Robotech: The Macross Saga RPG Review

It was hard to know what to expect when opening up a Robotech RPG. Would it be a game about giant robots punching each other through space or 80s pop-star drama? Would it be a campy slice of entertainment or a weirdly edited tangle of confusion? The answer, it turned out, was "yes".


Formed from the Frankenstiened remains of three completely different anime series, Robotech was the first show to try and bring the mecha genre to western audiences. It told a choppy story of alien invasion and human heroism set against a background of over-the-top drama that focused on the support staff just as much as the fighters on the front-line, a combination that proved popular enough to warrant an RPG adaptation 34 years down the line.

It was an unusual take for cartoons at the time and is honestly kind of an odd angle for an RPG to pursue these days. When you roll up a party of heroes for Robotech you're unlikely to end up with a squad full of fighters who'll engage directly with the enemy, and instead find yourself playing with an ace pilot, a bridge officer and an exiled princess.

Indeed, for all of its skill lists and number-crunching, Robotech plays much closer to a narrative-driven storytelling game than a D&D-clone. Rather than stats, for example, characters are built using tag-like skills that players are encouraged to work into as many situations as possible. An engineer with four points in "I Can Fix It" isn't just a great mechanic, but can also put her skills to use when patching up a relationship or pulling together a squad's shattered morale.

It's a weird little system that is open to easy gamesmanship if players want to always use their best skills, but somehow it seems to work - most of the time, anyway. Strangely, combat is possibly the least enjoyable part of the game, simply because it requires players and GMs to start tracking a handful of sub-systems and rules that can be more than a little flddley. The pace of play drops and the GM is forced to conjure up a way that the pop-star entertainer can contribute to the battle that isn't just jumping on the comms system for a rousing speech.

Appropriately enough, it sometimes feels like the Robotech RPG is the product of two games spliced together - one focussed on narrative and drama, and another that revels in modifying mecha and tooling up the guns aboard a capital ship. Meshing the two playstyles isn't impossible, but does require a GM and players willing to devote time and effort to the endeavour.

If the Robotech had been a run-of-the-mill attempt at a generic mecha RPG it would probably be quickly consigned to the dusty bookshelves of forgotten systems. By choosing to instead embrace all the weird drama and retro camp of the original show the designers have produced something unique, and that makes it memorable.

Would I commit to a months-long campaign aboard the SDF-1? No, probably not. But if you have a fondness for the TV show and a willingness to play about with weird game systems it's certainly worth checking out.

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Richard Jansen-Parkes

Richard Jansen-Parkes


Also, it would have been useful to include the publisher. When Strange Machine Games had gone silent on this product and Battlefield Press came out with a Robotech - Macross Saga book, I'd assumed this product had died. Nice to know it still lives and has gone to market, but that point was quite confusing for a few minutes and almost caused me to skip this article thinking it was for teh Battlefield Press book as I already own it.


Thanks for the review.

FYI, I don't recall going dark. We have always put the Robotech RPG beta games on our FB page and Discord for testing. We are extremely accessible and I even tell people to email me or send me a message on FB with any questions.

We also exhibit at all the major game shows: Gen Con, PAX U, and Origins.

To provide some context for the game mechanics, the GM sets up conflicts, they are like Forged in the Dark clocks, but much simpler to setup and track. The GM then presents the conflicts to the players. This allows them to provide social conflicts over lapping combat ones, or allows them to insert conflicts made specifically for character types - like entertainers.

This means that Minmei has something to do in a fight. Remember, one plot even can have a dozen conflicts. It is also suggested that the players have more than they can handle, so it becomes a triage situation.

This plays into fictional positioning, as the conflicts are engaged, the environment changes - thus new elements arise that both the players and GM can use.

Each turn you choose two actions to take and play skills in one of the three conflict phases: Support, Operations, and Cinematic. Within each phase are 2-3 options, but they are really opposing options like: Attack and Defend, or Observe and Obscure. You can also use the environment or a piece of equipment as a skill to enhance one of your actions.

It appears the reviewer had some difficulty with the phases. I am not sure why. We had multiple groups at Gen Con up and running in minutes, and a couple GM's who barely knew the system. The games were a success with little prep or trouble.

If you want to know more there are plenty of active member on the Discord and I am usually there too. Stop by and get some feedback.

Jeff Mechlinski
discord: Join the Strange Machine Games Party House Discord Server!

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