Playniac’s Insane Robots is a mesmerizing mixture of card battler and battle royale in a procedurally generated series of arenas. While the title does come with a single-player campaign marketed as having more than 15 hours of content, it is also playable with friends in a cooperative experience built around one-on-one duels. If you instead choose to engage with the single-player aspect, you will be forced to contend with a lackluster story about a robot rebellion and the aforementioned procedurally generated arenas. Though I was not enthralled by these aspects of Insane Robots, I was still impressed by the nuanced and polished dueling system which offered hours of strategic and chaotic fun.

A Card Battler for the Turn-based Tactician

I have already referred to Insane Robots as a card battler, but to leave it at that would be an injustice to my favorite moments with this game–the duels. Duels consist of several turns in which players build up the attack and defense stats of their robots. As displayed above, each robot consists of two attack slots, two defense slots, and a single boost slot.

On each turn, you have a set amount of actions you can perform. You can equip a card to any given slot, combine cards of the same color for an advantage, hack or disrupt the enemy robot, or attack once the circuit is complete.

Each attack and defense card comes with a battery icon which can be anywhere from zero to five indicating its effectiveness. At zero, a battery is drained, at five, it is fully charged. The charge level can be changed by equipping further attack or defense cards, as well as others that can steal charge from the enemy.

Attacking, Finally

Each circuit–be it defensive or offensive–is completed when both slots of a given type are filled. If only one card is in a circuit, that circuit is not usable. For example: if you have only one attack card and the other slot is empty, then your robot’s attack is still zero. However, if you have one card in the top slot and another in the bottom, then the circuit is complete and worth the combined charge of the batteries. If you then choose to attack, your offensive charge will be compared to the your opponent’s defensive charge. After the defensive charge is reduced to zero, all other damage will be rewarded to the robot itself.

Card battlers are ostensibly focused on statistics, but despite the arduous explanation, Insane Robots is easy to learn and hard to master. There’s an incredible sense of reward when you defeat another robot. The card type might be randomized, but your own skill is no less important in terminating the competition.

But Wait, There’s More

On top of the circuit system are several wild cards that can quickly shift the battle for better or for worse. Some cards can be played on your opponent to do a set amount of damage or to steal their charge. I have been told that there are 22 cards in the battle deck, and despite several hours of play, I’ve yet to see them all. Not only that, but there are 46 robots, of which I have only unlocked a handful. Each one has its own stats, buffs, and debuffs which forces the player to rethink old strategies in favor of more offensive or defensive builds.

This non-traditional card battler has it all, and while it certainly pays homage to board games, traditional card games, and electronic competitors, Insane Robot stands out for its brilliant use of its mechanics.

A More Personal Take

That’s what a reviewer would say: solid core mechanics that are easy to learn and hard to master. I am a gamer first and foremost. I rarely play card battlers. I’ve played Gwent and a bit of The Elder Scrolls: Legends. I enjoyed the first and despised the second. Perhaps that makes me unqualified to write this review, but Insane Robots has captivated me. I intend to unlock every robot, see every card, complete every arena. The duel system is so much fun, and offers a creative take on card combat that is absent from the genre.

Give Insane Robots a try regardless of your taste in games. It has a brilliant gameplay loop which has drawn me in. On the Steam page, the description includes: “Insane Robots is card battling… HACKED!” I don’t disagree. This title has made me interested in the genre of card battlers because it has hacked the formula. For a turn-based tactician, it’s everything I never knew I wanted in a card game.

Find the game on Steam here.