A hook in my mind

Okay, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know my taste in board games. I’ve been co-opted by the Euro invasion. Give me a good Knizia, maybe 2 hours long max, with streamlined rules with some clever mechanics that twist my brain in happy ways, and with a gamestate that will eventually end.

Simple, right?

So, why do I love Android so much?

I shouldn’t, you know. The game has a 48-page rulebook (PDF). Mmm…full-color…. But that’s not the point! The rules are good enough, but they have significant amounts of chrome. Little fiddly bits that add just a bit more complexity to tracking an already huge game. And the time to play….I’m guessing that experienced players could wrap one of these up in four hours, but with new players, you’re looking at five or six hours.

But it’s such a beautiful game. I mean, look at the trailer. (Yes, the game has a trailer.) Isn’t it pretty?

But that doesn’t really explain why this game has a hook in my mind.

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for crime stories these days, and this game is about a murder investigation.

Maybe it’s because I enjoy detective noir, and this game is definitely a detective noir.

Maybe it’s because I have this ongoing love affair with cyberpunk, and this is certainly a cyberpunk game.

Maybe it’s because I love Blade Runner, and this is essentially the Blade Runner board game.

Maybe it’s because Android is the first adventure board game that I’ve played that I actually enjoyed.

Maybe it’s because all the rules and flavor text and pretty pictures actually succeed in doing what the designer intended: transporting the players to another world, where you pilot flying cars across a polluted cityscape, struggling to investigate a crime that is too big for you while trying to avoid failing at life more than you already have.

That’s a place where I could happily go again and again.

It’s strange to call a board game “immersive”, yet, to some degree, that’s what I’m trying to say. Once you grasp the game, you suddenly see that all the mechanics conspire together to create a rich imagined environment. Even the ways that you score victory points are really just ways to bribe the players into doing cool thematic stuff. Like giving the down-on-his-luck PI bad flashbacks about the war, or playing out the growing sentience of your robotic cop.

So, yeah, I know that I won’t be able to get Android to the table much. But, when it hits the table, I want to be playing.


17 responses to “A hook in my mind

  • Gabrielle

    Seth, with a trailer that cool even I’d play it again.

    Seriously, five and a half hours aside, I had fun and I’d play it again.

  • Tony Dowler

    Thanks, Seth, for calling my attention to this on Anyway. When I talked about the marriage of board game and RPG, Android is exactly the game I was thinking about. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. This game stirs up some things in board gaming which I have a deep love for, but also stuff I have a strong aversion too. I’m not even quite sure how to disentangle them yet. I feel the game has briliance at every single point of contact, but somehow the whole is too ungainly to really grasp. I love that my troubled mercenary is working on her relationships, but it bothers me that I can’t share that story very effectively with the other players. Likewise with your amnesiac PI. There’s so much going on in this game that I only have a vague intimiation of the other players’ stories.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra


    I totally get what you’re saying. At the same time, I think that player experience will assist in allowing all the players to participate in the unfolding experience.

    I’m currently dedicated to testing this hypothesis. 😀

    I’m not sure that I want to say that Android produces stories. It’s *not* a Narrativist game. Rather, I think that it manages to back into being a pretty good Sim experience by employing boardgame mechanics.

    This is part of why I bought the game: to see how Android accomplishes this feat. And I’m still thinking about it, for sure.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Oh, follow-up:

    “I love that my troubled mercenary is working on her relationships, but it bothers me that I can’t share that story very effectively with the other players.”

    I’ve found that reading the flavor text out loud to the other players helps somewhat.

    Though, a couple of data points for you:

    –My experience of the game is as Exploration of Setting. As I noted in my ramble above, the mechanics all conspire together to create a rich vibrant sense of “place” in the game. That’s what made me happy about the game.

    –My wife’s experience of the game is as Exploration of Character. She tends to be a fairly immersive roleplayer, and she found herself identifying strongly with her character in the game, which happened to be the merc. She is also pretty good at resource-management games (which this is), so it seems like a pretty good marriage for her.

    Gabrielle and Raquel played once, and they read this blog. If you guys would be willing to share about your experience playing the game (aside from it being *way* too late), I’d appreciate it.

    Anyways, my point is that the game doesn’t do a good job of producing a unified story, but I think that it uses narrative as a tool to reinforce the sense of Exploration that the game provides.

  • Ralph

    My thoughts on Android are thus.

    This would be an absolutely FANTASTIC game if the mechanical play through to an endstate took 1 1/2 to 2 hours. That way one could leisurely take ones time to read all of the card flavor text aloud, to actually…not so much “roleplay”…but “depict” what your character was doing, to have the time to immerse in the world a bit.

    But at 3-4 hours of mechanical play, there just isn’t the time to do that. We started out doing even a little bit of that but by the end of the game it had gone on so long that everyone was in the mode of take your turn, finish your turn, move the pawn, play the card, go, hurry up, its after 1. At that point while I was still mechanically fascinated by all the moving game parts, I’d lost all interest in the immersive parts.

    And its the immersive parts I think are really where the game shines. I think the mechanics, even some of the more ingenious one, actually detract from the ability to play the game as something more than just a board game.

    It was kind of a wierd play experience for me. Early on I found myself getting increasingly excited about a game I’d pretty much had zero interest in when I saw the early write-ups. By the end I was terribly disappointed because I felt that in the end it just didn’t live up to the promise that I’d begun to anticipate.

    As I thought about it more I think beyond some of the non vital chromey bits that slowed things down, the central “time” mechanic of the game is fundamentally flawed. It turns what should be the primary driver of immersion into a resource optimization game inherently in conflict with that immersion.

  • Raquel

    Actually, I think the fact that it went way too late affected the immersive aspects of the game. I was too tired, at least by the end, to really get ‘into character’, and I was hesitating to take the time to read most of the color text.

    However, I think that on a good day (read: when I’m actually awake) I might really have fun with some of those things. For instance, keeping a running story of the interaction between the characters based on who played dark cards on whom. I’d also be curious to play it again with a different character and see how that affected my strategy and therefore my view of the game world.

    Which, uh, apparently means I’d be willing to play it again…

  • Gabrielle

    My thoughts on Android are thus-

    I really enjoyed the immersive parts of the game. The color text is written fantastically well and really gave me an insight into the character I was playing. I know this because I started getting stressed out by the possibility of losing her plot line and having to deal with the fallout. There would have been a victory point penalty,bu I was far more concerned with the emotional punch of failure. Also, I knew I was starting to get into character when I had the plot line of Caprice falling in love. It made me a little uncomfortable just like when a role playing character of mine is falling in love.

    I agree with Seth that Android isn’t designed to tell a story. It’s like movies like Crash or Traffic. The movie is one story because the movie makers say it is, but the various storylines only brush against each other here and there. The characters in Android touch each other even less so you can’t really use the game to tell one big story, but it was fun telling each of the little stories.

    I didn’t really mind any of the fiddly bits of the game, though they might discourage immersion because I’d had to keep switching back and forth between parts of my brain. Though I suppose it’s a bit like a conflict in Dirty Secrets. You have to juggle the gameyness of playing Liar’s Dice and come up with good narration at the same time. I’ve never had an issue with that, though the gamey bits aren’t half as gamey as in Android.

    I think the only issue I have with Android is that it was too long. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat still for five and a half hours for a role playing game much less a brain burny, highly immersive board game. Granted, we were player maxed and had either a bit of experience or none at all. Perhaps with fewer people and starting earlier we wouldn’t burn out near the end. I’d certainly like to give it a try.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra


    Maybe we’re running into issues with “immersion”, like often happens in these discussions. Let me take it from another angle, then.

    I found that there were two different things that contributed to my experience of this game. The first was the copious amount of flavor text. The second was the mechanical chrome. I think that this is because the activities that are required by the chrome are analogical to what the character is doing. The Time system is actually the best example of that for me. The whole point of the game is being torn between competing priorities; having a limited amount of Time to go around actually reinforces that feel.

    In some ways, it works out to be similar to Knizia’s Lord of the Rings game, where the feel of the mechanical decisions reinforces the thematic feel of the game. The major difference between Lord of the Rings and Android is that Knizia is willing to abstract his mechanics in classic Euro-style, whereas Wilson generally doesn’t. This leads to the major difference in play length.

    That being said, based on my (admittedly limited) exposure to Android, I think that it does a better job of providing this mechanical “immersion” than Lord of the Rings. Or, perhaps better, Lord of the Rings provides thematic immersion, whereas Android also provides environmental immersion. I don’t really feel like I’m in Middle-earth when playing Lord of the RIngs, but I do feel like I’m crawling through the slums of New Angeles when playing Android.

    Now, I also wonder if the sheen of it all will wear off with repeat plays. As I said upthread, I’m dedicated to further experimentation, so I’ll let everyone know.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Part of my “ongoing experimentation” is going to be a game at work, where we will leave it set up and play over several days. I’ll see how that affects the feel of the game.

  • Tony Dowler

    I really want to hear how that experiement works out, Seth.

    The interesting thing about Android for me is the way that it blends the mechanics with theme. This blending is a completely different beast in a android than in the RPGs that I’ve experienced. Here the mechanics, color, and components reinforce the exploration, without the exploration ever neccessarily being a decision point in itself.

    What is really interesting to me is that there is exploration going on at all. I’ve always equated exploration with role-playing (as it’s typically done in RPGs), but Android shows me I’m completely wrong about that. I want to play this game 4 more times, so I can try each character at least once.

    Another game that marries theme and mechanics very strongly (but is in every other way completely different from Android) is Race for the Galaxy. It’s a card-based epic sci-fi game that plays in about 20 minutes. There’s no flavor text whatsoever, yet it still authentically explores the theme in every game.

  • Ralph

    The part of the time mechanic that I suspect doesn’t work as well as it should is that its also used for drawing cards.

    You use time to move around and follow leads. The leads being critical to solving the crime (lots of points) and unveiling the conspiracy (potentially lots of points). You also use it to collect influence which has a bunch of uses. So there are alot of really important things you WANT to do with your time and you don’t have enough of it…this is a good immersive mechanic as you note.

    The issue, however, is that you also spend time to draw cards…and the cards are CRUCIAL to the immersive story aspects of the game. Its the interplay of your light and dark cards, especially as they cross with the plot cards that really makes the characters feel like characters rather than pawns. But since most of your cards come from spending time to draw them and the game places so many other demands on time I don’t think we see enough of the cards. I think (i.e. suspect after but one play experience) that the game would be better if time was used for moving around on the board (and collecting bonus cards from ritzy places and dives) but the bulk of your cards came from other non resource dependent sources (like…draw 2 light cards and 2 dark cards every turn). Freeing up the cards from being resource dependent would, I think, greatly enhance the immersion by seperating them from the scarcity of time.

    Also, I think the fiddly bits ultimately have more negative impact on immersion than positive. Taken individually they are for the most part quite clever, quite well designed, and quite playable (if a bit fiddly). They do, as you point out, add to the immersion by being in-game actions that mirror the fiction well. However, they add to the length of the game significantly and this is why I think it would be better to streamline a few of them. Its not that extending the length of the game per se is bad. Its just that the really fun and cool immersive bits ALSO add to the length of the game. It takes time to read all of the flavor text aloud. It takes time to describe how you’re frantically racing across down to meet with the snitch (rather than just moving your pawn there). It takes time to give flavor to your plot and what the baggage represents for you.

    The game would just get unbearably long to do both. Even factoring in that future play would likely be shorter due to learning curve issues (though likely not that much shorter unless we played regularly) adding all the extra time to really play up the flavor would take forever. That’s why I think the fiddly bits are a net net negative. With less / more streamlined chrome the game would play mechanically more quickly enabling us to actually play at a pace leisurely enough to enjoy the immersive flavor without it taking all night. Every extra 15 minutes a fiddly rule adds to game play is like 20-30 cards worth of flavor text we could have been reading and enjoying instead.

    But again, that’s all just “first pass reaction”. I’m certainly not opposed to playing again.

    But I was serious about breaking out some of my old school 6 hour games…so be warned 😉

  • Ralph

    So, now that many of the same folks have played Battlestar Galactica…how do they compare in terms of the immersion and nailing the theme aspects?

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    BSG was a different game. Now, admittedly, having not seen the new BSG show, I don’t have quite the same hooks to hang stuff on. However, BSG felt more too…um…abstracted…or something…to be immersive in the way that Android is.

    Now, I enjoyed BSG, and I’d like to play it again. However, it feels like a game that’s mostly played on the social level against the other players. Lots of head games and double-guessing. Way cool, but then I’m engaging *my* wit against *yours*. I didn’t ever feel like I was connecting with Laura Roslin. The character card was just a collection of card draws and abilities, not a window into her thoughts and emotions.

  • James

    Ok, so I didn’t play android, so I’m not sure I should weigh in here.

    I agree with Seth, though, about the immersion in BSG. I never felt like I was the guy on the card (though Ralph continually, and wrongly I might add, calling me a cylon might have something to do with that). I think maybe I would have in a different game, like not my first, but there was so many other things going on, and everyone was really acting like themselves that I never felt any inclination to role play into the dude on the card. Like Seth said, it was my special abilities.

    It was like playing Pandemic, or even the old Gauntlet video game: the pieces are there to accomplish something–not character attributes to “be” someone.

    Oh, and Starbuck being a chick might have something to do with it too. :0)

  • Raquel

    See, I think in BSG I was playing the only character out there that I could easily connect with. Though, like Seth was saying, that might change if I knew the show better. As it was, I totally knew Starbuck was mad when she got stuck in sickbay for half of that one fight, and could imagine her crowing in victory after she pulled some ridiculous stunt to shoot four raiders in a row.

    The main difference I see (with very limited experience with both games) is that Android sets up mechanically for that kind of immersion, while Battlestar Galactica simply allows for it. (Traditional vs. hippie gaming? 🙂 ) There was certainly a lot of ‘out of character’ action in BSG, but I found the same thing with Android when making strategic desicions.

    Though I’m also realizing that, oddly enough coming from me, it’s more the narrative aspects of both games that are grabbing me than a roleplaying type immersion. In both games I like the tendency to tell the story of what’s happening as we go, from inside the character’s head even, but in neither game was I really looking out the character’s eyes as I would in a roleplaying game.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    >Though I’m also realizing that, oddly enough coming from me, it’s more the narrative aspects of both games that are grabbing me than a roleplaying type immersion.

    Yeah, and as I noted above, we can easily get into trouble with “immersion” if we’re not careful about what we mean.

    So, stuff that Android did for me that BSG did not:

    –sense of immersion in a living environment

    –emotional connection to characters

    Though, that sort of analysis isn’t really fair to BSG. They are two very different games that fill different sorts of gaming desires.

    And I’d like to play BSG again. 🙂

  • Ralph

    Much the same thoughts. I think that actually supports what I’m seeing as a fundamental weakness in Android, however.

    Both games have mechanics where the actions taken by your pawn mimic the actions of a fictional character. In Android you’re driving around a city, in BSG your running round a space ship. In Android you’re landing on spaces in order to use leads to build the conspiracy or solve the murder. In BSG you’re landing on spaces in order to fight off cylon attackers or figure out who the traitor is. In Android you can visit Ritzi locations to draw Light Cards. In BSG you can visit the Press Room to draw Political Cards.

    But in BSG those immersive type mechanics are insufficient to provide the same sense of character identification as Android does. What’s missing between the two is the flavor text on the cards.

    Now maybe if we were all big fans of the show there would be alot of implied flavor in the BSG cards. The images are after all screen shots from the show and all of the things the cards do are things that have happened on the show so there may be a better sense of identity then. But there is no Android show at all, and yet we were able to get to know those characters just through the card text.

    So my conclusion is this…that the real driver of the immersive / character identification power of Android is those cards. The various game board fiddly bits may be supportive of that by matching game decision with fictional decisions but they aren’t themselves driving the experience. Thus, anything about the game that prevents us from fully seeing, enjoying, and experiencing the cards…including having the luxury to slow down to enjoy the flavor text, is actually detracting from the immersive quality of the game, which IMO is the game’s best feature.

    So to the extent that the fiddly bits take too much time to implement leaving not enough time to enjoy the cards the game would have been better (i.e. hit its strength harder) if some of the fiddly bits had been more streamlined.

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