23 July 2018
Rowdy robots mech a good impression
If you call your game ‘Giant Killer Robots’, you’d best deliver on that promise. Luckily, GKR: Heavy Hitters lands its blows like… well, like a giant killer robot.
Heavy Hitters is the debut game from Weta Workshop, the Oscar-winning movie effects studio behind Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Blade Runner 2049 and various other visually stunning flicks – and it shows. The towering mech figures (which come ready-decorated) stomp between 3D skyscrapers, which can be brought crumbling down to plastic piles of debris when tagged with enough advertising boards to please each team’s sponsors – presumably demolition is a good PR move, as four such destructions wins the game. The ability cards pop with comic-book artwork, complete with WHOOSH and KABLAM ‘sound’ effects, and the vibrant faction colours stand out against the grey terrain, making the action easy to track at a glance.
The production goes a long way to helping Heavy Hitters stand apart in the wearied arena-battle genre, but its gameplay holds up its end of the deal, too. Players load out with a custom selection of weapons (one primary, two secondary), manoeuvres, reactions and more that they select during setup, plus a pilot with unique talents. The light deckbuilding that fuels the gameplay provides enough diversity to feel you’re really customising your robot’s distinctive fighting style, without making the options feel overwhelming or eat up time before jumping into the action – Netrunner or Magic this ain’t. Players’ individual decks are then expanded during the fight with sponsor cards gained by tagging buildings, presenting the chance to hack (and counter-hack) opponents and generally cause havoc – and opening the floor for more nuanced paths to victory outside of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em school of last-robot-standing.
Despite its stars’ clunky frames, Heavy Hitters’ action has a graceful flow. Players call in support units – smaller machines (though still classified as giant and killer) that provide the ability to repair, attack, provide line of sight for missiles to curve around buildings and lay down extra tags – before moving their squad around and unleashing their firepower, dictated by the cards in their hand and available energy, which can be overcharged by willing taking damage for extra actions. Taking cover and popping off shots between buildings plays a big part in the strategy, but resolving attacks is mercifully fast and simple as an attack roll to hit is countered by a defence roll to reduce damage.
As all players’ weapons are revealed simultaneously and resolved in order of speed, the exchanging of blows feels exciting and dynamic, with room to land fast strikes or bide your time for a heavier blow. Taking damage means losing cards from your deck or hand, a neat method of simulating the failing systems of a robot as well as being a satisfying way of seeing how much health your rivals have left as the piles on their player board shift. It also makes for some interesting tactical options, as the game ends after a single elimination regardless of player count, so keeping an opponent wounded but alive is often a better choice than turning their mech into a smoking pile of scrap.
Heavy Hitters starts with a simple idea: big, awesome-looking mechs blasting the crap out of each other. It certainly has that in buckets, yet what’s so pleasantly surprising is how fleshed out and engaging its basic foundation becomes thanks to the ample layers of world-building, gameplay strategy and style on top. We may have a new champion of the arena.
It looks great, flows beautifully and has far more depth than you might expect from a game about mechs fighting it out in a ruined city. Giant Killer Robots, massively good time.
Designer: Matt Hyra
Artist: Leri Greer, Christian Pearce, Paul Tobin
Time: 1-2 hours
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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