I love it when new games show up in the mail and a few months back a top secret package dropped on to my door mat from Dogeared Games. It was a prototype deck for Stak Bots Purple, full to the brim with vicious little bots just itching to do battle. I’m pretty excited about this one, so let’s take a look inside the box and then I’ll tell you what I think.
If you’ve never played Stak Bots before be sure to check out my original review for an overview of how the game plays.
Inside the Purple expansion you’ll find:
60 cards depicting colourful fighting robots
Stak Bots retails for around £9 a deck and you can get the base game + expansion bundles discounted over on Dogeared’s store. The Purple deck though is currently on Kickstarter so if you want it, go check that out… no… no… wait until after I’ve finished telling you about it.
My deck is a prototype but the card quality and finish has always been really nice with Stak Bots, my decks have been through 50+ games and they keep battling on. I usually insert a jibe here about the artwork but I feel poor Tom has heard them all by this point and to be honest the art has really grown on me over the years. Sure, it’s simple, but it’s also striking and really creative.
There’s a lot of neat ideas in the new expansion too. This set really focuses on controlling and attacking face up cards located anywhere in the stak and gives you lots of options for rearranging your stak.
And while new Bots are cool, what I really want to talk about is the new modes of play. Each Stak Bots set has always included new modes and new toggles, I found the one I liked and then kept playing that one, but with the new ones coming out I decided to give them a whirl and I was surprised by what I found.
In this mode the deck is split into six face up piles of cards. Players then take turns buying cards from these central decks until they have 24 rank points of cards. They shuffle their deck and choose to draw upto 3 cards into their hand then the game begins.
The “Setup Entry Effects” toggle and the “Reactive” toggle are always active. This means that you trigger entry effects even during setup with the first player having effect priority and that whenever an attack is declared against you, you have the opportunity to cancel that attack by playing a card from your hand.
Players run their decks against each other until one player’s stak runs out. The winner gets two additional points to spend, while the loser gets four. The points can be spent to buy new cards from the central reserve or to upgrade (discard and replace a card) cards in your deck. Then you shuffle up, choose how many cards you want in your hand, supply and stak and start again.
The first player to four wins is the winner.
Split Draft Mode
In this version of the game players are drafting cards into their decks by drawing from the central reservation. They each take turns drawing cards until they have two cards of the same rank, at that point they must choose one to keep and one to give to the opponent. Players continue to draw and draft cards until they have a deck of 14 cards.
They shuffle up their decks, deal a hand of 3 and a supply of 3, placing the remaining 8 cards in their staks. As above the Setup Entry and Reactive toggles are active.
Split Draft is played to best of 3 and for a longer game players can redraft and play best of three drafts.
One of the cleverest things about Stak Bots is the way it can be adapted to different styles of play. At this point there are over 60 different modes and toggles meaning that no two games of Stak Bots ever need to be the same.
Upgrade Mode offers a deck building style experience with players competing to build the best deck and then test their mettle against one another. The reactive toggle makes up for the fact that you can’t play this mode multi-stak by giving players interesting tactical choices on their opponents turn. Also, as the deck building stage is done publically, you have full knowledge of your opponents deck and can buy cards specifically to counter it.
During the upgrade step you can adapt your deck and swap out cards that aren’t working or double down on your current strategy.
For even more strategy, as an optional rule, you can cherry pick what cards are in your hand and your stak at the start of the game. Stocking your hand with Shot Bots, Reaper Bots and other nasties with entry effects can lead to some devastating counters. Of course, this makes Expel Bot far more dangerous too.
Most likely your staks will be small growing little by little with each upgrade step. This means that cards like Begone Bot and the new Boomerang Bot can be game winning even against a power 7 stomp Bot if played when your opponent is down to a single card in their stak.
Meanwhile Split Draft offers a different experience again. Taking its lead from the trading card genre, players draft a unique deck but every time they put a card in their deck they must also give a card to their opponent. If it’s a choice between a Core Bot 1 and any other rank 1 card, well that’s easy enough, but when it’s a choice between a Reaper Bot and a Stomp Bot things get a little trickier. You can have the hilarity of forcing a Clumsy Bot on to your opponent, but the trouble with that is you have given them a great attacker too!
With the Split draft you are only going to know half the cards in your deck so the first time out of the gate you will be learning how it plays and adapting your strategy on the fly, but the second and third games you can play to its strengths.
Yes Chris but what about the Bots?
Hmmmm? You want to know about the new Bots you say? I guess I can talk about those. I think my favourite new bot is Shunt Bot. A Stomp Bot that pits the top card before it attacks allowing you to get rid of a nasty defender like Fatal Bot before stomping your opponent into oblivion.
That said, I have a soft spot for Nibbly Bot too. Similar to Greedy Bot, Nibbly Bot consumes all bots with the lowest power when he is played, increasing his own power by the number of bots he scraps. Of course, if he is the lowest powered bot on the table he eats himself too! Hilarious.
This set brings a couple of bots to the fore that can attack cards in the middle of the stak. Sniper Bot can target any face up card in play making him the ultimate Shot Bot and great for powering down Leader Bots. Chop Bot always attacks the lowest face up card in the stak and when it does so it scraps the top card of the stak. Buzzsaw Bot works well with both of these bots, allowing you to cut your opponents stak and place the bottom half on top, revealing a new top card and giving your Chops and Snipers a shiny new target.
The best named new card is Smug Bot, who, when he enters play, forces the opponent to attack it. While this may seem detrimental it can actually be really useful, especially in reactive play, forcing your opponent into a fight he doesn’t want.
And while Smug Bot has the best name, Buck Bot has the most satisfyingly delicious name to pronounce. His power is pretty cool too.
The set also finally introduces a leader Bot that doesn’t need a seperate user manual to understand. Vandal Leader Bot (or Negan Bot as I affectionately refer to him), brains bots with his baseball bat and then causes the owning player to discard a card. This makes him especially useful in the two new modes where your hand size is low and you generally won't have a large stash of cards to draw from.
The last card I’ll mention is the ultimate defender, Turtle Bot. This card simply does not take damage while your opponent has more face up cards in their stak than you. This makes him great against all Leader Bots and can potentially force your opponent to scrap cards in order to fight him at all.
I’m probably preaching to the converted at this point but if you own Stak Bots at all this set is just more of the stuff you love. New ways to play, new bots to mix things up, new mashups like Fatelephant Bot (Fatal + Elephant), Shunt (Pit + Stomp) and Boomerang (Shot + Begone). There’s no card I actively dislike in this set (I’m looking at you, Ram Leader Bot) and they are all perfectly playable with just the base grey set.
Stak Bots Purple then is a great add on. It’s simple to integrate, explores new strategies that work on attacking cards lower in the stak and two new modes of play with rumours of even more in the final rules. If you own Red and Yellow already this should be an instant purchase, sure, you don’t need more Bots, but you want more, you know you do! If you have only played with the Grey deck then Purple works just fine as a first expansion and is possibly simpler than Red overall.
If I have tickled your tastebuds for some robot carnage then I highly recommend you shoot on over to the Purple kickstarter right now and pick up your copy. In the interest of full disclosure the designer sent me a free copy of the game to review but I’m right behind you in the queue to back it!