Android: The New Angeles Blues

Sarah and Alex have a pretty good idea of what they're doing.

Android became a running joke in my group of game-playing friends. It had a reputation online for being complex and bit-tacular, which seemed wholly deserved from ogling the back of the box. The theme, noirish detectives competing to prove their hunches about a murder in the futuristic city New Angeles, with all the hints of Blade Runner that carries, enticed us all. But no one was willing to take the plunge and buy the game. Being frugal young people, we like to try a game out once or twice before throwing down. We are, as a rule, not early adopters when it comes to board games.

So it became the go-to name for a game for which no one was about to front. “Oh, it’s so-and-so’s turn to buy something. Go grab Android.” Then we kept promising we’d jump on the first demo available, waiting to see it crop up on a convention schedule somewhere. Alex came the closest, planning to try it out at TempleCon last month. He wound up only keeping an eye on the group playing it; they began before he got to the game room, Alex related, and were still going after his own party got through three or four plays of several games. That longing glimpse motivated him, I guess, because Alex ordered the game a week or two after Templecon. After another week of digesting the rule book and Universal Head‘s player aid, we broke it out one Sunday afternoon.

The game lives up to its reputation as a cornucopia of game pieces. There are character sheets, scenario sheets, character-specific strategy sheets, hero markers, conspiracy puzzle pieces, two decks of twilight cards for each detective, three sets of plot cards for each character, evidence markers, and more I’m sure I’m not remembering. It’s a dizzying amount of stuff to take in all at once.

My plan for this session was to focus on the primary aspect of the game. Fortunately, the detective I pulled, Louis Blaine, was suited to that element: gathering and utilizing evidence to pin the murder on a particular suspect. In addition to piling up sufficient evidence to prove hunches — in Android, the detectives try to verify their personal suspicions, rather than uncovering a single objective culprit, as in Clue — the detective needs to garner favors to access locations’ special abilities and trigger beneficial light cards, fulfill and avoid certain conditions or actions in order to successfully navigate their personal plots, which are a series of light/dark decision points that depend on how much good or bad emotional baggage a detective racks up in a week, plus uncover pieces of the deeper conspiracy behind the initial murder. Depending on which organizations can be linked to the murder, certain victory point bonuses come into play. Link the mining bosses, and remaining corporate favors become worth two more victory points each.

But I decided to ignore all the sub-elements of the game and focus on gathering evidence to pin to my guilty hunch and my innocent hunch. That’s what my character was good at and it was the most straight-forward element of the game. Also, Louis was the only detective on Earth when the game began. Both Floyd the bioroid and Rachel the gambling addict were up on the moon. They spent several turns up there as well, doing I don’t remember what, so I had plenty of time to scoot around snagging evidence tokens.

Everything in Android takes Time, rather than Speed or movement points. The entire game unfolds over the course of two weeks. A detective’s turn has so many units of Time in which to do things. Their spinner, for lack of a better word, travels so far in one unit of Time, which is measured by a map compass sort of thing. Following up a lead to get evidence is another unit of Time. Racking up favors, or spending them to activate location abilities, takes yet more Time. The effect is Android plays like one of those games where there are far too many things to do with too little time in which to do them, in the first play, anyway. With more experience, I imagine players begin to feel out the patterns of movement and understand how they can pack more activity into a single turn.

I got a hefty lead gathering evidence for the murder while Rachel and Floyd puttered around on the moon. Unfortunately, I kept pulling evidence markers good for proving a suspect’s innocence. When the guilty hunch is worth fifteen points and the innocent only five, there’s strong incentive to focus on finding the culprit. By the end of the game, I was sure Vinnie hadn’t done it, but was far less certain about Eve’s guilt. As it turned out, Floyd had been obsessed with a suspect by the name of Noise, meaning he had the suspect’s innocent and been steadily piling evidence on his sheet, handily proving his guilt by a wide margin. Next time, I’ll know to keep a more attentive eye on all the suspects and share the innocence-proving love.

Focusing on following up leads almost bit me halfway through the game. In each of the game’s two weeks, detectives go through a personal plot, a series of cards with pass/fail conditions. Depending on what the detectives do, or is done to them, they get good and bad baggage tokens, the final amounts of which at the end of the week determine which way the plot goes. Louis’ first plot, trying to get off the take of the esteemed legitimate businessman Mr. Li took a bad turn at first, as I hadn’t bothered to get any tokens at all, meaning it took the dark route. After that, I turned things around and wrapped them up as best I could — putting Mr. Li out of the picture permanently was the only way, in the end.

Most of the player interaction comes from the twilight cards. Each detective has light and dark decks. That character’s player draws their own light cards to help them while the other players spend Time to draw their dark cards, to delay, aggravate and otherwise harass the gumshoe. Playing one or the other shifts the detective along their twilight track, meaning that to play one kind of card, they have to play the other to shift back. It’s an interesting way of emulating the twists and turns of a noir character’s fortunes, but I was underwhelmed by Louis’ options in the light dark. The costly cards seemed irrelevant to following leads and the cheap cards usually had a secondary cost in the form of favors, which I never felt like I had the opportunity to generate, given how much of Louis’ Time went to just getting around New Angeles after stray evidence markers.

The plot cards sparked a discussion of whether they were supposed to be secret or open knowledge. Sarah felt they should be secret until the player flipped the card over. I took the position that since the cards were double-sided, there was no way for the information to be secret. And the rules would have said if they were meant to be so. It wasn’t a knockdown debate by any means, but it meant Sarah partially played in the dark. If she’d known how her second plot played out, she’d have made different choices in the final turns, instead of effectively duplicating efforts by working to get in play what the plot gave her at game’s end.

Android was definitely fun. I like the theme and nods to the noir genre. For example, detectives don’t die; they just get beat up more and more, taking trauma tokens for negative victory points. However, it felt a little dry. That could have been because we were so intent on learning the algorithms of play — a couple times I threw down dark cards against other detectives just to get used to how that worked — that we missed enjoying the flavor of the game, or because we weren’t bringing the characterization ourselves. There’s so much flavor text, often it’s easier just to read it silently to yourself than out loud to the group. I went for a compromise of summarizing the travails of Louis’ attempts to redeem himself from corruption and failure.

It’ll take a couple more plays to really get what’s going on and be able to sit back mentally to enjoy the flow of the story. I’m at that point with Arkham Horror, where the steps of the game are second nature, so I can just hoot with joy and moan with despair as the situation demands. I’m looking forward to having that state of mind with Android as well.

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6 thoughts on “Android: The New Angeles Blues

  1. Good review of this game. I’ve played this with my wife and brother-in-law, and while I don’t care for it as much as Arkham, I think it brings a lot of interesting ideas to the table.

    I played as Louis to, and had much the same experience as you. I didn’t win either, because my wife, who MISUNDERSTOOD THE RULES and was playing backwards (trying to prove her guilty-guy innocent) still managed to win through a combination of luck and my B.i.L’s sabotaging of each other. Yes, it was madness.

    • I want to get a better handle on the twilight cards next time. Maybe I was getting bad draws, but it seemed like I never had the right kind of points to play anything useful from my hand.

  2. Nice write up! I agree that we were missing out on a lot of the flavor of the game and I did try to read out the cards, but it’s tough to balance flavor with gameplay when you’re still learning the mechanics of the game. The rulebook has a ton of backstory and flavor for the world which is missing when you just explain the mechanics. I look forward to playing the game again now that I have a much better idea of how everything works. It’s hard to explain how to play a game you’ve never played.

    • You did a fine job explaining the game, Alex. We salute you for taking on the onerous chore of teaching something you yourself have never been taught.

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