Robots Love Ice Cream: The Card Game – Lactose Intolerant
What comes to mind when you read the phrase “video game adaptation”? Jean Claude Van Damme as Belgian Guile? XCOM: The Board Game: The Companion App? Endless Resident Evil sequels? An absolutely epic pile of cardboard tokens for Civilization? Turning a video game into a movie or a tabletop game is a difficult challenge. Robots Love Ice Cream: The Card Game, designed by Chad Elkins and published by 25th Century Games, makes a an admirable effort at turning a popular single-player mobile game into a semi-cooperative card game, but still misses the mark.
Robots Love Ice Cream replicates the Space Invaders frantic feel by lining up columns of invading robots that you have to shoot down, one by one, with your weaponized ice cream. Fans of the mobile game (I never played it) will recognize many of the weapons and enemies. Defeating enemies earns you “Sprinkletonium” which you can use to buy upgrades for your Ice Cream Truck. A single game is played across a series of predefined “planets” (read: board setups) with three rounds per planet. A round consists of every player getting a turn, and then the enemies getting a turn to shoot back.
The robots are very good at fighting back, in fact, and the challenge level scales well regardless of number of human players. Unlike many cooperative games, Robots Love Ice Cream is not afraid to make you lose. Victory is a satisfying accomplishment.
When you defeat a boss (placed at the top of the enemy columns), you get one of the ice cream tokens they were trying to steal. But if you are unable to defeat them within the three rounds, the robots abscond with their much-loved frozen dairy dessert.
The mechanics of how this all goes down are fiddly. At its core the game is set collection. You need enough matching weapon cards to hit an enemy for all of their health points. But you’re drawing two cards every turn, and only keeping one. There’s no trading and no opportunity to discard. Nor is there a pool of face-up cards to draw from if you just need that one last Hot Fudge Funday card. Then you’ve got some pretty limited options as to what to shoot at, thanks to the rules that at first you can only attack robots on the bottom, and only a single one in a given turn (unless you upgrade your truck – and there are only 6 upgrades in a deck of 27 that work around these rules in any form).
It’s also very high maintenance. If you’re the sole grown-up at the table, you’ll spend most of your time dealing, flipping, and shifting. One of the more tedious and seemingly useless chores is taking care of the ice cream tokens on the beam track. The bosses all have the same power: move one ice cream token up one level on the track. There is potential for one token to be moved multiple levels by the bosses, except each round also forces the tokens up one level, at a minimum.
In every one of my playthroughs we never saw any strategic value in doing anything but moving all the tokens one space at a time together. Eventually I just gave up on the beam track – we could easily count the three rounds in our heads. This also felt like a wasted opportunity for the bosses to have a variety of powers or attacks, like their underlings.
The “semi” part of the semi-cooperative nature of this game promotes the replay value. While everyone at the table either wins or loses, the game crowns one player the ultimate winner for having collected the most ice cream and Sprinkletonium.
You also compete with each other for the rights to buy the limited truck upgrades. The luck factor comes in hard, here. You can (typically) only attack enemies at the bottom of the columns, and those enemies drop differing amounts of Sprinkletonium. We often had one or two players ending up with very, very little Sprinkletonium, no matter how good of a set of weapon cards they managed to draw.
The box says the minimum age is 8, and in our testing, that feels about right. But it just didn’t click with our family. We forced ourselves to complete each playthrough even though the kids were obviously bored with it after a planet or two. When the kids tried to play without adults, they quit before the game was over.
It wasn’t any better with all-adults. We aborted one session after just a few rounds. The chief complaint: the luck of the draw and the uneven distribution of Sprinkletonium amongst the players sapped the fun.
But if you can stick it out to the later planets, and the engine you’re building with your truck upgrades turns a corner, you become nigh overpowered. Blasting away with “Boomsicles” and “Banana Splits” provides some smiles and satisfaction as you finally get revenge on that “Pewbody” robot that kept wiping out your Sprinkletonium reserve.
I Scream, You Scream
In the end, Robots Love Ice Cream has too many shortcomings for me to recommend it. Like Pistachio flavor, your family might enjoy it, but mine will ask for the slice of cake instead. Robots Love Ice Cream is available on Amazon.
The Family Gamers received a promotional copy of Robots Love Ice Cream from 25th Century Games.