Robot programming sheet (Feb. 24, 2006)
Pieces (Feb. 24, 2006)
Board (Feb. 24, 2006)

Us vs. It is a cooperative game that teaches iterative tuning. The game is played in two stages. First, the players act as scientists and work together to program a giant robot. When they finish this task the robot breaks free from the lab and begins its wild rampage. In the second stage the players take the role of tank commanders, who must coordinate their attacks to stop the robot before he reaches a nearby city.

Set Up

Print out the pieces and the board onto heavy cardstock (I recommend 110 lb. paper) or alternatively, print them onto sticker paper and then stick the them onto cardboard. You will also need a robot token. A small plastic toy will work perfectly.

Give the players a programming sheet, the robot token, 1 tank per player and a game board.


The players must try to design a robot that is strong enough to get all the way across the board, but not so strong that it can cross the goal line. The group is trying to tune for dramatic tension, not for victory.

Note that it is easy to make a robot that could cross the goal line on the first turn or, conversely, to make a robot that dies on the first turn. Neither of these outcomes are desirable. Instead the players should imagine they are directing a movie and are attempting to create the most exciting ending possible: the killer robot is about to step into the city when, at the last second, the final surviving tank fires a lucky shot that destroys it in a huge ball of flame.

Programming the Robot

In the first stage of the game the players are scientists building a top secret weapon for the military. They should fill in the 10 actions that the robot will perform each turn. The actions are listed on the right side of the programming sheet: Laser Eye, Fist, Atomic Mine, Rotate and Move. They can use the same action multiple times and ignore actions that they don't need. For instance the action list may have the following 10 commands: Move, Move, Move, Rotate, Laser, Fist, Rotate, Laser, Fist, Fist. (This robot will never drop a Mine.)

Each action has a trigger condition. The players fill in the triggers with whatever they feel appropriate. For instance, the Atomic Mine might only drop if the robot took damage on the previous turn. Or it might drop if a tank is adjacent to the robot. Or it might drop every turn, no matter what. Anything is valid, as long as all the players agree.

If the action has a damage grid then fill in all the squares with numbers from 0 to 4. (Higher numbers are not necessary since 4 damage is enough to destroy a tank. However, some players like to use large numbers for dramatic effect.)

Finally, the team selects the maximum number of actions that can trigger each turn. Even though there will be 10 actions in the robot's list only a subset of them are usually triggered each turn.

The Robot's Actions

Laser Eye: The robot's long range weapon. The trigger specifies what causes the laser to fire. Typically it will be a simple: "A tank is in front of the robot", but feel free to make up any trigger you want.The laser attacks the closest tank in a straight line out from the robot's front. It does damage equal to the number in the damage grid. Any damage values are fine. For example, the team might want a laser that loses power as it travels (4, 3, 2, 1, 0, 0, 0) or it might want to build one that only does damage to tanks far away (0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 4, 4).

Fist: The robot's close range weapon. Similar to the laser eye, but it can attack all adjacent squares simultaneously.

Atomic Mine: This action has two triggers, one for dropping the mine and a separate one that specifies when the mine blows up. For instance, the robot might drop a mine if a tank is adjacent. But the mine might only explode if a tank enters its square. Note that the mine explosion action is not listed on the robot's action list. Mines are independent objects that can trigger at any time, even when it is not the robot's turn.

Rotate 90: Write down the trigger that makes the robot turn 90 degrees. Also be sure to include which direction he will turn, clockwise or counterclockwise. For instance: "If a tank hit you last turn, then spin towards that tank. Otherwise, turn clockwise towards the goal line." If you want your robot to rotate more than 90 degrees in one turn then you will need to specify multiple Rotate commands in the action list.

Move: The robot moves forward one space. The trigger might be, "If facing the goal line or facing a tank". The robot cannot move into a space occupied by a tank or off the side or back of the board. In this case the robot stays in the same spot and does not spend an action point. If you want your robot to move more than one space per turn then you will need to specify multiple Move commands in the action list.

If the robot steps over the goal line then the game ends.

Battling the Robot

In the second stage of the game the robot is placed in the robot start square and the tanks are placed anywhere along the opposite edge of the board. The robot moves first.

Look at the first action in the robot's list and determine if it triggers. If it does then resolve any damage, movement or other effects. Triggering an action costs the robot 1 of his action points. Now look at the second action on the list and trigger it, if possible.

Continue down the list in order, checking each action in sequence. The robot's turn ends when either 1) you reach the bottom of its action list, or 2) the robot has used up his maximum number of action points.

Now it is the players' turn. Each player will be in control of one tank and they can perform up to two actions a turn: shoot, move or rotate. A player can choose the same action twice (for instance, shoot at the robot twice in the same turn) or he can perform two different actions. There is one exception to this rule: a damaged tank can only move one space per turn.

A tank cannot enter a space with another tank or with the robot. A tank can fire over top of other tanks. Mines cannot be attacked.

Every time a tank hits the robot it loses either 1 or 2 hitpoints. When it takes its tenth hit it explodes and does damage based on the Death Explosion Grid. Tanks caught in this final blast may be destroyed.

The game ends when the robot dies.

Back to the Drawing Board

When the game ends the players win if the robot is on the last row of the board. If the robot died sooner than that then the players should reprogram the robot to make him stronger. If the robot escaped off the board then the players should weaken the robot. Keep tuning the robot's program and battling it until you find a combination of actions that provides just the right amount of power to create a climatic Hollywood ending.

It is fine to program a few "flaws" into your robot. This not only weakens it if it is too strong but gives the robot some personality. For instance, you might want your robot to turn 90 degrees clockwise if it got hit on the previous turn. Or have it fire lasers every turn, even if no tanks are in line. Or have it step on its own mines. Anything goes, so use your imagination and have fun.

Robot vs. Robot Battles

If you have enough players then split into 2 or 4 groups and have each group work on their own robot. When all the groups have fine tuned their robots then have its time for the ultimate showdown. Place the tanks to the side and have the robots fight to the death in a closed arena. Each robot starts along a different edge of the board. There is no goal line to cross; the winner is the last robot standing.

Players may need to modify their programs slightly in the following ways: 1) Replace all references to "tanks" with the word "robot". 2) Replace all references to "goal line" with "opposite side of the board". In addition it may be helpful to add the following rule: "If a robot attempts to step off the board then rotate it 180 degrees instead and immediately end its turn."