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Android - For Heroes!

"For Heroes" is our semi regular section on the more complicated (or, heavier) games in the world. These can offer great rewards to the brave gamer, but are challenging and sometimes mystifying to new players. Allow us to guide you through some of our favourites:

Android, by Fantasy Flight games, is an oddity - released after a highly successful and evocative viral marketing campaign it became a surprise release towards the end of 2008. The package is gorgeous, feeling "deluxe" in presentation and ambition.

It concerns the trials and tribulations of three to five investigators as they try to apportion guilt in a recent murder, whilst preventing their opponents from succeeding as well as battling their own personal demons. It takes place on a massive board depicting the Earth based city of New Angeles and the moon base above it.

And I love it.
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There's something any review of Android should get out of the way very early on indeed - it is not for everyone - it has been the subject of much debate on the Geek, but I should be able to explain why I believe it is for MOST people.

I hope I can convey in this review what a game of Android is like and how it works. I also wanted to show you, from experience, how each game can be affected fundamentally by its most ingenious feature - the conspiracy puzzle.

My lofty aim is that this review can be followed and understood not only by those thinking of buying this game who have already done some research, but also understood by those they intend to play it with (who may know nothing). I hope I can achieve this in general enough terms that we avoid a rulebook rehash - a form of reviewing I find about as fun as a movie review that just tells you the plot and then says "It's OK".

I'm now up to 5 games played of Android and am loving it!

CAVEAT: I would recommend, from experience, that you don't try and teach four players at once! At least not while trying to play as well. :D

What I am currently liking a lot is how the different investigators are forced, due to their strengths and weaknesses, to take sometimes very different approaches from each other in order to win.

Though I have never won I have had immense enjoyment every time, and felt in control of events and able to affect the game significantly even if I felt unable to win.

I was also impressed by how despite the killing of one of their suspects, usually key to victory as it is the highest scoring thing in the game, the winner on two occasions still adapted and came out on top.

To people who don't know much about the game, I will explain its structure in very general terms.

======The Game itself - what is it?======

Android is a game that, like many others, uses the universally accepted all-purpose nebulous currency of Victory Points (VPs).

The winner of the game is the player with the most VPs at the end of the game. (well, duh!)

The trouble is, every turn you have a very limited amount of time to do things - usually allowing for a total of 6 "time" points. The task you have is to use your time well enough to score many points, while fighting off other players traps and roadblocks.

Your characters have a lot of personal stuff to use and think about - a guilty and an innocent hunch to prove, their own stories you live through during the game, and two decks of cards, one that helps them, and one that hurts them.

The detail of the plots, cards and how they work is unnecessary for a review like this, but I think it's worth taking a look at how you can get those all important victory points.

There are three points scoring methods;

1. endings to plots (between -10pts and 14pts),
2. having the right hunches (0pts if unsuccessful to 25pts if both guilty and innocent is correct),
3. picking up tokens from three places (Haas and Jinteki token 3vp each, conspiracy line completions 4vp each).

Aside from scoring for completed lines (horizontal, vertical and diagonal sets of five) the conspiracy puzzle does something even more crucial - it can modify any or all the other points scoring methods by anything from 1vp extra up to potentially 4vp extra. It can also make things that are worthless except in exchange (the favours) crucial to victory.

======So this puzzle is the key to everything?======

Not always, but perhaps.... the cool thing about the puzzle is you can only do it if you forgo your right (and time) to do something else important (namely work toward your hunches) - Android is a game where you have very limited time resources to do everything.

You can't afford to ignore the conspiracy though.

FWIW, I think the puzzle can easily be underestimated as a force in the game. Even if you don't want to spend time on it, rest assured that it will affect the outcome of the game significantly if someone else does.

======Get to the point now, Algo!======

OK, so through a game turn you'll be following up leads, playing nice cards to help yourself and spending your hard earned favours to gain good stuff from special locations. On other people's turns you'll be playing bad cards to give them a hard time of it, some immensely satisfying (like taking half their time points away) and some just mean.

The card mechanics are a little complex to explain, but in summary you must play good cards in order to get the credit you need to play bad ones and vice versa.

Everything you do will cost you time, so all the considerations you make must be not only made with other players and your next turn in mind, but also with the economic use of your limited actions at the front of your mind.

I think this is where some players have lost patience with things, as the sheer number of choices and resources you have to use means you can get bogged down in your options if not careful.

For me, being the type of player I am, the speed of moves is not an issue, but I can see the point of view.

======Alright, alright. But is the game any good?======

It REALLY deserves a look. I appreciate many will find themselves unhappy with some of its mechanisms and its harshness with "take that" methods of winning, but if you let it, it can become a fantastic way to spend your time.

Plus, it feels to me like, while playing Android, you are actually playing three or four games (a card game, a race to complete the puzzle, evidence placement and plots) all of which are interconnected. The three to four hour running time doesn't really hurt that much given this fact. Sure, you could play four to six games of Shadows over Camelot in the same time as a five player game of Android - my advice would always be DO BOTH - In fact I have done precisely that on one recent game weekend!

Then I think about how you have 5 murders to try out and five very different characters to play as.

Each murder is essentially a set of rules specific to this particular game, so the basic one "Evil At The Estates" is the basic rules as written, but others change anything from movement rules to requiring any Earth based leads to be moved to the moon when followed up.

Every investigator has not only their own plots and rules, but entirely different card decks (noth light and dark) meaning that each is new and interesting to play - once you've exhausted your knowledge of one you can always start from scratch on one of the others.

While games are even more expensive than ever, and the economy is so bad I think this big box has ALREADY given me value for money at £6 a game or so, since a movie costs about that much. The inclusion of these different investigators and murders increases this value further.

======Hmm, interesting, but it sounds complicated======

My advice to new players is not to get hung up on winning the first game so much. There's so much going on you'll get a headache and won't enjoy it.

I've never been too hung up on winning anyway (lucky, really!) and I don't think anyone who views games as a social and fun activity can get too upset if their first game is a little unsuccessful points-wise (like mum!)

Take it easy and it'll all become clear, on average, about turn four. If you are really insistently unhappy at the disadvantage your mates may let the game be restarted and you can really go for it then.

If not - don't worry, just have fun. It's a fairly forgiving system so long as you keep an eye on your plot baggage (and remember draws are broken in favour of the bad outcome, just like in Shadows over Camelot) and you can still enjoy making things difficult for the other players as well as getting yourself back in the hunt.

======Wrap it up, half the audience are asleep!======

I'm very impressed with Android - I think everyone should at least give it a go. It is clear it does not work for everyone and that's fine, but everyone I have tried it with had a good time and got something out of it.

On a personal level, I am pleased with the variety, the value for money side and replay value.

I highly recommend it.


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