Full disclosure: A review copy of Quirky Circuits was provided by Plaid Hat Games.
More Gen Con games! You’re going to be hearing about them pretty much forever, now, so buckle up, friends. I’ve got some Kickstarters and some EXIT Games and some Adventure Games, yes, but the Gen Con Releases (and everything after) are going to be where the party is for the near and present future. Probably until next Gen Con, to be honest; my eyes are way bigger than my timeline allows. Alas. Either way, let’s dive right into Quirky Circuits, a pretty-soon-after-Gen-Con-release (Essen? I have no idea when Essen releases are) from Plaid Hat Games.
In Quirky Circuits, you have a house to clean, some sushi to serve, some fossils to find, and a garden to cultivate, and your team of robot friends (and friends who ride robots; we see you, Gizmo) are ready to roll and clean up! Naturally, it’s not that easy, since, you know, you have to program the route in, but you’re pretty sure you can figure it out on the fly (or you hope so, since you definitely threw away the instruction manuals). Will you be able to complete your objectives before your battery runs out? Or will you end up more of a circuit breaker?
Setup is very scenario-dependent. So, first off, you’re gonna want to break out the Scenario Book:
From there, pick a scenario:
This will usually involve one of the character tiles:
Place their corresponding mini(s) on the start spot:
Adorable. Now, each character comes with their own tokens:
Their own cards:
And, occasionally, their own Quirk Cards (yellow-bordered with a slightly different effect):
The Scenario will tell you what cards to use (if it says nothing, use the cards indicated on the character tile. Either way, shuffle them and deal some out to each player:
- 2 players: 5 cards each
- 3 players: 4 cards each
- 4 players: 4 cards each
Once you’ve done that, you’re basically ready to start!
First thing’s first. Players may not, at any time, discuss what they are planning to play or have played. Play silently if you need to. Do not reveal your cards or tell anyone else what to play. As the rules state, if you feel the need to say something, say, “beep boop”. This is a cooperative game of programming movement and accomplishing tasks. The game’s rather simple in concept, but the execution differs a bit based on your character:
- Gizmo: Gizmo’s out to clean up the house! Or, well, the robot vacuum he’s riding is, at least. Suck up some pesky dust bunnies, but watch out for a bunch of tables with vases placed precariously on them!
- Rover: Rover’s a fantastic robot dog, no bones about it. Well, yes, specifically bones about it, because his job is to dig up and retrieve some fossils for retrieval. Thankfully, he’s got a great jump, so it’ll probably be fine.
- Lefty: Lefty’s dream has always been to be a fantastic sushi chef, and this is his shot. Slice, juggle, and deal sushi to impatient customers to impress them with your dexterity (Editor’s Note: no dexterity is required to play this character; don’t worry about that).
- Twirl: Twirl’s a very hard worker bee. Also a robot. So that’s fun. Plant seeds around the yard to help new life bloom!
Regardless of the challenge, you’ll always do the same three actions: Program, Execute, and Reset.
During the Program Phase, all players must play simultaneously. All must play at least one card before the phase can end (and the players combined must play at least 5 cards), but there’s no requirement for which players play and when they play. The only requirement is that when a new card is played, it must be played face-down in a row below the Scenario Booklet, forming a queue. Players should note that the cards usually come in three varieties:
- Straight arrows: These cards usually move the character forwards or backwards. Some scenarios include a horizontal left or horizontal right movement, as well. Be careful!
- Rotating arrows: These cards usually change the way the character is facing, and may turn them left or right. I’ve heard there’s a card that will change the character’s orientation to always face North, which is interesting, as well.
- Stars: Stars are a variety of fun actions, depending on the character. Keep in mind all available actions that can be a star so that you don’t get a nasty surprise during the reveal!
One more thing to note is that if any player has a Quirk card (bright yellow back), that must be played before any other cards are played by that player. Other players are welcome to play cards before that. Note that Quirk cards are not introduced in the first scenario for each character; they show up later.
Once you’re done playing cards, place your cards on the table. If you think everyone should be done playing cards, place your hands on the table.
Now, reveal each card from left to right and resolve its effect. If the robot would collide with an obstacle or barrier, stop that action and move on to resolve the next one (following any rules on the character’s card).
After you finish executing the cards, shuffle them and put them on the bottom of the deck. Then, move the battery meter down one space (all the robots are battery-powered). Finally, refill each player’s hand, starting with the player with the fewest cards in hand. Start the next round!
End of Game
The game ends as soon as you’ve completed the objective, and you win! If the battery meter hits zero and you haven’t completed the scenario, you lose. If you want to up the difficulty, try to complete the scenario while you’re still in the green or yellow for an even harder challenge!
Player Count Differences
The only major difference is that two-player games give players more cards when they start to compensate for how few players they have at any given time to actually execute the program. At higher player counts, if you can thread the needle, you can have as many as 16 consecutive actions firing off in a blissful harmonic balance, or you can throw yourself 16 steps deeper into the void. Your call, really. I personally love the chaos, though I do enjoy the complexities of trying to read another person in a two-player game. This is mostly just to say that I have no real preference on player count, and I enjoy Quirky Circuits with any number of players. I really would like a solo mode, if such a thing were possible, though.
- Remember to check the card backs. You should have a decent idea of what’s being played if you keep an eye on the backs of the cards (since they come in three [or four, if you count Quirks] different flavors). Use that information if you want to try and figure out what your co-players have done (and, in doing so, figure out what you should do next).
- Also remember you’re playing a cooperative game. Nobody here is intentionally trying to screw you up or make your life more difficult; remember that. If you assume everyone is playing optimally, you’ll have a better shot at actually making it to the end of the scenario, I’ve found. Otherwise, you’ll end up trying to fix problems that don’t actually exist, and while that’s funny to watch, from a time standpoint, it’s expensive.
- Don’t try to be too clever. As with most actual programming, being clever just makes it harder to follow your thought process. While that’s good if you’re trying to intentionally obfuscate it, this is, again, a cooperative game; you want to work together. So make your moves as easy to follow as possible; you’re already going to have some trouble just figuring out what people are trying to do without anything fancy.
- Better to be safe than sorry, a lot of the time. Just try to do something useful on your turn. If you send your character careening off into the night, it’s going to be very challenging to get them back on track.
- Be careful of compounding effects. This can be a real problem. If you aren’t careful with a turn, you might point your character the wrong way, causing another player to move forward 2 or 3, then turn the wrong way again, move, and now you’re way off base potentially holding something that you don’t want to be or shouldn’t be. For higher player counts, this is roughly the best warning against long chains that I can give. If it works out, it’s super cool, but if it doesn’t you might have just burnt two rounds trying to fix the mess you made.
- Watch out for Quirk Cards. These can really mess you up since they have to go first. If you’re not feeling it, hold on to it until you have to play it. Just remember that everyone must play at least one card.
- Don’t try to do everything yourself. The more cards you play, the harder it becomes to follow your specific train of thought. Try to keep things on the shorter side if you can so that players don’t have to follow a multi-tier train of decision-making.
- It helps if you count cards a bit. It’s good to know when you won’t see any one-move-forward cards for a little while; it helps you predict what your coplayers might have played.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s got a cat on a roomba miniature. Shut it down, folks; we’ve got a winner, here. Nothing is ever going to be better than this. Like, I know there are people who really like minis and are really excited about them, but this mini is the best mini. It’s just very good.
- The minis is general are a really nice quality. They’re a good weight and solid construction. The bee is a bit more delicate due to the stand, but nothing a bit of filing couldn’t fix.
- I appreciate the gently increasing difficulty of the scenarios. I like games that gradually challenge players, and I think that this and Magic Maze both do an excellent job slowly ramping up. What this has that Magic Maze doesn’t, though, is a variety of different scenarios that use the same core mechanic for entirely new activities, and I really enjoy that.
- I really don’t like action programming games, except for this one. It’s not a mechanic I particularly like, but adding in the cooperative elements and the great theme really just … sold the whole thing for me. I think this and Crappy Robot Battle are the only two I tolerate.
- I like the variety of the scenarios as well. I love all the different things you can do! It’s a super engaging set of themes. Who knew cleaning the house could be this much fun? I did. I figured it out when I played Chibi-Robo for the GameCube. This is like that, emotionally.
- Seems expandable. I’m very interested in this part. I’d love to see more characters get added to Quirky Circuits and have some even weirder activities start to pop up as a result.
- Plays quickly. It’s such a quick game! I really appreciate that. Really the kind of game you can spin on for a while, but every particular scenario is nice and bite-sized.
- Great way to introduce people to action programming. It’s not a particularly complex game, and the co-op part makes the learning curve feel less severe, I think, since you know other players will try to help you.
- I actually like the cards that force you to play them first? I think they add a nice bit of spin to the game, since it means you can’t rely on the same player to play first every time and set the tone. It also means you might be in a world of hurt (as we were) if every player draws a Quirk Card, since now you’re definitely getting one of those quickly.
- When you get it perfectly, it’s incredible. We had an entire run where we cleaned the whole house without knocking a single vase on the ground and we cheered. It was so good! It’s one of the best cooperative game feelings I’ve had. Definitely recommend that.
- The size of the box really makes the game seem like it’s going to be more complex than it is. I know a lot of people who get a bit nervous when I break this out at a game night because the big boxes can be kind of intimidating. They change their tune after a few plays.
- Surprisingly not much in the way of an insert. I think that’s probably my biggest personal problem with this game. All the tokens just go in a bag, all the cards just go in a bag, and the really nice minis just kind of get thrown everywhere inside the box and rattle around and such. That kind of high-key isn’t great, and I hope they have a really good insert eventually. I want to make sure the minis don’t get any damage!
- A lot of players who struggle with directionality are going to struggle with this, and it won’t help that mistakes hurt the entire group. Some players just aren’t superb at that sort of “if I’m facing North and turn right, which direction am I now facing?” sort of stuff. I know I struggle with it, so I end up turning my cards a lot. If you don’t, mistakes made are going to feel pretty crappy, since it negatively affects the entire group. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite feeling, but thankfully it’s a relatively transient one.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I love Quirky Circuits. I really appreciate it when a game can challenge my closed-mindedness about a certain genre, and I think Quirky Circuits and Desktop HEBOCON Battle Kit really did that for action programming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go pick up RoboRally or something right away, but I like that there’s enough to this game that I can actually dig into it over a long period of time. Have I completed every scenario! Not even close. Maybe I never will! But I want to, and that’s a hallmark sign of a game that’s going to be up there, for me. I mean, this happens a lot with games that make my 30 x 10; if I play something 10 times, it usually means that I’m actually bringing it places and showing it to others, and I know so many people that really liked Quirky Circuits that I just kept bringing it around for them. It was rad; I’d highly recommend doing that, personally. Naturally, I’d love a better insert, and I think this game is really going to mess with people who are challenged by directionality, but I think that might just be par for the course in the genre; not sure what to tell you. I’m going to keep playing Quirky Circuits, though, and if you’re looking to get into action programming, you love cooperative games or real-time games, or you just want to live out your roomba cat dreams, I’d definitely recommend checking it out! I’ve really, really enjoyed it.