You are a runner, an elite cybercriminal capable of hacking through corporate servers with ease. When you receive an alert that the security protocols at Titan Transnational Bank have been deactivated, you know it's time to go to work. However, you quickly realise you're not the only runner to have received the alert, and you're not the only runner looking to extract cash and data from Titan's servers…
Android Mainframe, while set in the popular Android universe, is a standalone feature using the futuristic cyberpunk theme to bring life to this abstract game by Fantasy Flight Games. This standalone has been designed by Jordi Gene and Gregorio Morales.
2-4 players act as cyber criminals called ‘Runners’ who have a short period of access to the inner workings of a major bank and are now fighting it out to take the largest chunk of the spoils by controlling the largest proportion of the mainframe before network security comes back online. Representing this, players aim to enclose and secure the largest areas of the board by adding and manipulating partition pieces and representative tokens to create secure zones under their control.
Android Mainframe - The Game
At the start of the game all players place one of their representative tokens (called ‘access points’) on the board to signal their electronic presence. From there, turns are taken to add more access points and make connections around them to mark off and secure individual portions of the mainframe. If yours is the only access point in a fully surrounded portion of the board the area is secure and scores you points at the end of the game (and you guessed it, the player with the most points wins!).
What makes up the mainframe?
- A plastic game board and blue partition pieces for creating zones. Once the board is assembled it’s quite an impressive base that you don’t think is packed into the reasonable box size!
- Access point tokens that are unique to each player and represent runner presence in the mainframe. These are flipped upside down to signify control of a secure, point-scoring zone.
- Program cards, both generic and unique.
Generic program cards are available for all players to execute on their turns. There are always four generic programs on display to use at all times that are replenished immediately from a draw deck when used. Generic programs typically allow you to place connections in a specific shape or direction but can also do fun things like allow you to move connections to different places on the board, add ‘free’ partitions in any configuration you like or even move or swap player access points.
Unique program cards are where this game generates a wealth of variability for the players; at the start of the game each player will select a Runner whose tokens and cards they will use. There are six Runners available to play in the game, and each of them has five unique cards, three of which are selected randomly, while the others are returned to the box.
The unique program cards play into each of the Runners' short bios featured on the back of the rulebook; the program expert that is able to manipulate the draw deck of generic programs and the expert hacker who deals in moving and placing access point tokens, as well as four others I’ll let you discover for yourself!
Thoughts on Android Mainframe
The unique Runner cards are definitely where I think this game shines. Not only does it give you a whole lot of options in terms of character and card combinations to play with, but it ensures that each player has different options in terms of tactical ways to play this game. Do you want to add in a bunch of access point tokens and swap yourself into someone else’s hard earned zones at the last minute? Do you want to move everyone else’s partitions to make up your zones and leave them with nothing? Do you want to create tiny little zones that score fewer points around your opponents to reduce the amount of competing access point tokens on the board? There are so many different strategies available to you with this game and these cards help to make sure that everyone will be playing to their differing strengths.
I think there are a lot of interesting choices in Android Mainframe. Even the draw deck gives you another tactical option. On your turn, instead of playing a generic or unique program card from the panel or your hand, you can choose to discard the top card of the draw deck to add one of the access point tokens from your supply to the board.
Putting more of your tokens on the board can help you overpower an opponent and win a closed section you share with them, as it is harder for them (and easier for you!) to swap or remove your tokens and be the only player in that section if you outnumber them. Your points also increase depending on how many tokens you have in a completed section! On the other hand, the game ends and scoring begins when the draw deck runs out and the last generic program is revealed. So, the question is - do you discard game time in order to add more tokens to the board? It’s a question that definitely gets more agonising depending on the state of the board and the amount of cards left in the draw deck!
Personally, I’d ideally like a greater variety of generic program cards. There is not exactly tons of them, even when taking into account the fact that the draw deck acts as a game timer, but the nature of them leaves a little to be desired too. They essentially comprise of the same four actions and may leave you wanting just a few more choices. Additionally, having the same programs available most of the time can result in some pointless, petty actions, essentially undoing the previous player’s move like-for-like especially with two players.
Android Mainframe is one of those interesting games that plays very differently depending on player count. At two players - which is how I typically play it - it is surprisingly tactical, and making good use of your unique cards is a must if you want to get the largest closed section with multiple of your tokens in for that high point score. At three or four-player counts though, while still fun, it becomes less strategic and a lot more chaotic with all players scrapping over limited space, and you often find yourself desperately completing single-square sections in a take-what-little-you-can-get gameplay, rather than a tactical, thought out sequence of events.
Having said that, the random nature of the draw deck of cards available to you each turn prevents you from being able to implement a real long-term strategy, instead you spend the majority focusing on tactical choices spanning the next couple of turns.