We recently had our group’s weekly game day, and it happened that only two of us could make it. With a discussion harkening back to some of our “player absence” posts, we figured out what to do. We settled on an option I hadn’t thought to include in my last post on the subject. We played a non-RPG.
The game was Meatbot Massacre, by author and game designer Greg Stolze. It’s about as far from an RPG as you can get, focusing on the tactics of a rather more gory re-imagining of mecha combat. Still, in a bit of a departure from our normal RPG focus, I’m going to review it.
The game is set in a “utopian” society, which has survived many long years of global war. The inhabitants now exorcise their violent urges by watching (or participating in) gladiatorial battles between bio-engineered war machines called “Meatbots”. The pilots attempt to use the weaponry inherited from prior wars to destroy the opponent’s ‘bot.
The rules are based on gathering dice pools each round. Each pilot has a “Massacre” rating, which determines how many actions he gets. You gather a die for each action, depending on how you want to allocate them.
For instance, we started with a Massacre of five. Each round, you could choose a d4 for movement, a d6 for defense, a d10 for attack, or a d12 or “Grandstanding”. So, I might choose two movement dice, two defense, and an attack.
The numbers of each you can choose are limited by the capabilities of your ‘bot. We started with the standard model, with two Move, two Defense, and two Attack. This gives both the max number of dice you could roll for the respective action, and, in the case of Movement or Defense, gives the base number to which the rolls are added.
Each ‘bot also has ten “Stomachs”. These are essentially just slots for accessories. They could be weapons, such as the Bone Spear Launcher. They could also be improvements, such as Chiton armor, which increases Defense by one, or the Aggro Pump, which allows you to roll more attack dice than the ‘bot’s Attack ratting.
Before each battle, we agreed on how many stomachs could be filled. This allowed for quick custom creation of Meatbots. It also allowed you to aim toward several special moves that could be performed with certain combinations of accessories.
Damage is tracked in lost “Meat.” The ‘bot starts out with twenty by default. This can be improved by devoting Stomachs to Extra Meat, and can be healed by filling two Stomachs with Hyperheal.
Probably the coolest part of this game is how simply Greg is able to model the tactics of mecha combat. Anybody who’s played Battletech remembers the equations, tables, and more tables used to adjudicate combat. Meatbot Massacre boils this down to: choosing dice, rolling simultaneously, and adding up the numbers. We were able to play three or four games in the time that would have been consumed by a single game of Battletech.
The ability to easily and quickly customize your ‘bot makes each battle different. Yet, at least in our battles so far, nobody has stumbled on an unbalanced combination. My final construction, the clawed, tentacled, healing “Sqwolverine” (squid/Wolverine), had the potential to be deadly. However, in fear of my regeneration, I got targeted by both Matt’s “Elepede” (Elephant/Centipede) and his wife’s unnamed acid-spewing ‘bot.
The title of this section is probably a misnomer. My complaints were minor, and easily remedied. With a few games under our belt, we were able to houserule away most of the issues.
First, it’s confusing that the four types of dice are handled completely differently. Movement dice are summed, and added to your ‘bot’s Movement rating. With Defense dice, you take the maximum, and add to the Defense Rating. Each Attack roll represents a separate attack, and you don’t add in the Attack rating, which simply acts as a limit to the number of attacks you get per round.
This was, really, the one and only confusing aspect of the rules. I’m not sure how you could fix it, though, since the numbers seem to balance out this way. In the end, it’s just a matter of learning, and it took us a few games to remember how they worked. And, really, I’m willing to forgive a game one initially confusing mechanic.
Depth of Tactics
While a surprising amount of tactics grows out of the dice pool mechanic, we felt like a couple additions could make things more interesting. For instance, Matt added some terrain to the arena. We decided that standing next to a column provided a plus one bonus to Defense against ranged attacks, since you could use it for cover. Just a few bonuses like this could greatly expand the tactical possibilities of the game.
Meatbot Massacre is an awesome arena tactics game. It’s simple, easy to learn, highly customizable. Once you get the rules down, it’s amazingly quick to play. My few complaints were easy to either learn or houserule away. Perhaps best of all, it’s completely free. Go download it, and get a game together!