Robotech.. here is a license that has a TON of baggage with the name; But I’m not talking about previous RPG incarnations or debacles in licensing. I’m here to talk about the wonderful adaptation that Strange Machine Games (SMG) has done. Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t stumbling blocks - every game has those, but SMG has created a game that captures the feel of the Robotech show, at least the macross saga (though there is an Alpha fighter from the invid saga that makes an appearance).
So first off, the style of the game. It seems to be primarily rooted into a more narrative and theatre of the mind play-style, though there ARE rules if you want a more ‘simulationist’ approach. This is a plus as it allows you to adapt to what your group is more comfortable with, but honestly the game does favour the former. Gone are your usual RPG character stats. You won’t find strength, dexterity or charisma here as a direct stat. Instead, you have a broad list of skills and how to implement them in different situations - Physical (combat), Social, and Technical. There are also careers, Pilot, for example and in a career you choose an Element - basically when you roll dice if it is ‘in your element’ you roll without penalty. The element for Pilot are Ace Pilot, Squad Leader and Wingman. Each has a specific talent for the element, but otherwise the career/element gives a rough framework to make any character you want.. even an entertainer like Minmei (we will wiiin!!)
Talents are pretty straight forward, giving you often a new element, and a bonus of some sorts. I’m not going to go in depth here, but it further helps differentiate characters. All in all the character generation is easy to understand, and versatile enough to make a character that fits in the universe. They also have all the major characters from the series, including the Terrible Trio (all have the same stats) and Jack Archer from the Battlecry video game.
Now many of you are probably wanting to jump right into the mecha and here is where the game might not be for everyone, just like there are no physical stats per se for the characters, the vehicles are also very light. This plays with how the system resolves tasks. You won’t find that, say a gunpod will have everything laid out. Task resolution is rolling a number of d6’s from your skills, often with a bonus number from an “equipment suite” which is effectively bonus dice on your roll. Some weapons such as missiles have limited use, so if you are looking for a slew of technical readouts of every little detail, this may be a sticking point. For me, it gives just enough information to know what you can do in the mech. There are countless variations of the veritech, all done within the equipment suite system.
The core mechanics are simple and quite light. Indeed the only issue I had with reading the combat was coming to terms with how to use the enemies. In many other games, enemies are their own entity. Here, this isn’t necessarily the case. You see you can play the same low ranking zentraedi warrior in a battlepod as either a powerful obstacle in their own right, or as a simple part of a massive swarm. With a setting that has limited foes, this versatility offers a way of changing the core function of the enemy to suit the story. For example, using the battlepod grunt above, you could run a game where the first time the players (as pilots) encounter a battlepod it is treated like a major boss, having to work together to whittle it down to defeat this singular foe. But as the game progresses, you can then shift that battepod to be part of a swarm - where there are multiples of the same, but they all work as a whole - that same battlepod becomes more of a hit point of the whole. It took me a while to fully grasp the concept, as I was used to RPG’s that had each enemy run as a separate entity. Now, the advantage is you don’t have to use the swarms, you can run each enemy as a separate foe. Again, this lends itself to the versatility of the game within the setting. A definite plus.
Next I want to talk about the art. This book is beautiful. Full colour evocative illustrations that immediately feel like they are from the show. To put it plainly, this is the most visually appealing Robotech RPG I have seen. The art fully captures the memory I had of the show. I honestly can’t wait to get my physical copy (with the Quedluun-Rau face).
Now, I have gushed about the game, there are a few things that will take getting used to. As mentioned above, the enemies you face can be played multiple ways, a plus for sure. Combat is broken up into different phases (support, Operations, cinematic, etc) this will take a lot of getting used to, as these phases dictate when you can do certain actions, which there are many to choose from. It is different from most games I have played which have I go, you go feel to actions. Here everything kind of happens for the players at the same time - apart from the different phases. This was likely born out of the way SMG wanted to make characters from different careers work together officers could operate the naval vessels, like an ARMD or The SDF-1 while pilots combat the barrlepods and fighters. It is a change, but I think after playing it several times it will fall into place.
Finally, there are some formatting issues that are irritating. The list of actions is seemingly absent from the combat section, requiring you to flip through the book (risking getting distracted by the awesome art). Now I may have missed it in that section, as actions were detailed under the skill chapter. It just doesn’t flow as nicely as I would have hoped. It is a small detail to be sure, but it will hinder my learning of the system. Similarly, during character generation, about halfway through the process it tells you to choose your gear. This is a small detail, but if you follow the process you will flip between sections of the book. Formatting wise, I would have preferred this as a last step.
All in all though, I find more to love about the game, than anything that detracts from it. It is by far on the opposite spectrum from the old robotech RPG from that company that lost the license (twice), and that is a very good thing. I could easily see someone adapting this system to do other 80’s childhood settings such as Voltron.