Way back in 2007 Fantasy Flight games attempted what can only be described as an ambitious project and a labour of love for designer Kevin Wilson. That’s right, this weekend I’m talking about Android. Many people will know the Android universe from the hugely popular Android Netrunner, however I would wager a lot less people have heard of it’s older brother and even fewer have actually played this behemoth.
I’ve owned the game for a good long time but it has languished on my Shelf of Shame unplayed for nigh on a decade due to the sheer complexity of the beast. The rulebook for Android is 40 plus pages, admittedly, it’s beautifully illustrated, but as gameplay proved later, not that intuitive for looking stuff up. Fantasy Flight’s newer Reference Guide rulebooks would have really helped us out as we waded into the dense thicket of rules that is Android. The game does feature a handy dandy index at the back of the rulebook but not every rule is listed and there are a lot of them.
For those that don’t know what Android is, the game revolves around attempting to solve a murder. Each detective has already made up their mind who the guilty party is and is trying to find as much evidence as they can that points to that suspect. If your suspect is found guilty you score 15 points at the end of the game. The number of suspects in play is equal to the number of detectives plus 1, meaning it is possible, although unlikely that no player’s suspect is found guilty at the end of play.
To place evidence on your suspect you must investigate leads which pop up around the board. Whenever you investigate a lead you draw a token worth between -4 and +4 from a bag. The tokens are placed facedown on the suspects so the other players don’t know who you are trying to frame. Each suspect is more or less susceptible to certain types of evidence. At the end of the game the suspect with the most points of evidence is found guilty.
Sounds simple right? It’s a simple social deduction game, right? It takes about 30 minutes to play… Right!?!
Main board set up
No. Android takes 3 to 4 hours, maybe longer with more players because although the core game revolves around the simple task of investigating leads and placing evidence that is not at all what this game is really about. In the game you play one of five unique detectives. Asymmetrical would not even begin to describe these different player roles. It’s not as simple as “you get a +1 to attack rolls” and “you get a bonus to defence.” In Android your Detective has his or her own backstory, allies and plot that affects everything about them in the game.
A selection of the components for a single player
For example, I played as Rachel whose father was the Chief of Police and the last honest cop in New Angeles. I also had a pushy best friend, Lena who was always trying to get me to accept a loan. While I also needed to worry about the street urchin Oliver, who acted as my CI but was always getting into trouble. These side characters in my quest were brought to life by the Twilight cards. Twilight cards are, more than anything, the currency of the game. They are divided into light cards, you play on yourself for good effects and dark cards your opponents play on you for negative effects.
Dark Twilight Decks
As well as giving you bonuses and setbacks these twilight cards chart the interactions between you and the people in your life. Visiting my father would undoubtedly leave me feeling low, admonished for my excessive cyber enhancements, while a visit from Lena would remind me of the pressure to make money. These characters were living breathing entities in the game and my struggle to balance the investigation with my own troubles were brilliantly realized.
And my troubles were extensive! The thing about the twilight cards is that in order to play good cards you have to be able to “darkshift”, this is represented by a short, five space track on your character card. Once you reach the end of that track, paying to play cards will cost you cards in your hand. However, if you can play a dark card on your opponent you get to “lightshift”, moving back up the track allowing you to pay for more of your light cards.
Through the judicious use of dark cards my opponent would get me into fights that left me broken and bleeding or brake my car, leaving me stranded and moving slowly until I could generate the cash to fix it. All of this back and forth was frustrating, I scrabbled in the dirt, trying my best to be a good cop with life smacking me in the face at every turn, but it was a good kind of frustration because it was coming from a place of story and character.
And, as my time grew shorter and burdens heavier, I turned darker, seeking out further enhancements, interrogating suspects with my fists instead of my words and even going as far as trying to kill one of the suspects I knew was innocent.
I have really only begun to scratch the surface of this game, we have yet to talk about the conspiracy which enables you to manipulate the victory points for the game. We haven’t talked about Alibis, Surprise Witnesses or Perjury. I haven’t talked about Favours or the various corporations that give you victory points. I haven’t mentioned the event cards or the special events that are tied to the specific murder you are investigating.
There is so much going on in Android that in the four hours we played we barely even explored the board. Of the five districts I only visited three, my opponent didn’t even leave the moon until the last two turns, travelling down the space elevator that connects the two celestial bodies. This is a rich game with so much to explore, 5 different detectives, each with 3 different stories to tell. Tons of ways to score victory points. 6 different murders just to add even more variety.
Sure, it’s long. Sure, it’s complex. But it’s also packed full of story and passion. This is a game that is worthy of exploration but maybe there isn’t space for a game like this in modern board gaming. To truly understand and appreciate Android I would say you need to play each detective 2 or 3 times. That’s a lot of time and investment and in the modern culture of gaming, which is always chasing the next new thing or craving the next new expansion, games like this fall by the wayside.
Personally I am really amped up to take another ride alongside Rachel, now I understand her and see what she is really capable of and I look forward to exploring New Angeles again soon!