Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let me tell something about my mother... (Android)

Kozure likes the big, sprawling, thematic games. He recently purchased Android and asked that we indulge him with a session, despite the knowledge that the odds we would get through explanation and gameplay in our typical 3.5 hour window were slim. I think he was surprised when we all responded enthusiastically! I, for one, have always been quite curious about the game, though I would never have purchased it based on estimated playtime alone.

I'll say this to start: Android is one of the most ambitious boardgames I can think of. It's trying to interweave a number of different kinds of games into one, and to that it adds a couple of new ones. It's a character driven murder case set in a dystopian future. It's Blade Runner meets Shadowrun meets choose your own adventure.

Thematically, each player plays a character that is involved in trying to solve a murder. Each player is dealt a "hunch" regarding which of the suspects is guilty, and which is innocent. Over the course of the game, a conspiracy unfolds that explains who are the puppet masters behind the scenes, thereby framing the murder as a singular event against a larger picture. Meanwhile, each character has a backstory that develops over the course of the game, where a player needs to resolve a personal crisis and individual actions can lead to facing his/her demons or succumbing to them. As I said, it's very ambitious.

Individually, each aspect of the game is rather simple. The suspects are all known and the characters fly from location to location gathering evidence tokens that are scattered around the board (using a very interesting protractor-type device that measures how far the character's ship can "fly" in a sinlge round). This evidence is then either pinned on a particular subject, or used to uncover the larger conspiracy. If pinned on a suspect, it takes the form of a simple numerical modifier and the character who has the highest positive total at the end of the game is the murderer. There are other minor rules, such as the possibility of alibies, purjery tokens, etc, but they are just further modifiers. In effect, players are building cases against a character (read: framing) rather than solving anything in particular. If, at the end of the game, the character's "hunches" were right he/she will get VPs.

The conspiracy itself is developped by gathering clues, but instead of pinning tokens on suspects a player draws from one of three stacks of puzzle pieces and places it on the board. Each piece shows lines going through it and players are trying to connect the "murder" (in the center of the puzzle) with various conspiracies at the edges of the board. Characters are quite literally "piecing together the puzzle" of the conspiracy in the game. At the end of the game, the conspiracies that have been connected to the murder will provide VPs in certain ways (political favours retained at the end of the game are worth points, etc).

Lastly, the character is presented with a piece of backstory and two possible results based on whether the character can meet certain criteria. For example, a character might have a rocky relationship with his father and need to make amends to achieve a positive result. Throughout the game, the player will play "light" cards that further their personal goals AND play "dark" cards on other player's characters. This is meant to represent the good and bad traits of each character coming out in the story. Once more, the result of this personal backstory is that a number of VPs are awarded based on how successfully it all panned out.


It's impossible to really judge this game based on a single play. There is so much going on that it's necessary to just "do stuff" to keep things moving. Only at the end did it all really start to come together in my mind. There is definitely some good stuff in here. In comparison to Arkham Horror, a game of similar complexity and length (and by the same designer and publisher) I liked it much better. The multiple interlocked mechanisms work together well and don't lead to downtime for the sake of downtime (where you spend lots of time moving stuff around, coordinating multiple modifiers, etc). Just as with Age of Conan, it's possible to create a game with lots going on where things feel like they fit together well once you get a grip on it.

My biggest complaint would be that the whole thing resolves in a very abstract way. For all the layers, for all the mechanics, for all the chrome, it's all just a race for VPs after all. Solving the murder isn't really the point. The card play, with the light and dark aspects of a character's personality coming to bear on the story should feel different than any other "take that" style game, but doesn't really. The worst offender, however, is that uncovering the conspiracy doesn't feel like anything at all except a game mechanic... dissapointing thematically even if it offers interesting gameplay possibilities. It's not that any of these things don't work... it's just that the result is muted thematicaly rather than being over the top, which is what I expected after hearing the overview of the game by Kozure. Perhaps there is so much going on that the designer felt the need to abstract the scoring to bring it all together. Perhaps it's because if it were a story, you'd be discovering that there was a murder, then through investigation you'd discover that there was a conspiracy behind it, etc, etc, all the while grappling with your inner demons in a way that would surely play into the story, wereas in Android you are operating in reverse: you know who you want to pin the murder on, you are motivated to reveal a particular combination of conspiracies and the light/dark card play is divorced from any of these other events. Hard to say, but I wish that there were more "Ah-ha" moments in a murder/mystery/ uncover the conspiracy game.

Regardless of the mild dissapointment related to the exploitation of the theme, Android remained a game I enjoyed playing. It works well, weaves an interesting story if you remember to look for it, and plays shorter than I expected (we finished the whole game, with rules explanation, in 4 hours). Maybe in our second play I'll be less bamboozled by everything going on and will be able to appreciate the theme more, who knows?

For the record, I can't remember who won the game. Kozure, I think? I had my guilty hunch become innocent and my innocent hunch be guilty. My rocky relationship with my father ended very well, but I ended up using my best friend and nearly lost her. I came a distant and convincing last.

Still had fun though, and that's what matter.

1 comment:

  1. That's amazing that you took the time to summarize such a sprawling game.

    I also enjoyed it - I was actually surprised by the general quality of the flavour text on the cards. I was genuinely interested in my character's back story and progressing plot (Floyd the Android).