Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Robot Turtles

We backed our first (and only) kickstarter project this year: Robot Turtles. It's a boardgame aimed at teaching (younger) children the basics of programming, namely the step-by-step and literal execution of code. The goal is to move a little turtle from a corner of the board to the centre of the board to collect a jewel. There's a jewel for each turtle so ever turtle wins. Yay!* Each player gets a stack of instruction cards used to tell their turtle what to do: go forward (a blue card, moves the turtle towards it's blue flower), turn left (a yellow card, the turtle has a yellow flower to its left), and turn right (a purple card, turns towards the purple flower).  In its basic form, an empty board and colour-coordinated movement cards, I'd say the game is similar to Candyland.

As the child's skills develop so does the game's challenges: ice walls on the board and a laser card to melt them, boxes that can be pushed, and immutable stone walls to navigate around. You start off playing movement cards one at a time, then three at a time, and finally laying out the entire series of actions (code) and seeing if you got it right. If not, if you played a wrong card, you can play the "bug" card and play a new (series of) card(s).

That's all well and good, but what if your child is too young (or non-existent)? What if you want to play with other adults? We came up with some variants that I think will help: 

There is no one turtle mover. Either everyone moves their own turtle, the turtle of the person next to them, or any turtle in front of them. Making silly sounds as you move the turtles is still vital. 

Each player is given a selection of objects with which to decorate the quadrant of the board closest to them. These can be dealt out or drawn blindly from the lid of the box. Alternatively, take turns devising a challenging maze.

Deal out the robots and jewels at random. Robots have to collect their matching jewel. Jewels serve as walls to other robots. Remember when planning your obstacles that your turtle may have to get past them. If you're playing with less than four turtles, dealing out all four will keep their relative placement random.

Another thing we didn't try is random placement of the jewels. Label the grid like a chess board and randomly select a grid space (if the space is occupied, select again). 

We also tried writing out our code in advance and then executing them concurrently. (one move at a time) which sometimes meant revising one's code as another turtle moved (or itself became) an obstacle. 

There's another type of card, a function card, where a series of moves can be shorthanded and repeated. I was thinking it could be used in the adult version to allow a super-turn but to keep someone from making their entire code a function and completing the game on their first turn, a function must be used twice and contain at least three executable cards, eg no creating a two-card "laser (melt an ice wall), move forward" function or a function where you fire a laser into empty space or turning right and then left again, where nothing has been achieved. Turning left as part of the function and then having to turn right again on the next turn, however would be allowed.

That's what we came up with last night, what variations have you come up with, for children or adults? And if you missed the kickstarter but still want a game, I'm told they put some extra copies for sale on Amazon(US).

* everyone cheering when a turtle wins is in the rules. Yay!


  1. It sounds similar to Robo Rally, although I don't remember what the win case is for that game.

    Sounds fun though!

  2. Our guests said the same, it's not a game I've played. There are official rules on the website for Galapagos Turtles, a competitive game for adults using the board and pieces :-)