Gaming Unplugged: Android

February 14, 2010

There’s been a murder in New Angeles (or the moon colony of Heinlein), and you’re trying to figure out the guilty party — and maybe even uncover the conspiracy behind the killing — while dealing with your own personal issues. You’ve got twelve days, and you’re not the only one working this case. 

Welcome to the sci-fi noir world of Android, by epic game designers Kevin Wilson and Dan Clark (published by Fantasy Flight Games, like most of Kevin Wilson’s output).

Assuming the role of one of five characters, each with his or her own abilities and issues, you and the other players have to manage your time (basically actions) each day as you try to gain the most victory points. While a substantial amount of points can be gained by proving your guilty hunch correct (this isn’t Clue, and there isn’t one “correct” guilty party), that’s not the only patch to victory. You might want to investigate the conspiracy (represented as a simple puzzle with four branching paths) or make sure your own house is in order first (each player has several “plots” that represent various personal problems; each one has several possible outcomes, both good and bad). There’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and not a lot of time in which to do so. Setting your priorities is just one factor of the strategy you’ll need to survive.

The bulk of your turn will consist of moving from one location to another. Each detective has an arced, compass-like ruler that represents how far his or her vehicle can travel for one time; if you have a dropship pass you can spend it and one time to move to any location, regardless of distance. Once at a location, you can follow up any lead that may be present, gaining either evidence (either incriminating or exonerating) to place face-down in the “file” of one of the suspects or digging into the conspiracy; some locations might also have their own ability that you can use once per day at the indicated cost of time and favors (basically the game’s currency, available in four different types plus character-specific types that count as multiple normal types). When you follow up a lead, it is moved to a different location by the player on your right, representing the trail of evidence. Time can also be spent to play one of your “light” cards, if you meet the conditions listed on it, or to draw a card of your choice (either one of your light cards or another player’s dark cards, played during their turns); you have a Twilight State that shifts up and down as cards are played, so you usually have to balance your light and dark usage. Finally, you can spend one time to discard a card if you’ve reached your limit and anticipate drawing more; cards can also be discarded to reduce costs of other cards, so this option is rarely used but sometimes necessary. There are other ways to spend time, but those are the major ones.

As you go about your business you will accumulate good and bad baggage on your current plot, determined randomly at set-up. Each branch of the plot has different conditions to gain baggage; some are passive (whenever you place evidence on a suspect), some are active (whenever you sacrifice two time). At certain times during the game the plots advance: if there is more good baggage than bad, they resolve positively; otherwise (including ties) they resolve negatively. After the first plot fully resolves, you randomly select one of your remaining plots for the second week of the game.

After the final day of the game, the evidence on the suspects is revealed. Different types of evidence have varying effectiveness against different suspects (e.g., few witnesses testify against “Vinny the Strangler,” although he’s not so good with paperwork and other documents); the highest-valued evidence in a suspect’s “weak” file and the lowest-valued evidence in their “strong” file are removed, then the guilt is totaled up. Whoever has the highest total is the murderer (and whoever has that suspect as their guilty hunch receives points) while everyone else is innocent (and the players’ innocent hunches pay off). Then other sources of VP are added up and however has the highest total is the winner.

Mechanically, Android appears to be very complex due to all of the available options but in reality it’s simple enough that most players should pick things up quickly. The real trick is keeping the attention of new players, as the game can theoretically take at least three hours to play; if they’re not having fun, that can drag on and really hurt the experience. The theme of Android is awesome, and a strong hook to get players interested along with the cool-looking art and other bits, but often overlooked due to the time it would take to read the flavor text on the cards — especially while you are watching other players’ actions to see if you can play dark cards against them and/or give them bad baggage. Bear in mind that the suggested age range is 13+, due to the extensive reading, complex mechanics, and somewhat mature themes.

Due to the time commitment, Android will probably need a game session dedicated to it, most likely on a weekend. I would definitely recommend printing out some player aids and/or rules summaries from as well, as they condense the game’s 50-page rulebook down to a manageable — and less intimidating — size (to be fair, most of the large-type rule book’s space is artwork and flavor, but still). There are six different murders — most with their own special rules — as well as several event cards (which happen on non-plot days, including one of three murder-specific ones) to keep things fresh over multiple plays, should you decide to give the game another go. Due to the price this is definitely a “try before you buy;” it’s certainly not for everyone, but those who enjoy the theme and mechanics will find themselves coming back to it as often as possible.