Portland pair roll the dice on robot board game

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PORTLAND — Giant, battling robots are coming, but not the kind made of iron and steel.

These robots are made of playing cards, and their attacks are dictated by the roll of dice. They are part of a card game called PBL Robots, designed by William Hessian of the local game company Hidden Ladder Games.

“We have been developing a robot card game where you own a 100-foot robot in card form,” Hessian said. “Then you select a pilot, and from there you draft cards that will enhance the robots.”

He said players then stack the robot’s armor to defend against another robot, and “you get to visually watch a robot get more powerful.”

Hessian compared the game to Risk, except in Risk there are large numbers of armies, and in PBL Robots (the initials stand for Pro Bionic League) there “is only one robot trying to blow up another robot.”

Hessian, 32, said the idea for the game came to him 12 years ago, when he was living in Minneapolis, “watching Pokemon and anime, and decided there should be a game out there with robots where you could do things.”

But he couldn’t find one in any store.

Hessian said the game has 12 different modes of play, ranging from traditional head to head, to a faster version for younger players, to more strategic and competitive modes. He said the number of versions ensures there’s something for everyone.

“It’s been pretty fun because depending on how someone wants to interact with the game there’s so many options,” Hessian said.

To help fund the game, Hessian and his business partner, John Supinski, began a Kickstarter campaign for their business, Hidden Ladder Games. The name is borrowed from an artists collective where they are members.

The crowd-source campaign, which ended Dec. 22, had a goal of $22,000 that Hessian said it seemed they weren’t going to hit. He and others went to New York City for three days and went into “every game store” they could find, he said, pitching the game. That, coupled with some local support, yielded $6,000 in the final week to push them over the edge.

For the time being, the game will only go to those who pledged on Kickstarter, but Hessian said it will eventually find its way into some local stores.

Hessian and Supinski held a celebratory event at Arcadia National Bar at 24 Preble St. on Dec. 22, when the campaign expired. They hosted the event there because Arcadia had been very supportive of the project, Hessian said.

“One of the big things for us was actually just the local support,” he said. “Walker Film Production heard about our project and offered to do Kickstarter video and really got involved in project.”

Hessian said the turnout for the event was great. He said a dozen people came to play the game, with about 10 onlookers nearby, and 25 people around the country streaming the event live. Hessian said the bar’s owner Dave Aceto played a few rounds of the game, then “offered us a weekly Robots night because he enjoyed the game so much.”

A few other local vendors were very supportive, too, he said, including Weekend Anime in Westbrook, Cross Road Games in Standish, and R Choice 2 Gaming in Portland, all of which all hosted game demos in the last two months.

“Everyone we talked to not only backed game, but helped promote it and it’s been awesome,” Hessian said.

And while this has been a project more than a decade in the making for Hessian and more than a year in production for Hidden Ladder Games, Hessian said they are already thinking of new ideas, including five expansion sets for PBL Robots.

“We have three or four other games we’d love to put a prototype together for that have been kicking around in process of building this game,” Hessian said.” “We’d love to get to them, but I don’t know when that would be. The second one can’t be as difficult as the first.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements


After a successful Kickstarter campaign, PBL Robots, a cards-and-dice game created by Portland resident William Hessian, will eventually be available in a few stores in the area. Hessian began planning the game more than 10 years ago.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.