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Made With Launch Lab: Evil Robots

Made with Launch Lab

Made With Launch Lab: Evil Robots

As an Australian engineer with a background in robotics, is Dr Tom Allen the perfect person to develop a game about evil robots? Probably!

Take a healthy dose of Among Us, mix in a love of hidden-role card games and countless hours at home because of COVID lockdowns, and you're well on your way to understanding how a robotics engineer crafted a card game called Evil Robots.

David Scott, 30 Nov 2023

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Dr Tom Allen: game designer, robot expert and totally human

Dr Tom Allen: game designer, robot expert and totally human

Picture this. You’re sitting around the table with up to nine of your friends and all of you are being asked to do one critical task: debate the future of humanity, while pretending to be a robot.

Easy, right?!

If that sounds like your jam, then you’re going to love Evil Robots, a hidden-roles social deduction game that requires all your skills in negotiation, bluffing, and some special robotic abilities if you want to end up on the winning team.

In this box are the keys for debating the future of humanity!

In this box are the keys for debating the future of humanity!

For game designer, software engineer, and all-around robotics guru Dr Tom Allen, his game Evil Robots is the culmination of decades of work and play designing games.

“I’ve been designing games for myself and my friends for years and I think what I like most about game design is that you can take anything and make a game of it. Take three random words; fish, moon, bicycle. There’s probably a fun game about aquatic creatures stacking human rubbish into giant piles until they can reach the moon and escape Earth!

“But you can also take an existing design, change the one thing you don’t like about it, and develop a different game. And after a few rounds of playtesting, you’ll have changed it so much anyway that it won’t look anything like the first game anymore, and so you’ll have something unique again.”

Far from being worried about the academic who designed an evil robot game, Tom says Evil Robots was born out of some fairly natural frustrations about playing games during COVID. “I’d had the idea a long time ago to make a social deduction game that had every player equally involved, one that avoided the need for a moderator or an app-driven game. Not that there’s anything wrong with those! I just wanted to see if it could work.”

“I came to the idea of players needing to switch teams as information is revealed pretty quickly but then did nothing with that idea for years. When COVID struck in 2020 I wanted to play social games with friends online, but most were too awkward to play that way, Among Us being a notable exception. At that time I developed the first versions of Evil Robots as a ‘social deduction during social isolation’ game.”

That first iteration of the game wasn’t built as a physical game, existing as an applet on his website that would display your team and power and let you flip coins and hide or reveal information. The idea he said was that you could run the app on your mobile phone and then hold it up to the webcam to show the results and progress. It wasn’t until PAX Australia 2023 confirmed its dates that he dusted it off again, revised and changed the game from its digital origins, and brought it to life for the tabletop where it found a new collection of fans.

Tom said he was pleased to come up with a design that is unique in the hidden-role genre, combining the feel of games like Citadels with the surprises and discussions of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. “Evil Robots is a fairly lighthearted game and players love talking about what they could have done differently each round. Especially in the end game, where backstabbing and retaliation for past offenses come to the fore, the discussions after the game can be one of the most delightful parts. But it’s also a short game, and it’s been great to have players keen to play it again.”

Evil Robots packs a lot of robotic bluffing into this box!

Evil Robots packs a lot of robotic bluffing into this box!

The components list for Evil Robots is pretty straightforward - 54 cards with a handful of gems, counters, and poker chips for coins. Tom came across Launch Tabletop during DevCon 2022, an annual meeting of tabletop game developers in Australia held the day before PAX Australia. “I knew that the binary Good vs Evil implied a two-sided token or a coin, so the poker chips I’m using here are a solid choice. I did try circular punch-outs too but it’s much nicer to feel the heft of a heavier piece for such a key component, and one that gets flipped and touched many times throughout the game.”

“It’s a great feeling to see something you’ve designed from scratch turn up in your mailbox and be a real, shrink-wrapped thing! It is usually matched a few minutes later by a slightly different feeling of discovering the first typo, however…” Tom laughs, remembering the day his prototypes arrived from Launch Lab in time for PAX Australia. “Regardless, the quality and speed of production - and delivery - from Launch Tabletop was excellent.”

For other aspiring game designers working through their prototypes, Tom has some words of wisdom. “Get it into a physical playable form as quickly as possible. Don’t let it live rent-free in your head. Make it prove its worth in front of players, or even just yourself playing as every player in turn. You will have so many, and better quality, ideas just from seeing it in front of you than you can ever have in your head, and you’ll spot problems far faster if you get strangers to play it too.”

You can follow along with Dr Tom Allen’s game creation journey - and play Evil Robots for free online - here.


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