Fantasy Flight is well known for releasing long, complex games with an inordinate number of game pieces. The intriguing and unique board game Android is yet another example of this long running trend.
Set in a dystopian noir future, the premise of Android is that a murder has taken place and five unusual investigators are trying to discover who committed the murder and why. Reflecting the dystopian noir setting, simply solving the murder is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to solving the murder, these disparate investigators are trying to uncover the complex conspiracy behind the murder, dealing with the complicated affairs of their personal lives, gathering and exchanging favors from both legitimate and corrupt power brokers, and dealing with their own personal demons.
Unlike many modern board games, the game play of Android does a spectacular job of reflecting the theme of the game. The murder investigation frames game play, but the various personal plots, unusual events, and dark opportunities often drive the actions of the players. The wide diversity of meaningful actions that each player can take generally makes each game different from the previous, especially when playing a different character.
Before going too far into game play, a word needs to be said about theme. Isaac Asimov and Mickey Spillane would both be proud to see how well the background story of this world was written. Science fiction and noir elements are carefully interwoven into a rich tapestry that flavors just about every part of the game. Story snippets and quotes can be found on every card and in the description of characters. The story is so intricate that it is nearly impossible to ignore the background and simply play the game. The game is that much more enjoyable to play for this facet.
Game play is broken up into player turns where players take a preset number of actions. During these turns, players move around the artistic and cunningly laid out board interacting with colorfully named locations. These actions further the investigation of the murder and the various conspiracies, resolve or aggravate personal plots, and occasionally result in the deaths of important story characters.
One of the unique features of the game is that other players can interact with the acting player via a mechanic called twilight cards. Each player has two decks of twilight cards. One deck causes fortunate events for the player. The other deck causes unfortunate events for the player. The second deck is played by other players and can interfere with actions or provide roadblocks. The cards can only be played by other players on the acting players turn, thus making it so every player can conceivably act on a given player’s turn.
Hindering other players is not only fun, but it is actually necessary. Whenever a player plays a twilight card that causes a fortunate event, it reduces their ability to play such cards in the future. Only by playing the dark twilight cards against other players can that player recover the ability to play the fortunate light twilight cards. This swinging pendulum is both a limiting mechanic and forces interaction between players.
If this is beginning to seem complicated, that is because the game is rather complicated. In fact, that complexity is one of the major drawbacks of the game. On average, the game takes about one hour per player to complete and teaching the game takes a minimum of one hour. New players are unlikely to really understand the game at all during the first play through and may still be a bit lost on a second play through. The fact that each character basically plays completely differently from all of the others adds to this difficulty.
In addition, despite the fact that there are a significant number of ways to earn points in the game, it is possible to be basically incapable of winning very early in the game. One or two bits of bad luck can basically remove a player from the game. Of course, the player still needs to play in order for the game to end reasonably for the rest of the players. This can be very frustrating, especially given the long time the game takes to complete.
Finally, while the mechanics of the game are relatively elegant, a few don’t quite hold up. For example, the mechanic for solving the murder actually feels more like framing a suspect rather than determining a suspect. Given the dystopian noir theme, this is actually quite appropriate, but will frustrate some players. Also, while the twilight card mechanic works well, some cards are very badly balanced and either cost too much or too little for the effect produced. This can make certain character incredibly susceptible to dark twilight cards or too powerful with light twilight cards.
While Android may not be perfect, it is surprisingly addictive for a long game. It is just about impossible to explore the entire story in a single game and the story is so enticing that it is worth playing again and again just to learn more. Also, the way the game plays, it is nearly impossible to determine the winner until the very last turn, which means games are often competitive until the end. This is rare in board games and significantly adds to the replay value of the game. For any fans of long games, especially fans of Fantasy Flight games, this is definitely worth buying.
Rating: 4 of 5