My earliest experiences with programmed actions as a game mechanic were with RoboRally and that was a game that I really didn't enjoy. However, the simpler, much faster but just as unforgiving world of Piranha Pedro turned out to be a blast.
Everyone in the game is collectively moving a single pawn, Pedro, about the board. And most of the board is empty water, so Pedro needs to be able to put a stepping stone down or drown. And if he moves onto a piranha, well, that's that.
Everyone has a deck of 12 cards, showing one, two, three steps in each of the cardinal directions. On each turn, everyone secretly selects a card. Then you go around the table and see what happens. If Pedro dies horribly when you are moving him, you have to take a piranha as a penalty chip. Whoever gets two piranha first loses and everyone else celebrates their collective victory.
As an additional twist, after Pedro dies everyone's collection of stepping stones resets. But the number of stones you get is based on the cards left in your hand. The lower movement cards are worth more stones. So the more cautiously you play, the fewer stones you get to keep Pedro from drowning.
Piranha Pedro is very simple to teach and understand and plays really fast. Even with canny players, it's probably a half hour at best. And with unlucky players, it can go by a lot faster.
While it can be chaotic, it's not a luck fest. Actually, there's nothing random in the game. Everything happens because of someone's choice. So it is really a game of playing the other players. Setting up traps and trying to dodge other people's traps. Taking chances and hoping they pay off. Remember, you are not trying to keep Pedro alive. You're making sure that somebody else kills him.
I think one of the most important differences between RoboRally and Piranha Pedro is that Piranha Pedro keeps pushing the game towards an inevitable end. The board develops as more stones get added but at the same time, as the decks run out, someone is going to slip up and send Pedro to feed the Piranha.
I will admit that I am not a huge fan of games that have only have one loser. Because it's a real bummer to be that loser :P However, Piranha Pedro it's fast and breezy enough that it doesn't really sting. But, at the same time, every decision matters.
I was quite lucky to manage to get a first edition copy of this game. And let me tell you, I'm not letting it go.