Robots are jerks. Soulless, automatonical misanthropes to the travesty of a man. Sure, they start out as our loyal servants, building cars and vacuuming the floors of early-adopter technophiles and whatnot; but as soon as they gain sentience, you can bet that if they don't actually beget the extinction of mankind, they will be lording it over our fallen civilizations as the dust settles, with their efficient, logical lifestyles and their superior application of grid-based tactical warfare. And yet, if there is one thing we can learn from
The Humans Are Dead, an online strategy board game from Lethe Games, it's that robots are just as prone to the factionalism and petty tribal strife that they haughtily assume is the weakness of inferior humanity.
Such a hypocritical embrace of the kill-or-be-killed ethos is the heart of The Humans Are Dead. I recommend playing the "Learn As You Play" tutorial to familiarize yourself with the rules, but here is the gist. You control one of four "robot lineages." You start on the game board to the left side of the screen, which is randomly populated with resources and impassable walls. Your opponent controls a similar board to the right. You start with the option to build a few walls and robots and claim a few resources of your choice, but you will want to claim more to establish your dominance over robotkind. Blue Electricity lets you build robots, purple Ooze lets you build walls, and green "Chernobylum," along with some ooze, lets you build "Resource Activators," which are needed to claim more resources. Lastly, yellow Research lets you upgrade your robots, and also purchase "Evolution Cards," which can do anything from upgrading your bots, to letting you collect more resources per turn, to doing nothing at all in some cases. You can buy all these things, but you also roll dice each turn to scavenge for additional resources and items, so you have access to more than just your resources and purchasable items.
You win the game in one of two ways: either by activating all the resources on your board, or, more likely, by sending your robots to your opponent's board and deactivating all of their resources. Robots can also either attack each other or defend, which gives them a bonus when other robots attack them but takes away their ability to move or attack. Build robots, claim resources, and vie with lesser robots for post-human global supremacy.
Analysis: A good strategy game, someone once said, should be about interesting choices, and in The Humans Are Dead there are lots of interesting choices to make. You can never claim all resources at the start of the game, so you have to decide which resource to focus on, which in turn affects what you can build. Want to build lots of weak robots and rush the enemy early on? Claim Electricity. Want to develop stronger robots for later in the game? Claim Research. Want to claim more resources later so you can do it all? Claim Chernobylum and Ooze to build Resource Activators. The careful positioning of walls, defending robots, and your home base will allow you to protect these resources and follow your strategy with minimum harassment from the enemy robot swarm.
You also have an important choice each turn when it is time to scavenge. While your available choices are randomly determined, you always have two or three options to choose from. Sometimes the best choice will be obvious, but at other times it is less clear, and a lot of the strategy comes in deciding whether you want, say, a free robot now, or more extra resources so you can buy that Resource Activator later.
Perhaps the most important choice comes before the game begins, when you select your "robot lineage." Each lineage has its own special abilities, which will affect what strategies work best. The War Machines, for example, are the best combatants, while the Keepers are best at claiming resources. While I like how these robot powers tie together with each lineage's theme, it also seems like the lineages are not balanced. The Scibots in particular, who get extra Research and can buy Evolution Cards at half price, seem particularly overpowered. It's not a gamebreaker, but a little tweaking could have made for a more fun, interesting, and tightly balanced game.
Even though it could be better balanced, The Humans Are Dead is an interesting, quick, rewarding strategy title. It presents a variety of cool tactical choices without being so complex as to put off more casual players. It's fun, and it teaches us that despite their cold reasoning and efficient mechanical motor complexes, robots are just as prone to conflict and antagonism as us warm squishy humans. Play it the next time a robot implies you are an emotional, illogical basketcase, and get the last laugh.
The game can also be played at the sponsor's site, Gameshed.