There are lots of dice based minigames emerging in the market, but few of them carry the same level of interest as those with big licenses. Robotech: Ace Pilot is a brand new “small footprint” game from Japanime Games, who recently published the much larger and more involved Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1 which we rather enjoyed in our recent review.
Robotech: Ace Pilot takes the basic concepts of any good dice rolling game and builds a thematic and unusual structure around them, both physically and mechanically. The box itself becomes some of a board, with the plastic insert acting as a grid that stores individual stacks of enemy Zentraedi tokens for the players to destroy as the game goes on. As each top level enemy is destroyed (and the token removed) the enemy below is revealed and so on.
To some extent, this innovative use of the actual box means that Robotech: Ace Pilot is close to being a travel game, but the need to roll the dice (into the lid, perhaps) and place several pilot cards (and some upgrades) out in front of the players mean that it does still need a bit more space than you’ll find on the average bus or plane, though trains with tables do a fine job of accommodating it.
When the game begins, the players will simply take turns to roll six dice, each of which is customised to fit the theme and feels large and chunky in the hand. Depending on what faces are rolled, the player may “recruit” one or two of these pilots by spending their rolls. During this process, the player has the chance to lock some of the dice and reroll others, and the rules allow for up to two of these rerolls.
The purpose of this exercise is to score points by destroying the Zentraedi ships that are currently shown as face up in the box. Each pilot deals damage to the enemy ships based on a specific pattern, with some focussing their fire onto a small area and others covering a more broad area. Damage is assigned in the pattern shown by both pilots (if two are recruited) and the damage is cumulative, so the key to success is ensuring that pilots team up to defeat larger foes.
After damage is assigned this way, the player takes the Zentraedi tokens for any ships that are destroyed and reserves them, adding points to their total. Any ship taken that has an upgrade symbol on it will allow the player to take an upgrade card to apply to their future turns. Any Zentraedi that were damaged but not destroyed remain in place, and their health resets for the next player. At the end of their turn, the player who just acted will flip up the next Zentraedi ship in the box and play proceeds to the next player.
A game of Ace Pilot ends when one or more of the stacks of ships has been destroyed completely, and during setup, the number of ships in each stack will be determined based on player count. The Zentraedi ships are placed out randomly having been drawn from a rather nice little bag that comes in the box, and some ships are all but impossible to kill without upgrades being taken to support the normal pilot attack patterns.
Ace Pilot is a game that mixes the randomness of dice rolling with an element of decision making that when combined, make players feel as though they have control, when in fact, they don’t. In some ways, that’s actually a good thing, since each game of Ace Pilot that I’ve played has ended up pretty close, but if you’re looking for a luck free game, then you probably shouldn’t be looking at a dice chucking mini game anyway.
Luck plays such a significant factor in Ace Pilot because not only are players rolling dice to see what symbols they have, but those symbols directly dictate which pilots can be taken, and in turn, their attack patterns are fixed. Going into a turn, you may assess which Zentraedi you want to destroy and which pilots will do that for you, but you may simply fail to roll dice that allow you to take those pilots and will end up destroying whatever you can instead.
That said, Ace Pilot is a dice rolling game that is going to appeal to fans of the Robotech theme first and foremost, but the actual chucking of dice, choosing pilots and destroying Zentraedi is light and fun for more or less anyone. As always with dice games, taking Ace Pilot too seriously would be a mistake, and if you’re willing to dive into it with an intent to have a laugh with your friends, then you’ll have a better time.
Robotech: Ace Pilot is a small box game that does indeed play rapidly and takes up very little space on the shelf. Its need for table space is greater, but not so great that it should be considered prohibitive. Overall, Ace Pilot is a cheap, cheerful game that has some awesome artwork and a fun core mechanic. It plays quickly, but is dependant almost entirely on luck, so it may not appeal to fans of heavier games where the players have total control.