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Tom Vasel
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Android (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008 - Kevin Wilson and Dan Clark) is one of the most ambitious games that I've ever played. The concept seems simple on the surface - a murder mystery with a strong film noir feel set in a futuristic world. The amount of pieces that comes with the game is immense, but the amount of text written on cards and sheets is staggering. Kept secret until only a few weeks before its release, Android is a game that has been years in the making, and I struggle to find any game to compare it to.

First impressions reminded me of Arkham Horror; with Wilson as that game's developer, and both games hailing from the same company, it seems a bit valid. But while there are resemblances in amounts of text, theme, and pieces, the games are quite different.

Make no bones about it - Android is a complex game. Do you want to play Android with me? You have to answer the following questions...

1.) Do you have what is commonly called "analysis paralysis"? If yes, then please don't play this game. With a stunning array of choices each turn, you will be easily overwhelmed, taking entirely too long on your turns.

2.) Do you prefer games in which there is little conflict? Then go away, because the amount of nasty cards that are practically required by the game will make you weep bitter tears.

3.) Is symmetry important to you? While the detectives in the game likely have an equal chance to victory, they are wildly different - both in style and game play. Some will have advantages in various parts of the game, and tremendous disadvantages in others. All have gaping flaws.

4.) Do you like five player games? Sadly, while this game plays with up to five players, I'm never going to play it with that many - the downtime would be tremendous. Three players are best, but I can handle it with four.

5.) Do you like theme? Then climb aboard; because Android is covered in it, dripping out from the beautiful box and the gorgeous components.

As I said, the game is fairly complex - one of the more complicated games that I own, but the rulebook does a tremendous job of walking you through the rules. After one play, I found myself needing very little reference from the rulebook - the game makes sense because of the thematic streaming. Basically, each player controls a detective that is attempting to solve one of the different murders that the game provides. Players are trying to prove one suspect guilty and another innocent, all the while attempting to unravel the deeper conspiracy behind the murder and battle their inner demons. There is a lot going on at all times, with players attempting to solve the murder while dealing with a crisis in their lives. Players will never be able to accomplish all of their goals, especially since each game has several stories centered around the detectives themselves - stories that have nothing to do with the murder. These side stories actually become more interesting than the focal plot. Let's take a look at the five detectives.

- Louis Blaine has the ability to really trash the other players with negative cards and has a high access to favors. His weaknesses are his problems with his wife and the fact that he's a corrupt cop.
- Caprice Nisei is a clone, which has the nice side effect of psychic powers to help her out. Because of this, she gains several advantages, which allow better maneuverability around the board. This also causes her to be constantly fighting insanity.
- Floyd 2X3A7C seems to have stepped out of an Asimov novel, as he must follow three directives, giving him some good advantages, but also hindering him at times. He can break certain of these directives as the game progresses, but must then deal with the consequences.
- Raymond Flint is a PI with flashbacks (I'm sure I've read about this guy in detective novels). He has high maneuverability and can uncover the conspiracy quite well. Unfortunately for him, he has bad flashbacks, which each of the other players can trigger.
- Rachel Beckmann is a bounty hunter, who has a knack at killing off suspects. Unfortunately, she is broiled in money problems and father issues. She's good at helping herself out but doesn't have too many friends.

Back stories are not the only differences between the characters. They have different special abilities, different vehicles, and different contacts that may or may not help them. Each detective comes with a light deck of twilight cards that they can use for their own advantage and a dark deck that other players can use to throw negative events at them. Detectives are most individualized, however, by their "plots". The game is broken into two weeks, and each player deals with one plot each week. Plots range from Louis attempting to save his marriage with his wife, to Caprice attempting to steer away from the yawning pit of madness.

As each day (turn) occurs, players may accumulate both good and bad "baggage" on their plots. This happens through a variety of ways - players can directly attempt to harm other players if they wish, or occasionally it just happens because of actions that they take. Each plot has a couple of turning points, depending on whether or not there is more good or bad baggage on the plot. It's reminiscent of a "choose your own adventure" type of story, and the player will score victory points depending on how the plot turns out. For example, Louis and his wife's plot can end with her being pregnant (7 points), them reconciled (3 points), them divorcing (-1 point), or her death (-9 points). Plot endings, both happy and sad, can also have repercussions - such as killing off minor characters, giving bonus points, or adding a negative or positive ability to the detective. These plots can really sway the course of the game, and a player can get too involved with them, ignoring the central murder.

And that, my friends, is the key to the entire game. That's why I love it, because each player must make calculated and tortured decisions on whether or not to confront their own problems, or whether to pursue the case. In one game, I was playing Louis; and he took several days to chase down his wife, attempting to make peace with her, making no progress on the case. It irritated me to have to do so, but I hoped that I could resolve that plot for the better. The struggle Louis had about reconciling his marriage with his job really came out through the mechanics, and I really felt a blow when his wife divorced him. At that point, I decided we would solve the case no matter what; and was riveted by how thematic all of this felt.

Some folks complain that many games are a collection of mechanics - and Android is certainly one of them. But some of these mechanics are absolutely fabulous!
- Players move around the board using different vehicles, represented by a curved ruler that resembles a piece of surveying equipment. Their character can move within the arc of the vehicle, as they travel across the moon and earth. Going from the moon to earth and vice versa takes place through the "Beanstalk", which eats up time; but players will find themselves to be in both places quite frequently. Some places are tough to get into (like the Jinteki Corporation); and players can spend extra time to get into them, avoid them, or spend time getting a warrant that allows them in easily. Movement is critical to the game, and players with faster cars will have a leg up. Locations are also classified into different types, giving different benefits to players who are willing to spend time and/or favors at them. Other locations are "seedy" or "ritzy", which can be dangerous for some players to enter, and give bonus cards.
- The conspiracy itself is a large puzzle in one corner of the board. As players follow up leads, they have the opportunity to add pieces to this puzzle, connecting different groups or organizations with the murder. Each group gives bonus points to certain things (like favors or "happy" endings), so players try to manipulate the puzzle by connecting the groups that will most help them win the game. Uncovering the conspiracy also gives bonuses to the players doing it and can really help some players do well in the end game.
- Players have twilight cards, which are split into "light" and "dark". On their character sheet they have a meter that "shifts" from light to dark - with cards costing a certain amount of shifting in either direction to play. So get this! In order to play light cards, I have to shift the marker in the other direction by playing evil cards on other players. "Sorry, Ben! I didn't want to play this negative card on you, but I had to in order to play this good card on myself." This bad/good mechanic has been seen in other games (such as Mammoth Hunters), but this is the best implementation of it that I've seen. It encourages players to attack others, which keeps the plots on a rollercoaster - adding the negative to the positive.

Now, I've talked about these mechanics; but as you are playing the game, you will not think of them as mechanics. Instead, you'll be immersed in the story as it progresses, and the game becomes one of theme - rather than a series of moving pieces.

But what about the murder? Yeah, you can get so caught up in the game that you forget about the murder mystery, but it's probably not prudent. Each player receives one card at the beginning of the game that identifies which of the six suspects they think is guilty, and one card for which one they think is innocent. During the course of the game, players take time to follow leads, placing "evidence" on the different suspects. At the end of the game, the suspect with the most evidence is the murderer, and the player who knew it was him receives fifteen points.

So in actuality, you aren't following up the murder, but instead you're trying to point the evidence at the suspect of your choice. But that's okay, it feels like the "gut instinct" that detectives have. "I KNOW it's Vinnie the Strangler, I just can't prove it yet. But I will!" Players will receive points at the end of the game for conspiracy bonuses, pinpointing the murderer, and having happy endings on their plots. Scores are often close, and the detective who gets the most points is the winner!

Is there anything I don't like about the game? Well, it does tend to go long, although games with three or four players should finish in about three hours (not the first one!). I also wish that the game had rules for two players - it's something that I could see myself knocking off an afternoon with a buddy. Also, while each player's story is incredibly fascinating, the stories don't converge much; so if I'm not using Raymond's character, I won't learn much about his story. That does offer a lot of replay ability, as you can try out the different characters, but it would be neat to see characters from Raymond's story causing havoc in Floyd's story. (It does happen on rare occasions.)

The strategy and decision making process in the game is immense. A strategy sheet is included for each character, and I completely ignored it the first game to my detriment. You can't play Louis the same way that Floyd is to be played, and you have to take the other players' actions into account. Should you seal the deal on your plots, letting someone else solve the murder? Should you try to uncover as much as the conspiracy as you can, or simply try to pinpoint the murderer? Who should you try to stop? What cards should you play, and when? Where to go on the map? There is a lot players can do, and you won't notice other players' turns quite so much, as you concentrate hard on your next move.

The theme is fantastic, the moon city is named after one of the greatest science fiction authors of all times - Heinlein - and it fits. It's a dark future, but there are glimpses of hope, and the stories are all rich, from the android who wants to be human, to the clone who wants to be free, to the has-been who wants to know the final truth. It's a good setting, even if it doesn't feel totally original, and the overarching story is tied together in subtle ways.

My final verdict on the game is that I love it. I wasn't sure after reading the rules - and the amount of setup and text on cards and the fairly large rulebook was a bit intimidating. But the game is first and foremost a story, and I'll remember each session that way. Those are the games I enjoy the most; the games that leave a mark on my memory. Android is not the game for everyone - in fact I'll only play it with a few folks in my gaming groups. It's too heavy for some, too long for others, and too confusing for others. But I like it, and the players who do play it will have a blast. It caters towards those who love a good story (role players) and those who love well integrated mechanics. It's not perfect, but it tries so hard you just can't help loving it.

Tom Vasel
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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I'm amazed at how divergent the reviews on this game have been so far. The caveats (length, complexity, etc.) notwithstanding, some people seem to really love it or really dislike it.

No way you'll cram it into 10 minutes on YouTube, but I'd love to see you or someone do a video review covering this game...
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Steve Duff
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Gotta say, I love the old style review.

The video reviews are nice, but so superficial compared to these in depth ones.
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nathan hayden
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Gotta say, I love the old style review.

The video reviews are nice, but so superficial compared to these in depth ones.


agreed.
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Tom Vasel
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Well, you'll see mostly video reviews. But some games need a written review, and this was one of them.
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1.) No, I don't. I won't rush my crucial turns either, though.

2.) If it's a game of conflict, it's a game of conflict. I don't like wargames, but interaction between players is encouraged. In this game, conflict can be justified and thus not be that "direct".

3.) The element that is important is balance, not simmetry. Simmetry implies balance, but the latter can be achieved without the former, and when this happens it's pretty cool, since you have to learn to play with several characters (or armies in, for instance, Neuroshima Hex)

4.) I guess this is my strike. I'd be willing to play it five-handed, since the game allows that many, and there's no showing that it was stretched to add a fifth player. I have a small fear that having less players might create a bit of imbalance (see 3) in the types of leads out there. Though this shouldn't matter much, since after all there are the same leads going for all players, it creates a bit of inelegance, one of my personal pet peeves. (Timbuktu, for instance, even though it's shorter, it's clearly a 5 player game and I wouldn't accept any less, because it's obvious by the rules that allowing even 4 to play is a stretch too big to endure. OTOH, Neuroshima Hex seems to be thought as 2 players even when the box says 2-4. With Android, I guess I'll end up playing with the whole 3-5 range, but for now, I feel 5 is the target number)

5.) Yep. Despite my Eurogamer microbadge, I can see and appreciate a rich theme like the one Android has. It depends on the mood. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Mechanics, sometimes I'm in the mood for Theme. With Android, I'll be sure to get in the latter mood.

-----

So, how did I do in the test? I still haven't gotten hold of this game (should be any day now! I want it, oh I want it, oh I want it for my own! [/JackSkellington]) I'm very eager to get this on the table, I hope it all goes well.
 
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Asa Swain
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I love seen an old-style review, and of such an immense game. If you're going to write a text review of a game, I'm so glad you picked Android. I know it takes more time, but I wish you would write other text reviews occasionally. Thanks for the great summary of Android.
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Josh

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Superb review--thank you for taking the time to write it up!
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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TomVasel wrote:
Well, you'll see mostly video reviews. But some games need a written review, and this was one of them.


I think this game in particular needs a video review... For me, reading the rules and reading a review can't touch watching someone who has already played a game and knows the game very well actually showing you the game and explaining how it all works together. I guess video "tutorial" would be more of the term, but that's really what a lot of the video game reviews are, anyway.

The problem with this game is it would certainly involve a pretty lengthy video and a lot of prep work to make it well, but certainly Scott Nicholson and others have covered some pretty involved games at length, so hopefully that can be done for this at some point.

Anyway, I'd put this review and Michael Barnes' on Gameshark as the best quality writing on the polar opposite opinions of this game, so far. Well done.
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Krzysztof Zięba
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referee wrote:
and when this happens it's pretty cool, since you have to learn to play with several characters (or armies in, for instance, Neuroshima Hex)

An off-topic note though - Neuro Hex IS NOT and NEVER WAS balanced (ever played Outpost v Borgo with the former winning?).

As for the review itself - it encouraged me, though I do suffer from a little analysis paralysis then and again. I'll still probably be willing to play it before I buy it, since the reviews are so different from each other (compare with Dominion!).

A video review, even if it's going to last for 40 minutes, is a good idea though. I'd like to see that to make my mind.
 
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Grudunza wrote:
I'm amazed at how divergent the reviews on this game have been so far. The caveats (length, complexity, etc.) notwithstanding, some people seem to really love it or really dislike it.

No way you'll cram it into 10 minutes on YouTube, but I'd love to see you or someone do a video review covering this game...


Yes, HiveGod's been saying it's going to be a Marmite game, and the reviews seem to be confirming that. I just hope I end up in the "love it" category once I get to play! Thanks for the write-up Tom!
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Dan
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Oh dear.

I was going to completely ignore this game until i read your review... now I'm sending a link to my whole game group.

Marvellous work, by the way.
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Dane Peacock
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Tom, I have probably read 80%-90% of your reviews over the years; they are always high level. This may be your best review of them all.
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Chris Johnson
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Great review Tom. You have peaked my interest. I can't help but think of the movie Blade Runner when reading about this game.
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Add me to the voices who wish for more text reviews from Tom. Great work as always.
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Lord_Kristof wrote:
referee wrote:
and when this happens it's pretty cool, since you have to learn to play with several characters (or armies in, for instance, Neuroshima Hex)

An off-topic note though - Neuro Hex IS NOT and NEVER WAS balanced (ever played Outpost v Borgo with the former winning?).


Without the misprinted Borgo? Can happen. Outpost isn't weaker, just harder to master.
 
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dragonblaster wrote:
UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Gotta say, I love the old style review.

The video reviews are nice, but so superficial compared to these in depth ones.


agreed.


Ditto. I don't even bother with video reviews.
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Greg Schloesser
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GREAT review, Tom! Very thorough and detailed.

I played my first game of Android Saturday, and my reaction was decidedly different than Tom's. I did NOT love it. Rather, I found it to be:

1) WAY too long. We played with 5 players -- 3 new to the game -- and it took us right at 6 hours to play. Yes, we talked and joked, but we do that in every game we play. I would NOT play the game again with 5 players.

2) There is WAY too much going on -- it is confusing. This is coming from a guy who grew-up in the hobby playing complex war games that often had rule books 60 or more pages long. I'm familiar with complex rules. This one was just plain confusing. In an admirable effort to develop a game that really evokes the complex theme, the folks at Fantasy Flight have given us a game that is on the edge of being too complex and confusing. Indeed, for me, it may have jumped off that edge.

3) Story. I also used to be a role-player, so I love immersing myself in a good story. Unlike Tom, I never felt I was actually living the story. We all did our best by reading aloud all of the backgrounds, plots and flavor text. For me, it just didn't work. The game failed to bring the story to life for me. While Tom raves about the mechanism of placing evidence on the suspects in order to determine the ultimate perpetrator, I found this aspect to be weak and quite random. This is NOT a detective game. Rather, as one of my fellow East Tennessee Gamers put it, players assume the role of producers trying to lead their script to the best conclusion.

There is no denying that the game has some very creative elements and innovations. I really liked the puzzle-like conspiracy aspect. Sadly, with five players, this played out before we were finished with the first half of the game. With less players it would likely last longer, which would be better. We also depleted the evidence tokens with several turns remaining in the game, greatly restricting our options over the final few turns of the game.

There is much to like here, especially for fans of American-style games. For me, it was a matter of theme over substance, and it just took WAY too long and was WAY too confusing. The confusing aspect would likely diminish with multiple playings, but it is not a game that I would play often due to its length. Yes, the old argument of the playing time being reduced with subesequent playings could apply, but that assumes the game will be played with all experienced players in each playing. That rarely happens in our group, as we always have folks new to a game involved in just about every playing. Thus, I don't see the time to play being reduced substantially.

Will I play again? Maybe -- but only with 3 or 4 players. I will NOT devote a full day to this game -- it isn't that good.
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I come down on the side of Tom on this one. I think that it is a great game, but I didn't find it overly complex. There is a lot going on; however, the turn structure is quite simple.

I think Tom is right to warn off those with analysis paralysis -- this type of game isn't really about winning, it is about bringing the character's story to fruition. Some of the genious of the game is the competing demands on the detectives' time. Figuring out how to balance these demands is really what the game is about, and I think this balancing component is what really evokes the theme.

I am planning on a review for Android too (probably after the holidays); however, I think that placing the evidence on the suspects is very thematic. From the cover of the box, the game is about a dystopian future -- one of the key elements of a dystopia is a miserable existence sometime in the future that often has elements of social commentary about the present. Android succeeds in this on two fronts:

1. Placing evidence on suspects as implemented in the game is an extreme (maybe not too extreme) reflection of how our justice system often operates. Guilt is determined by evidence accumulation.

2. The conspiracy network is also based on where the detectives take it. This is reflective of what a consipiracy often is -- imagined links by individuals to explain coincidental incidents. More often than not, it is just a figment of a person's imagination.

I think the game has a lot going for it, and I really have been enjoying it.

Tom -- very nice review.
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Jack Wells
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Thanks for the excellent review Tom. I usually prefer video reviews as I find them easier to follow, but yours was very well written I thought and you went into just the right amount of detail on the game mechanics without getting bogged down into the rules too much. This is definitely one I want to pick up now.

Only problem I only really have 1 friend where I live right now who's willing to play such a mammoth game, most of my friends won't play a game if it takes over an hour and a half and is more complicated than LNoE.
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Anders Gabrielsson
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Great review as always!

I've played the game twice, one real game with three players and one learning game with two and semi-open cards. It will require some houserules to really work as a two-player game, but I don't think it's impossible. With three it worked well.

I'm generally impressed with the mechanics, though from my experience and what I've read elsewhere seems to indicate that the conspiracy often gets solved early, which seems a bit counter-thematic. The rewards for drawing a puzzle piece is generally much greater than drawing a single piece of evidence. Sure, if you work hard at the case you can probably get the 20 points there, but it's far from a sure thing since bad draws or too obvious play can frustrate your efforts or make your hunches to obvious. But if you work on the conspiracy you can get direct benefits (shifts, favors and baggage) PLUS random benefits (moving evidence etc) PLUS influence over what will be important for final scoring PLUS the points for completing rows, columns and diagonals. Each separate benefit is quite small, but they are much more of a sure thing, and you get them right away.

However, that's a minor quibble. In general, I like the game. I'm especially impressed with the quality of the fiction pieces on the cards - in most games these are at best humorously cheesy, but here they're quite well written. Not high literature, but often touching in a way that game fiction almost never is.
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AndersGabrielsson wrote:
though from my experience and what I've read elsewhere seems to indicate that the conspiracy often gets solved early, which seems a bit counter-thematic. The rewards for drawing a puzzle piece is generally much greater than drawing a single piece of evidence.


To me this feels like something that will change as players get more experienced. If Raymond is in the game the puzzle will get worked on. Others may start to feel that they will do better letting him complete the puzzle while they work to benefit from it in other ways.

The investigation-heavy characters will focus more on their strengths, people will be less and less willing to fill in a part of the puzzle if that makes it easier for others to complete a row, and investigators will start to spend time getting favors while they wait for others to complete the puzzle and make their favors worth more.

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Anders Gabrielsson
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But why would you spend time gathering favors and let the other players decide if those favors will be worth anything? Especially since you can do both once the first stack of puzzle pieces is gone. And when you have a chance to spend one clue to gain 4 VP, influence what will be worth more in the final scoring, stop someone else from gaining those 4 VP AND get some additional benefits it's pretty hard to justify drawing one piece of evidence that may or may not matter.

Just to certainly get 4 VP now and someone else not getting them seems to be better expected value than maybe influencing the murder points. Sure, there are more points at stake there, but there's a reasonably big chance that what you do there this move won't change the final outcome. The accumulation of many small pieces of evidence can change the guilty party, but if you start putting a lot of tokens on the same suspect you'll soon find several other players trying to sabotage you.

Eh, anyway. As I said, it's a minor quibble.
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Greg Schloesser
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someotherguy wrote:
I played this game once, and never for one second felt that I was involved in a story, unless that story was: Dude A moves here and hands me a peice of evidence to move, and I put it in the only logical, legitimate place. His turns ends, but he plays a Lose One Turn card on me and goes again. He hands me some more evidence that I put right next to the last piece because it's the only place that makes sense. zzzzz


While not finding it as boring or confining as you did, I do agree that the story failed to draw me in. I tried, and even insisted that everyone read the flaor text on each card played. It didn't work, and I never felt the story come to life.

someotherguy wrote:
Complicated? What other games are you playing? You move, you take one of maybe three actions. Arkham Horror is FAR more complicated, and the flavor text stories are about equally deep and satisfying.

Clearly people are loving this game. I just don't get it.


Well, a game with a 48-page rulebook certainly elevated it beyond most non-wargames on the "complexity" scale! For me, there seemed to be a large collection of various mechanisms and a variety of things going on at once, each with their own rules and exceptions. I was quite confused through much of the game.

As I mentioned earlier, I have an extensive background in complex wargames, but don't get the opportunity to play them much lately. Most of my gaming now involves European-style games, with some American style games thrown in.
 
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Joe Niezelski
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gschloesser wrote:
I tried, and even insisted that everyone read the flaor text on each card played. It didn't work, and I never felt the story come to life.


If you had to insist that everyone else read their flavor text out loud, it sounds like some of the people you were playing with weren't into the game from the start. That'll ruin just about any game.
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