Often gaming companies attempt to take a game that belongs in pen and paper execution to a board game format. This might be done to appeal to a different player base, refresh a franchise, or maybe even give loyal fans an outlet. Awhile back, Fantasy Flight attempted such a maneuver with Android. With such a rich cyberpunk story behind it, one could question how you would distill that into a board game. Better yet, would it be worth playing?
The world of Android exists in the not so distant future where machines and humanity have melded into a cyberpunk universe. Taking place in New Angeles, a mystery unravels that you must solve with your detective in order to win the game. As this is the future, the game doesn’t only take place on Earth. Your detective can also travel to the Moon in order to find clues to solve the case. Using a pathway, called the Beanstalk, sleuths can travel back and forth between the two celestial bodies. Travel passes can also be used for shuttles to deliver you to either place. This is important in Android, as taking the Beanstalk is a costly way to spend points for movement. Movement is the most important aspect of Android as it is the primary method of being able to gather evidence. The fewer hours per day spent moving towards clues, the fewer bits of evidence can be gathered.
Android starts out a bit of a mystery on its own when setting it up. To start out, you select a pre-made character that they wish to play. As Android can be played with as little as three players up to a maximum of five, there are just enough characters to be assigned to the player cap. Each character has a preset story and unique attributes that will affect them through out the game. For instance, Caprice must balance her sanity, Ray is tortured by his past, and the three robotic laws govern Floyd. All of these unique features will weigh on how the players actually play their respective character. Depending on which characters are in use, pieces (or clues) are placed around various points on the board. Dark cards are also placed on the board that other players can draw from during their turn if they land on a seedy location. These cards can be played during their turn to inflict a negative action on you. However, you have light cards that you can draw when you land on a ritzy location to help you during your turn. Each character also has a specific place that they start when beginning Android. Detectives also have different amounts of time they can spend per day working on the game. Each hour is sort of like an action point that can be spent on things like investigating a clue, moving to a new point on the board, or playing a card from the player’s hand.
As one would expect with a board game with pen and paper RPG characteristics like Android, there is a wealth of material to go through in order to understand the game. It may be due to the condensing of material down to a simpler form, but the rules can be overtly vague. Scanning through the book gives little interpretive information for some of the points of the game, while others can be just enough to get the basic idea. While this isn’t uncommon in modern board games, it can be frustrating when trying to play Android. In fact, we had to refer to the Internet to find out some of the answers on a few rules. Thankfully, we discovered an official Android FAQ that was released from Fantasy Flight.
Playing Android breaks down to trying to maneuver around the board to determine the guilt of a suspect of a crime. This crime is selected at random or by the players before the start of the game. Over a period of 12 days, each day consisting of a full round of turns from each player, evidence is gathered upon landing on a location with either a piece of physical, testimony, or document evidence. You will then decide if you will spend an hour of their time to gather this piece of evidence or pass on it. If time is spent, you gain an evidence token at random. Evidence is then placed back on the board away from where your character is.
Here is where the catch with Android kicks in. At the start of the game, you are given two cards at random with a suspect on each card. One card will give a point bonus at the end if that person ends up innocent; the other gives a bonus if the character on it is guilty. These cards weight heavily on your decisions, as guilt or innocence is determined by the value of the tokens placed upon the suspect sheets. Yes, players determine who committed the crime. If you want to stack the evidence against a character in your favor, it is allowed. On the other hand, you can use deception to get other players to support your moves. Either strategy is valid, as evidence tokens are placed face down to hide their value. This is a rather unique mechanic in Android. It most likely came about to cut out the idea of a dungeon master from an RPG. At the end of the game, the suspect with the largest value of evidence is guilty. The one with the least is innocent. To determine which player is the winner, victory points are tallied (from the guilty/innocent cards, plot lines, and points from conspiracy). Whatever player has the highest number of victory points wins.
While pushing towards your hunches, other things are going on around you in Android. As it was mentioned before, each character has a storyline that aids or hinders their progression throughout the investigation. All of the characters, with the exception of one, have storyline resolve in a week that will effect what they do. For instance, after week one Caprice must balance her sanity when playing out cards and other actions. Depending on where her sanity sits in terms of light or darkness, she is subject to disabilities or perks during her round. At certain points of the week, bonus objectives will also come into play. The well-known snitch might have a bonus clue for you if you help him out, or the first person to get to a certain location may gain a favor with someone. Favors come in to play based on the private eye that has been selected. Each of those characters also have characters in their storylines that and aid or hinder their investigations. They also grant the aforementioned favors, which you can spend like currency to buy shuttle passes or even use to mark suspects for death.
It wasn’t until hour two of the first game that the fun really came out in Android. Playing around the board and getting a feel for what is going on what you are aiming to do can take some time to get the hang of. It isn’t that the learning curve was steep, but that it was kind of arduous to figure out at first. We attribute this to the vagueness or lack of rules in some places. It can be really frustrating to play when you first start out. Playing it just once could certainly leave a sour taste in your mouth. However, Android has a redeeming point. Android gives a different perspective on the idea of just moving around the board. It becomes an idea of moving towards something. You fill the shoes of your private eye, feeling out their flaws and working toward their motivations. We have never played a game with such character ambition outside of a traditional RPG. It is the key component to making the game a fun experience. Another neat feature could be accomplished by reinvestigating the crime scene. In essence you “get a jump on the crime scene” when you spend a point of time there. In doing so, you can claim the spot of the first player to take a turn in the next round.
Android is a game that sort of suffers from an identity crisis. All of the elements are there for a great game, but for the wrong type of game. If it wasn’t for the playing board and lack of a dungeon master you would swear you were playing a pen and paper RPG. You could argue that it is just a board game, but it is hard to ignore the lore behind it. Fantasy Flight attempts to infuse it into game play, but frankly there isn’t enough. It lacks a voice setting ambiance and twists that create moments players crave. However, the game mechanics are unique and play in such a way that have you plotting how you can win from the beginning. If you are at all familiar with RPGs though, something in the back of your brain will always itch.
Game provided for review by Board Game Exchange.