Ladies and Gentlemen of the internet, I am delighted to welcome a new guest reviewer to the fold! Emma Laslett will be joining us with opinions on games old and new, and here’s her first piece: Fantasy Flight’s sci-fi noir extravaganza Android. Now, this is a game I have never managed to get to grips with, so I found her thoughts most intriguing… Take it away Emma!
So, this is Android – the cyberpunk/noir game of investigating a murder and getting your friends lynched in a dystopian future. You and up to four soon-to-not-be-friends play as five different detectives with a hilarious variety of life problems trying to solve a murder in my two favourite places – futuristic ethically-dodgy pseudo-American hyper-metropolises, and the Moon.
From Fantasy Flight, this is co-designed by Arkham Horror’s Kevin Wilson, and the links between the two games are definitely there. It’s huge, both in time (the box says it takes 4-6 hours, and I’ve had games of it ranging anywhere from 2 to 8), and in the sheer amount of stuff contained within the box, which brings me straight to “Emma Complains At Stuff Fantasy Flight Always Does” #1: the box is, well… just a box. The component list takes up five and a half (!) pages of the rulebook, and the game comes with absolutely nothing to put all that cardboard in, leading me to wonder how much of that 4-6 hours is meant to be spent sorting everything out from each other. As soon as you sit down to Android, its first major selling point hits you – it looks fantastic. The components are high-quality, the art is beautiful, the board has more detail the more you look at it, and an entire sixth of it is a game-relevant jigsaw puzzle – and if that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.
Also worth mentioning while we’re on the board is the nonlinear design of it – while you’ll be moving characters from place to place à la Arkham Horror, these places aren’t joined up linearly. Instead, every location is shown by a point on the board’s map of the city, and each character has a big ruler/calliper/cardboard arc thing that shows how far they can move. This leads to a lot of interesting route planning, as you try and get where you’re going without tripping over a dodgy bar and falling face-first into a riot. I just think this is a really neat system, and not really used in any other games I can think of. This nonlinear feel is reflected in the loads of ways to earn points that are available – sure, you can try and solve the murder, but there’s also a city-wide conspiracy to piece together, shady corporations to schmooze and your own personal plots to pursue, with each character having hugely different ways to earn more points.
This last part makes up a lot of the game in general, with every character having three different plots, of which you’ll only see two in any one game, and they’re not just called ‘plots’ – each one has a bunch of text that acts as a little short story, which is great for adding to the immersion.
But then, so do all the twilight cards for each character, which add extra little positive or negative side-notes to the story.
And so do the murder suspects.
And the murder cards.
And the random event cards.
And the… Basically, what I’m trying to say is there are a lot of words in this game. Which is great! But it’s also terrible. It’s incredibly immersive, and I probably enjoy reading all the stories in Android more than a lot of books I’ve read. But this means either everything takes forever, as people try and read everything on every card, or people just lose interest in the story from overexposure – at which point you’ve lost one of the best things about this game.
Ultimately, this can make it feel bloated, and I’ll be honest, it kind of is. Even with each player only taking twelve turns, the game still feels overlong for what it is, and this bloat even spreads to the rules – the rulebook is absolutely massive, and there are just so many mechanics that a lot of the game just turns into lots and lots of bookkeeping. Now, I like bookkeeping, but the primary complaint I’ve had from people about Android (apart from “Oh my God, you’ve been there all day, when can I have my table back?”) is that people get lost in the massive morass of the rules and forget all the things they can do, leaving annoying Mentat-types like myself to run half the game for everyone.
Also, I don’t know whether it’s this tendency to lose bits of the game or more fundamental balance issues, but in pretty much every game of it I’ve played, at least one of the major threads of the game gets completely ignored – and it’s usually the murder, which is nominally the primary focus of the plot, which kind of works against all that lovely immersion.
Ultimately, Android is a game with a *lot* of flaws, but I still love it for the stories and the world it creates. Would it work better as a computer game so you didn’t have to do all the bookkeeping? Probably. Would it work better split into two or three different games? Almost definitely. Would it work better as a book? Arguably yes. However, if you don’t mind doing a bit of work to find a fantastic, immersive story, and you’ve got four friends who want to spend an entire day helping with that, I can’t recommend Android highly enough, even as an experience more than a game.
Android was originally released back in 2008 through Fantasy Flight. Designed by Kevin Wilson and Daniel Clark, between three to five can play with games – as Emma mentioned – taking anywhere from two to six hours, or even more. It’s available from Amazon for a shade over £20, so if you feel like getting into a flawed gem at a bargain price, why not give it a shot? Oh, and follow Emma on Twitter – you can find her there as @Waruce.