Full disclosure: A review copy of ROVE: Results-Oriented Versatile Explorer was provided by Button Shy.
God, I love Button Shy games. Honestly, with a very small number of exceptions, they’ve long been one of my favorite publishers. Similar to Oink Games, they’ve got a niche, they understand that niche, and they mostly stick to it. That said, I really liked Star Maps, so, I hope they branch out more often. I’m digressing a bit, but you get the idea. Button Shy tends toward 18-card wallet games spanning a wide variety of mechanics and themes, so let’s see what they’ve got for us with ROVE!
In ROVE, you’re a little explorer robot designed for conditions that people can’t normally withstand! You’re on a mission, and you’re going to do your absolute best. To get there, you need to make sure your modules are set up to allow you to maximize your functionality on each mission. Spend points to manipulate those modules so that you can get everything where it needs to go, but don’t run out, or you might get stuck! Are you ready and able to fully explore a brand new world?
Not a ton, here. Shuffle the six modules and make sure they’re face-up, then arrange them in a 3 x 2 grid, like so:
Then, shuffle the remaining cards. One side has the Missions:
The other side has the Movement:
Place one Mission Card face-up and draw five Movement Cards into your hand. For more difficult games, draw four or three cards, instead. You should be ready to start!
Your goal in ROVE is to complete Mission Cards! You do so by arranging Modules that match the patterns on Mission Cards. If you can complete seven Missions, you win!
The game takes place over a series of turns. On your turn, you play a Movement Card to the discard pile, which gives you points so that you can manipulate the various Modules. Moving a Module costs one Movement Point, and different Modules have different movement types. Note that Modules cannot end up on top of each other. If you have modules arranged in the configuration depicted on your Movement Card, you can use the higher of the two values on the card; otherwise, you’re stuck with the lower one. Before or after a move, you can also use a Module’s ability by flipping it over to the X side. You may use each ability once per game.
At the end of your turn, if the arrangement of Modules on the table matches the one on the Mission Card (it cannot be rotated or mirrored), then you’ve completed the Mission! Immediately take the top card of the Mission Deck and place it on the right side, covering the current Mission with a new one. Then, if you have fewer than five cards in hand, draw one! Note that this means that you do not draw cards between turns; only upon completion of a Mission. If you run out of cards in the deck, flip the discard pile over to become the new deck; do not reshuffle.
If you can complete 7 Missions, you win! If you run out of Movement Points and cards in hand and you haven’t completed 7 Missions, you lose!
Player Count Differences
None! This is a solo puzzle game, so, no change in player counts.
- Big one here: unlike a nontrivial subset of games, “adjacent” in ROVE includes diagonally-adjacent cards. This was something I missed in a couple early plays and it matters a lot. This means that Gripper can copy more cards and Brain can have better placement and all sorts of bonus options. Most games specifically preclude diagonals from being “adjacent”, and ROVE does not, so make sure you calibrate your understanding of the game before you start playing.
- It will probably help you to plan out your move before you actually play any cards, especially if you’re trying to set up a complicated Coil combo. Coil is a tricky module to move since it can move as many spaces as you want, provided it passes over one or more other Modules in the process. So it really needs to skip over a few in order to be effective. As a result, I usually try to count out my moves before I play any cards. It’s a solo game; it’s not like there are other players who I’m forcing to wait.
- If you can’t do anything better, try to set up the configurations on Movement Cards so that you can use the higher-value cards later. If you spend a Movement Point setting up a card that will give you 5 instead of 3, you did just experience a net gain of 1 point. Even more so if you can chain them together and keep setting up the higher-value Movement Card options.
- It’s usually worth only using one card instead of two, since you’ll get to draw a card when you complete a Mission. This does lead to more high-value cards ending up in the discard pile and your hand gradually filling with low-value cards, though, so be careful or focus on setting those cards up so that they become higher-value. Either option words, and you’ll eventually draw (some) of the higher-value cards back.
- Keep an eye on the top card of the Mission Deck; that’s what you’ll be doing as your next Mission. There are sometimes reasons for being alarmed by this, especially if the next Mission Card is a huge edit distance away from your current one. That’s when I’ll occasionally use the Sensor to draw an extra card, just so that I can knock that card off the top of the deck. If the card is very close to your current Mission, however, keep it!
- Sensor and Coil tend to be the cards that I swap or move with Module Abilities most often, since their movement rules are the most finicky. Diagonal movement only and skip movement are hard to plan around and forecast, so I tend to use other card abilities to get them mostly where I want them to go. The problem is, that usually makes it difficult to use the higher value on Movement Cards that feature them, so it’s essentially a double loss.
- The Gripper’s ability to copy an adjacent Module Ability is critical; make sure you’re placing the Gripper in situations where you can set yourself up for success. You really want to keep the Gripper near as many cards as possible, since its ability to copy another ability exactly one time gives you a ton of flexibility, whether it’s swapping cards again or drawing another card or just moving the Coil somewhere that’s less heinous.
- I usually use the Sensor’s ability as soon as I get down to 4 cards; might as well have the additional play option. I try to keep as many cards in my hand as possible at all times, both so that I have a bunch of different values available and also so that I can potentially match up Modules to Movement Cards and get the big bonus movement plays. The goal is to consistently land those, at least.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like the art style! It’s cute in a silhouetted WALL-E sense, which I find generally appealing. The muted color palette and the shadows do a good job conveying the kinda-lonely robot and his various struggles, but he also makes some friends, too! It’s a soft color scheme and I think it works surprisingly well for an otherwise-thinky solo puzzle game. I also have a soft spot for cute robots, so, that’s two things.
- I particularly like that the Mission Cards form a unique panorama of ROVE’s trials and adventures. It tells a story! The story of an adventure! Maybe a love story? Probably not. But I enjoy that you get to experience a new set of adventures every time. It’s a very quick and simple way to make me, the player, a bit invested in the outcome. Plus, the unique cards are nice!
- It’s a fun theme, as well; I just like space games, robot games, and space games about robots. As mentioned above, robots are fun. I particularly like space robots, and look! That’s exactly what this game is about. In all seriousness, though, I think there are a lot of things you can do with a space game, thematically, and I thought this was a fun way to frame a spatial puzzle.
- I like the spatial puzzle element of the game quite a bit! It’s a good puzzle! I think that the game benefits from having multiple different movement modalities for the Modules; it gives the random setup of the Modules a good set of variable challenges. The different movement styles take a bit of getting used to, but the interactions between them are pretty interesting!
- It’s not a terribly easy game, either, but I appreciate that it has additional difficulty options! I’m still perfectly happy with the standard difficulty level, but it does have two additional difficulty tiers for players who are just, crushing it. I would say that the standard difficulty is solid though; I had some trouble winning my first couple plays.
- As with all Button Shy games, the portability of the game is a nice feature, for me. I have a whole handful of these in my backpack for various game-related emergencies, and even with the bonus pack, I can still fit five or so in the front pocket. That’s good! I appreciate Button Shy’s emphasis on consistently 18-card wallet games.
- The Fascinating Flora Mission Pack is a nice addition to the core game, and I appreciate the implication that it’s not the only one. They add new cards that can let you restore Module Abilities (and a new, longer gameplay mode)! The rulebook slightly implies that there might be new Mission Packs, which is cool! I’d love to see more mixes of Mission Packs and what they do for ROVE!
- There’s some variability in how difficult translating from one Mission Configuration to another, depending on which cards you draw. It probably amortizes across your game and your plays, but it can definitely be a bit annoying to have one Mission Card be significantly different than the previous one. That said, it’s also very nice when the Mission Cards are pretty similar, since that’s basically a freebie.
- The different Module movement patterns are very fun and interesting, but it can also be a bit difficult to remember which does what. I think that the difficulty here is that the arrow types aren’t necessarily intuitive? Which one is “move as many spaces as you want and you can move over Modules” and which one is “move as many spaces as you want and you must move over at least one Module”. It just takes a bit of time to pick up which one is which, but once you’ve got it, you’ve mostly got it.
- For some new players, getting the configurations required to get the higher-value Movement may feel like it comes down to luck, which can be frustrating. I think it’s relatively unintuitive in your first few games, so it can largely feel like it’s a matter of luck. As you play the game more, you can start strategizing on how to get the higher values on Movement Cards, but that’s the challenge. I think it takes some time to click, so don’t necessarily just ignore that part of the gameplay because it’s not working initially.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by ROVE! I think, in a way, it has the same sort of upbeat loneliness that WALL-E had, with a tiny robot just kind of doing its own thing, and I enjoy that. It being a solo game kind of adds to that experience, since you’re just doing your own thing as ROVE does its. The Mission Cards creating a panoramic narrative also makes each play a little fun and unique, as you can generate your own story for what ROVE is up to as it goes about its business (or occasionally makes some new friends, which I particularly appreciated). Naturally, there’s a bit of an element of luck to this game, as favorable (or unfavorable) card draws and combinations can be frustrating. That’s sort of the business, here, and with a 15-minute playtime, worst-case scenario is you just sigh, reshuffle, redeal, and go again. ROVE and games like it show that Button Shy continues to understand its niche with these quick and nimble puzzlers; I can happily throw this into my backpack alongside other great Button Shy titles (Sprawlopolis, Agropolis, others) and have an even wider variety of puzzles to solve, with the games feeling fairly distinct in theme and presentation but still satisfying. I think this modular puzzler will hit well for a lot of folks, and I’m excited to see more great stuff coming from Button Shy. If you’re looking for a solid solo game, want something that can fit in a pocket or a purse, or you just love Button Shy games, I’d definitely recommend checking ROVE out! I’ve had a nice time with it.
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