GKR – Giant Killer Robots

Game flow is nice and simple, broken into 5 phases with the last one, ‘tagging’, being the crux of the game. The first player to tag a building with four ‘holotags’ gets to demolish it – demolish four, and you win. Simple, eh?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Quick poll… did you like:

Blade Runner 2049
Elysium
District 9
Chappy
Lord of the Rings
The Thunderbirds animated series

…and about a million different other really cool things on screen?

You did?

Well then, you have seen the work of New Zealand’s multi award winning Weta Workshop, now an extension of the Steve Jackson cinematic empire. Weta is a driving force in the world of concept design and prop/model production in the world. Their achievements are too numerous to mention but if you’ve watched a big production film, especially with a scifi or fantasy bent, then you’ve probably seen some, or a lot, of Weta’s work.

So you can imagine my giddy excitement when I heard that Weta was making a board game. About Giant Killer Robots. With fantastic miniatures. Designed by… themselves! Omg, OMG, O.M.G!!!!!!

After what was one of the most exciting (as much a KS campaign can be exciting) and well produced Kickstarter campaigns ever, GKR landed in it’s big boxed glory, full of plasticy game goodness. You’d think that I’d have madly unpacked it and started playing right away, but in my case it sat boxed, beckoning, until Christmas; months after it arrived.

I know!

Big and glorious!

And so, finally, it was unpacked. Ooohhh’s and ahhh’s were made, the rules pulled out and a game or three was had.

And what a hoot.

I like making calls on a game right up front, when you are getting your head around the rules and game play. Unlike video games, where the more proficient you become at the controls and commands, the better the experience, with a board game you get the feeling right up front, before you start compensating for black spots or irregularities in the rules or flow. If it sucks, you’ll know it pretty quickly.

So here’s a bit of a taste…

GKR - Giant Killer Robots game layout

For the first time out of the box, it took a while to set up for two players. Working out the control deck and all the various bits was a big suck of time. Fair call too, the control deck is one of the key factors which will make or break you and after the first game, I can see that learning how to set up an effective deck is one of the key elements of GKR. There are also other elements that need setting up and figuring out as well, but I can say with an amount of certainty, once you get it under control, consecutive setups are fairly fast.

The wrecking zone

In a nutshell (because this is a view of the game, not an in-depth blow for blow review), you pick a faction, a pilot, then build a set of 25 cards made up of weapons, manoeuvre, defence and other ’traits’. Each of the factions and pilots in the game have their own cards, giving them very individual strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, while factions may ‘share’ the same ability or weapons card, the values can differ, making how you play each quite different depending on the faction and combination you choose.

The game starts by each player shuffling the 25 card deck they built and drawing down six cards. These six cards are then what players start with and the random nature of it, as it transpires, makes things… interesting.

And so off we went.

Big. Detailed. Delicious!

Game flow is nice and simple, broken into 5 phases with the last one, ‘tagging’, being the crux of the game. The first player to tag a building with four ‘holotags’ gets to demolish it – demolish four, and you win. Simple, eh?

As to be expected, the first few rounds were stop go affairs, as we worked out the rules and flow. But after about half an hour, we got into the swing and the game started to flow nicely as the mechanics started to show themselves….

Your main event is your GKR, Giant Killer Robot. It does the tagging and delivers the big blows. But it’s not alone, being supported by three small support machines that provide scouting, repair and additional bang. In play you ultimately use all three to supplement and support your GKR, as you manoeuvre it to get your ‘holotags’ onto the buildings. Added to all this though are pilot achievements, which award ‘sponsor’ cards. As I found out the hard way, the sponsor cards can deal lethal blows to the best thought out plans, delivering an unpredictable plethora of benefits to the holder. So while you are playing the strengths and weaknesses of your faction, and your deck, you are also playing against the ‘sponsors’ of the match, as they dish out rewards to the pilots! I had a winning strategy for nailing my first game, until I was hit with a barrage of sponsor cards that did me in….!!! Ultimately, while you are playing to eliminate the others on the board, and tag buildings, you also want to be playing in such a way as to gain pilot achievements, which land you the cards.

GKR from a tactical point of view works on a number of different levels and while easy to get your head around after one game, it requires creative thinking and mastery to get the most out of it.

Showdown. It won’t end well.

Perhaps my only gripe, which manifested itself early on, is the random nature of the control deck. While I love the unpredictable nature of this mechanic, which delivers a different game every time, the fact that your GKR’s primary and secondary weapons are also tied up in it means, as in my case, that you can spend more than one turn (like 5!) without any attack capability and be stuck with only defensive or supplementary actions. That sucked. Granted over the course of the game the hand is refreshed as you use cards and replenish them (and loose them as you take damage!), the starting hand can be vital, especially if there are more than two players. Maybe with a bit more time I’ll work out the way to avoid this trap but for now, I think it’s probably the only thing about GKR that annoyed the crap out of me.

All in all though, Giant Killer Robots is thoroughly enjoyable! As a first then second pass at the game, it’s easy to see GKR’s ability to deliver excellent game play at many levels; more players can only make it more fun, as the grab for buildings and skullduggery will just add to the momentum.

As a physical thing it’s big and it’s beautiful. The GKR’s themselves stand almost as tall as a can of soda and they are beautifully sculpted and produced; you could easily stick them on a shelf… if small hands did not want to grab at them! The support vehicles too are also wonderfully sculpted, but unlike the GKR are left unfinished, meaning if you are so inclined, you can paint them up yourself and add your own flavour to your game.

The playing board is double sided and made from a super thick card, meaning it’ll last a very long time indeed. And all the supplementary materials? They too are of a superb quality, with the cards are gloriously illustrated  and finished in a satin lustre, all in the bublegummy GKR style. Overall, the game is almost a collector’s item in and of itself, and creates a very concise feeling for the universe it exists in – you are totally sucked into it.

GKR’s concept from the get go stood unique, and the boldness of the undertaking, extravagant. Yes, it’s expensive. But when you consider though it’s something that will provide years of enjoyment, both in terms of game play and ‘as a thing’, it’s worth the spend.

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