Time for a couple of quick hits on two games that could not possibly be more different: Android and Dixit.
(image by rsolow @ BGG)
When Fantasy Flight puts out a new game there’s usually lots of fanfare leading up to its release. They love announcing games in advance, giving lots of previews and even making the rules available prior to the game’s availability. Android was a complete departure for their marketing department as they went with an ARG-style viral campaign and no major hype machine.
To be honest, this approach had me hesitant on the game (why the deviation?) but the Blade Runner-esque theme really had me interested. Players are private detectives in a gritty future trying to find evidence to incriminate who they believe is guilty while struggling with their personal lives. At a glance the game seems to have everything a science fiction geek like myself should love: androids, flying cars, space elevators, a moon base, rival corporations… it’s all there.
Unfortunately the game mechanics felt extremely clunky. There are really three games going on simultaneously:
Assigning guilt – Each player is secretly assigned one suspect they want to prove guilty and one to prove innocent. As you move around the map you’ll collect evidence which you place face-down on the suspect of your choice; the higher the value, the more incriminating the evidence. At the end of the game all of the evidence for each suspect is added up with the highest value resulting in a guilty sentence for that suspect. I really love the concept of private investigators trying to influence evidence in their favor. While it does work mechanically the entire system is a bit too involved and makes it hard to properly disguise your biases. At the same time there’s so much going on it’s also very difficult to even keep up with what everyone else is doing, making it hard to figure out which suspect they may be going after.
Discovering the conspiracy – There’s a jigsaw puzzle in the corner of the game board that allows you to play puzzle pieces that link up different pieces of the conspiracy behind the murder. Ultimately these links influence end-game scoring. Again, it is a very cool idea but in some ways it feels like too much of a distraction and makes it hard to really plan properly for scoring victory points as some links may not get finished until near the end.
Dealing with your storyline – Each detective will work through two plot lines that result in a variety of good or bad things happening depending on how they resolve. The stories themselves are pretty cool; I played an android that had to follow three Asimov-style rules of robotics but my plots allowed me to break free of those if I was willing to take the risks. As you play you collect good and bad baggage which determine how your plots play out. Other players often are responsible for taking actions that give you baggage and it was very difficult to keep track of how everyone collected baggage and what impact it would have for them.
(image by Grimwold @ BGG)
Ultimately Android felt like a whole bunch of really cool, innovative mechanics that resulted in an overly complex game. To be honest I actually enjoyed it overall but the learning curve is extremely steep. If you had a group dedicated to the game I think it could result in a decent amount of fun. With so many other great games out there, though, it is hard to justify devoting that kind of time to a single game. If you are looking for a complex, thematic game that is equal parts experience and game it might be worth giving Android a look.
All hail the 2010 Spiel des Jares! I’ve heard lots of great things about Dixit and after looking at some of the artwork online I simply could not pass it up. We finally got to table the game the other week and it is well worthy of the award.
Dixit is essentially a more creative version of Apples to Apples. Players are dealt a hand of tarot-like cards covered with gorgeous, bizarre artwork. One player is the storyteller and selects a card from their hand to describe with a word, phrase, quote… anything is fair game. Everyone else picks a card from their hand they think matches that, then all the cards are shuffled and displayed. Finally, players secretly vote on which piece of art they think the storyteller was originally describing.
(image by Magdalicious @ BGG)
Here’s the catch: if everyone guesses the right piece of art or if nobody guesses, then the storyteller failed and all other players earn points. The storyteller only earns points if some people correctly guess their art; players also earn points if others guess their art instead, giving each player incentive to pick a card that seems to match.
It’s a simple twist but the scoring mechanism forces the storyteller to really be creative with their description and also possibly play off of their knowledge of the other players at the table. If you are too specific then everyone will be able to guess correctly but if you are too vague nobody will guess it. You need to find that middle ground and that really forces you to think creatively.
Which is awesome. The artwork is very abstract and surreal; you’ll be amazed at how often two, three or more pieces of art all seem like perfectly viable options for the original storyteller’s description. It’s fun to find out what the original piece of art was, why the storyteller chose their description and how everyone interpreted the different pieces of art. The art also makes it very easy to draw inspiration as the storyteller.
I know some are surprised that a very light party game won Spiel des Jares but I think Dixit is absolutely worthy. Yes, it is a party game but it easily brings out creativity in people in ways that other games struggle to do. There’s no real barrier to entry as it doesn’t ask people to do or say silly things or rely on talents they may not have (drawing, writing, sculpting, etc.). You just look at a piece of art and come up with a description you think some people will figure out. That type of elegance is what makes a great game.
If you don’t own a copy yet, get one. Previously Balderdash was my party game of choice; Dixit may now take that place of honor.