
If the attacker has more attack points than the defender’s defence points they destroy the ship and take the card. If the defender has more defence point than the attacker’s attack points they defend the ship and take the card. If the totals are tied the battle is a draw and the ship stays on the board.
Each ship captured has a point value and after you resolve each ship in the grid, players total up the points for the cards they hold. The player with the highest point total wins.
What did we think of Force of Arms a card game set during the Macross Era of Robotech?
So, what we have here with Robotech Force of Arms is a rather simple very math-based game. This seems exactly like the kind of game Reiner Knizia is famous for designing and I have a feeling that the designer of Force of Arms was at least somewhat inspired by Knizia games like Kingdoms.
While the game is pretty simple to teach and learn you do have to be careful to watch for those Attack and Defense icons. Ships with Attack icons only add to the total when attacking and defensive ships only add when defending. I note this because this was something that got missed the first time we played Force of Arms.
The game plays rather quickly and doesn’t take up a lot of room, something I appreciate. While I wouldn’t want to play a card game like this at a bar I can see playing it at a coffee shop, even one with smaller tables. The lack of a board is a bonus for this. To play you only need room for a three by three grid of cards and then a place to put cards at the ends of every row and column.
While there is a bluffing element to this game and some strategy in trying to decide where to place your combat cards, due to the fact that two ship cards are going to swap places every turn and the fact that the range of the combat cards is large (rangings from one to six) you end up with a lot of randomness in Robotech Force of Arms.
The command and hero cards only add to the amount the board shifts, letting players make some last minute changes to the battlefield which can end up quickly ruining even the best laid plans. Now I do know some players that will love this aspect of the game but for us, we both would have preferred some more control over our destinies.
Another somewhat minor complaint about the game is the lack of theming. There’s not a lot here that says Robotech other than the artwork and names of things. Yes you are playing out a space battle with capital ships and attacking and defending with waves of fighters set up on the periphery of the battle, and the swapping of ships does feel a bit like manoeuvring in space, but it’s all very abstract.
I’m not saying the theme doesn’t fit the mechanics, rather that it’s not tied to them strongly. This same system could be used to recreate any mass battle say with the Romans facing off against the Carthaginians.
Overall, Robotech Force of Arms is a decent quick filler. I do like the decision points in the game and I like the way the mechanics work. The high amount of basic math in the game really does remind me of some Reiner Knizia classics and that’s not a bad thing. Despite some strategy and tactics being required the game still has a rather high randomness factor that will be a bane or boon depending on your personal preference. While it’s not the most thematic Robotech game, the artwork and characters do give you a bit of the feel of playing out an epic space battle between the invading Zentradi and the Robotech Defense Force.
If you collect everything Robotech and haven’t heard about this game, go ahead and add Robotech Force of Arms to your collection. It’s one of only a handful of Robotech games out there and worth having. As a light filler game, it’s pretty solid. We’ve had fun playing it. If you don’t like math-heavy abstract games with themes that are barely tied to the mechanics, don’t bother with Force of Arms, it’s not going to win you over.
For years the Robotech licence was stuck with a single publisher and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see other companies doing new things with the Robotech licence. I was surprised by this particular light filler card game and look forward to checking out other new Robotech games. Have you played anything Robotech? If you have, I would love to know what’s the best Robotech game you’ve played. Let us know in the comments.