14th Mar2018

‘Giant Killer Robots: Heavy Hitters’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Giant Killer Robots: Heavy Hitters may have one of the most cumbersome titles that I’ve ever encountered (which is fitting given the nature of the titular mechanical behemoths in game) but in spite of the name, it features a number of rather elegant systems. GKR is the first board game from the well-respected New Zealand based sculptors at Weta Workshop, but you wouldn’t think it, because I’ll tell you right now: GKR is fantastic.

Played by one to four players, GKR: Heavy Hitters is a straight up board game that kind of draws inspiration from miniatures games to create something that feels in between. Factors such as which way a robot is facing can make a big difference, but complex rules like that are few (and simpler) when compared with games like Warhammer 40k, for example.

GKR is driven by a combination of basic rules that hang around an energy dashboard controlled by each player, plus a deck of twenty five asymmetrical cards (per player) that can be customised at the beginning of every game. Because each deck is tailored to the four different “Heavy Hitter” robots that represent each team, GKR: Heavy Hitters has a deckbuilding element rather than a drafting one, but it is nonetheless a highly interesting feature that drives considerable variability.

Each of the Heavy Hitters is a large (about six inches tall) model that features a number of individually sculpted pieces like weapons, limbs and pieces of armour. The build quality is more or less exceptional, perhaps dropping just slightly below display quality, but far exceeding the standard grey plastic that most board games come with.

Every team (and the robots that represent them) is aligned to a specific theme which is represented by the models and colour scheme initially, but much more so in the decks of cards available to each. It can take a few games to fully appreciate, but perhaps the best long term reason to keep playing GKR: Heavy Hitters is the variation that exists both between and within each team, as well as through the pilots that are available to any team.

With names like Hammerstrike and King Wolf, each team has a distinct theme that relates to their own corporate strategy. Each deck of cards contains a choice of two primary weapons, four secondary weapons and then a number of support cards such as deploy, defence, movement and other cards. Each player uses their team deck to build a personal deck of 25 cards which must include one primary and two secondary weapon sets and will usually include a full five deploy cards.

There are a number of pilots to choose from as well, each of whom confers a benefit that might affect the Heavy Hitter itself or perhaps to each of the support units that can be deployed during the game. Through team selection and deck building, the robots on the field will already be heavily customised, but by combining the deckbuilding element with pilot selection, there are a number of strategies available that allow for highly variable tactics.

The board is double sided, with the first side providing the core experience and benefitting from a number of pre-set layouts for the ten three dimensional buildings that are included in the box. These buildings do provide cover for the robots, but they also perform a more valuable role – winning. Whilst destroying an opposing Heavy Hitter will end the game, winning it is just as much about “tagging” and ultimately destroying four buildings.

Buildings are tagged by placing a robot next to them and slotting a coloured flag into the top of it. Each time a player does so, she may then draw a sponsorship card for use in later turns – tag a building four times and it will be destroyed. Manage to destroy four and you will win, assuming that your Heavy Hitter survives.

Clearly, combat has a large role to play in GKR: Heavy Hitters, such is the focus on arming the robots to the teeth. Each team also has access to three support robots, which are basically smaller (and yet still very large) models that assist the Heavy Hitter in a number of ways. Each team has a subtly different combat, repair and recon robot, with a specific focus and set of abilities for each.

As an example, some players may wish to focus on creating a devastatingly powerful Heavy Hitter supported by a combat drone, with a pilot that boosts damage to one or the other. Another tactic could be to use a recon drone to spot targets and then a Heavy Hitter that deals indirect damage to them from a safe location. A less confrontational tactic might see an evasive Heavy Hitter and a recon drone moving rapidly around the board tagging buildings as they go.

Heavy Hitter movement and combat in GKR is driven by a combination of the deck of cards that each player built, plus a straightforward dashboard that features an energy track that runs from minus five to five. Support robots have specific movement and weapon ranges, as well as predefined abilities, but Heavy Hitters consume energy with every move and even more energy whenever they fire. Falling below zero energy places the power core under strain, causing one damage for each negative number.

Whether it be through weapon fire or as the result of over-exertion, Heavy Hitter damage is handled by discarding cards from either your hand or from the top of your deck (without looking at them.) If a Heavy Hitter receives 25 damage and runs out of cards, it is destroyed. Turn order is fairly important, but more important is weapon speed – each card has a number listed on it and during a combat phase, everyone places the weapons they wish to fire on the board and pays the energy cost.

Weapon damage upon a hit is fixed, although defence dice can be rolled to reduce some of the damage. A few weapons have the potential to deal as much as six or seven damage if left unchecked, but each successful roll will mitigate one of those damage points. Reaction and sponsor cards can allow further ways to reduce incoming damage, which is a fairly key tactic for the evasive pilot.

Given that all of the components in GKR: Heavy Hitters are of such an exceptional standard and that both the board and all associated pieces are very large, the result is a fantastic board presence. Whilst the board and buildings are fairly grey, the number of colourful robots that fill it out soon compensate, as do the very bright and colourful cards, pilot tokens and other pieces.

GKR’s huge box – which is easily the biggest that I’ve ever seen for a board game – contains a literal ton of stuff, which initially serves to overwhelm. The balance of simplicity and strategic depth is struck almost perfectly, with consistent, fixed rules (like armour saves and energy use) being easy to learn, then modified by key choices made in the deckbuilding and pilot selection elements.

GKR offers an excellent balance between miniatures combat and the kind of victory point accrual that traditional board games offer. The board setup options and the range of objectives available (destroy your enemies or tag four buildings) are very limited, unfortunately, but that doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of GKR: Heavy Hitters.

I could summarise that feeling by simply saying that if you want to watch robots duke it out on an impressive scale, then you can hardly do better. If, on the other hand, Giant Killer Robots aren’t your thing, then you probably shouldn’t be considering purchasing a game that so clearly builds that into the centre of its focus.

****½  4.5/5


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