ROVE Review: an awesome solo card game

The 2022 “People’s Choice” top solo games are out on BGG, and I’ve used the opportunity to snatch a few more board games for my collection (I really shouldn’t!). In particular I’ve bought a bunch of Print and play games from Button Shy, for $1 each (not a typo!) during their Black Friday sale. Of course they’re print and play, so with printing costs added, each game cost me closer to $4, but that’s still very nice, for some really good games.

ROVE (Results-Oriented Versatile Explorer) is number 112 in the vote, but also the 30th best sci fi game in the list.

I love sci-fi board games, so between the popular vote and the low, low price, it was an instant purchase for me.

TL,DR: Of course, you shouldn’t expect a deep campaign game, for a print and play card game with 18 cards, but I’m still very impressed with what I’ve seen and experienced!

ROVE (Results-Oriented Versatile Explorer) – Gameplay

ROVE is a solo only card game, made of 18 cards (a popular format for print-and-play card games, and kind of a gimmick of Button Shy Games at this point). There are 6 module cards, and 12 Mission/movement point cards.

The goal of the game is to accomplish 7 missions, without running out of movement points (or abilities). Each mission is a puzzle in which you have to move the modules to reach a certain pattern. Modules each have rules on how they can move, and also have particular “bonus” abilities that you can use once each, when you’re in a tough spot.

In order to move the modules, you need to spend “movement points”, which are represented by the cards in your hand.

Once you reach the expected pattern for a mission, you move on to the next, until you either complete 7 missions (win), or run out of movement points to play.

Each game plays in 15 minutes according to the rulebook, which I can say is true after a few plays, but I can guarantee the first few games will last longer than that, given the amount of possibilities for each play, which is overwhelming at first.

And that’s a good segue into the review itself!

ROVE (Results-Oriented Versatile Explorer) – Art and first impressions

Gorgeous!

The art of ROVE is simply gorgeous, in particular for the mission cards. The colors and design remind me of an old sci-fi book or movie (think HG Wells and the like), while being cute at the same time. It’s hard to miss, and my daughter actually was instantly dragged to the table when she saw me playing. As you complete the missions, the missions stack with each other and kind of tell a tiny story, which is awesome.

My game session attracted an audience

The other cards are functional but feel maybe a bit generic to me, and might have benefitted from something more distinctive? They’re ok, but feel less polished than the mission cards for sure.

As far as the components are concerned, of course, I can’t judge since I went with the print and play version. It’s always a bummer to get a print and play game when I end up loving the game, because no matter how good I am with a pair of scissors, I always feel like I’m playing a prototype, and not the finished game.

The first few plays of the game were a bit confusing to me. In my first game, I actually gave up after the first mission because it took me probably 10 or 15 minutes to complete, and I felt I didn’t have that kind of time for such a “small” game. It turned out to be because I was really trying to over-optimize my first plays, while in practice the game gives you a lot of leeway to complete the missions (more on that below). In other words, I initially got the impression that the game was much more “brainier” and abstract than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, it is an abstract game, but the puzzles to solve aren’t as hard as they initially appeared to me.

ROVE (Results-Oriented Versatile Explorer) – Review

It turns out ROVE is actually fairly easy, and I have yet to lose a single game at the “Normal difficulty” level. After a dozen games I actually had to look up online to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding or missing some rules: I’m not that big into puzzles, but somehow this one felt “easy” to me.

I won!

Thankfully, there are difficulty levels (which simply consist in starting the game with less cards in hand) and those scale really well. I found that the hard level gives me an ok challenge, and the “impossible” level is where I really have to think a lot for each one of my moves.

Thanks to its art and general design (Note: I’ve talked about the gorgeous art above, so I won’t go into that aspect further), ROVE is reasonably thematic, for such an abstract and tiny game. Again, with 18 cards, don’t expect an in-depth theme with a great story, haha! It remains an abstract puzzle game.

After about 20 games, I can say that the gameplay remains fresh for quite some time, and the rules are so simple that I can see myself getting it out of the shelf regularly for a couple of games here and there.

As often with those tiny games, it is great how much strategy is packed within a single card:

Each mission shows a pattern that you need to match with the modules, by spending movement points or using free abilities. Modules (which represent the main game area) have rules to how they can move (not unlike chess, some modules can move further than others, or only diagonally, etc…), but can also be used for a special ability that will let you, for example, move another module wherever you like at no cost.

The module cards

Point cards (which, on their flip side, are the mission cards), can be used for their default point value (e.g. “you can move 2 modules”) or, if your current modules match a specific pattern, get a boost in points. So it’s not uncommon to hold of using a specific point card because you think you might be able to use it for more points during the next mission. Similarly, since the next mission is always visible, advanced strategists will not only try to complete the current mission, but also complete it in a way that makes the next one easier to achieve.

With that being said, some of the movement patterns end up changing the game state so much, that I’ve found more than once that something that looked “easy” turned out to cost a lot of movement points.

A typical game will indeed last about 15 minutes, and each mission offers interesting choices between spending movement cards, or “burning” the abilities of each module. But as I mentioned above, there’s not need to get it “perfectly” to win the game. “Good enough” has often been sufficient in my experience.

Conclusion

Not many movement points left!

I really rove LOVE. I mean, I really love ROVE! It’s a simple game (once you get used to the rules and icons) with enough depth to keep me occupied for a while. The cute old-school sci-fi just works so well with me, it’s simply satisfying at the end of a game to just look at the little robot’s adventures. I think I like ROVE more than Sprawlopolis. Don’t expect a lot of depth in this game, it has a sci-fi theme but this is not in the same league as ISS Vanguard! Just a cute, just-the-right-amount-of-puzzle little game!

What I liked about ROVE

  • The art is awesome!
  • I paid $1 for it! Regular price is $3 for the PnP version, and $12 for the printed version. You can’t go wrong with it!
  • The right amount of puzzle for me. So many possibilities packed in so few cards!

What I didn’t like about ROVE

  • This will sound weird, but don’t get deceived by the awesome art! There isn’t that much theme in there for sci-fi nerds. It remains a simple puzzle game
  • It might be too easy for real puzzle enthusiasts? I’m still a bit concerned that I’ve won so many times in normal difficulty.
  • I often want to “rewind” a bad move, and there’s no easy way to do that, apart to take a picture from the current state before starting a mission. Not an unsolvable problem, but if any game needs an undo function, it’s this one!
  • The rulebook is surprisingly confusing for such a small game. There are lots of “gotchas” in the fine print (for example, the fact that at the end of a move, all modules need to be connected). This gets ironed out after a few plays, though.

Games mentioned in this article

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