23 March 2016 | Android: Mainframe

See Things Differently

A Look at Controlling the Board in Android: Mainframe


"I'm on a need-to-know basis. I need to know everything."
     –Nero Severn

In Android: Mainframe, you are one of the world's greatest runners, an elite hacker capable of slicing through ice and reshaping servers with the greatest of ease.

When one of your contacts informs you that Titan Transnational Bank has had its mainframe isolated, it's time for you to go to work. A bank with its server defenses down and its sysops shut out? That's easy money. But as soon as you jack in, you discover that you're not the only user connected to the server and plundering its wealth.

In Android: Mainframe, you have your shot at fantastic riches, but only if you can outmaneuver the other runners connected to Titan Transnational's mainframe. It won't be easy. These aren't bots, after all; they're the best of the best—just like you. However, if you move fast and form your plan on the go, you might be able to carve out a significant fortune. And you might even earn a measure of fame.

Access Points and Partitions

From the moment you first enter the mainframe, you'll find it a maze of ever-shifting possibilities. Everyone's trying to secure Titan's data for themselves, and in so doing, they're constantly rewriting the server. You'll see programs of all varieties flare up and flash out. But in the end, you just need to focus on two basics: access points and partitions. Everything else is secondary.

You start your games of Android: Mainframe with a single access point. This represents your initial connection to Titan's mainframe, and it represents your access to all the data surrounding it.

However, almost as soon as you observe the distances between your access point and those of your opponents, the whole picture changes. Your opponents will start laying down lines of blue partitions to close off the board, thereby limiting your access to Titan's data. These lines of partitions may be straight or they may be jagged, but they ultimately cut off external access to anything they enclose.

Accordingly, you and your opponents are constantly jockeying to secure data that only you can access, even as you're adding additional access points in order to retain your access to the data your rivals are attempting to lock away.

As we noted in the game's announcement, you get to take one action each round:

  • Establish a new access point. You can discard the top program from the stack to add one of your character's tokens to the game board, placing it faceup on an unsecured node.

By adding a new access point to the area Kate "Mac" McCaffrey threatens to score, Nero Severn guarantees Kate's haul will be smaller than she might have hoped.

  • Execute a program. You can execute any of the generic programs in the program suite, or you can execute one of the three signature programs with which you start the game (more on this later).

Kate decides to execute the program Lock and places three partitions on the board in the shape that Lock indicates.

  • Pass. If you choose to pass, play proceeds immediately to the next player. If all players need or choose to pass, the game ends, and you and your opponents score your runs.

To win the game, you'll need to gain more access to Titan's data than your opponents, and to do that? You'll need to secure multiple zones containing only your access points. And that means you'll have to learn not only how to see the board in terms of access points and partitions, but how to think two, three, or even four turns ahead.

The trick of Android: Mainframe is that you're trying to place your access points and partitions amid a board that's always changing. You and your opponents are using programs to write partitions, establish access points, and shift things around. You might move sections of your opponents' partitions. You might swap your access point with an opponent's. You might have your partitions erased. The only time that any section of the board is "safe" is once it's been closed off around a single player's access point (or access points).

This makes the game extremely fluid, and the more players you have, the more fluid everything becomes. Despite this fluidity, however, there are a number of hard-and-fast rules that determine how you can create your partitions and that give you insight into the plays your opponents might possibly make:

  • You cannot place a partition that would create an enclosed zone without an access point in it.

In the example on the left, the partition would create an enclosed zone without an access point and is, therefore, illegal. However, as illustrated by the example on the right, if there's an access point within the enclosed zone, the placement of the partition becomes legal.

  • An enclosed zone is unsecured if it contains more than one runner's access points; it is secured if it contains only one runner's access point (or access points). You cannot perform actions against the partitions, pathways, or access points in secured zones.

The zone on the left is contested by both Nero Severn and Kate "Mac" McCaffrey and is unsecured. The enclosed zone on the right is occupied by only Nero Severn, so it is secured and "locked" from play.

  • When you execute a program to write a string of partitions onto the board, you can rotate that arrangement, but you cannot mirror it.

  • You must be able to place the full string of partitions indicated by any program you execute. Those partitions may cross existing partitions, but they may not overlap them, cut into secured zones, or extend off the edge of the board.

As you play, these rules will become second nature, flashes of light that spark within your subconscious mind as you survey the board and the row of available programs. Each round, you'll process which moves your opponents are most likely to make, given the positions of their access points, the current divisions of the board, and the generic programs you see on display. In your mind's eye, you'll see the board gridded and sectioned off in shapes and colors, each corresponding to a different runner's growing influence.

The Painter and the Info Broker

Of course, since you're one of the world's best runners and not some generic hacker, you won't content yourself to work solely from the row of generic programs that lie before you. You'll want to reveal your genius through the keen use of your signature programs. In the end, as everyone is trying to envision the future of Titan's servers and find the most advantageous ways to carve it up, your unique programs allow you to recognize plays that no one else can make.

Each runner in Android: Mainframe has a set of five signature programs, each of which is unique, and at the beginning of the game, you randomly select three of these to add to your hand. These programs are all more powerful than those in the generic display, and the fact that they are hidden from your opponents means they serve not only as potent actions, but as threats of action, as well.

Finally, because these programs are so different than your generic programs (and from each other), they go a long way toward layering personality over your game experience. Play once as the ultra-creative tinkerer Kate "Mac" McCaffrey, and you'll find an entirely different experience than you would enjoy as info broker Nero Severn.

Kate "Mac" McCaffrey

Kate is a constant tinkerer and famous for clever program designs and modifications. All of this holds true in Android: Mainframe. Her five signature programs Paintbrush , Battering Ram , Gordian Blade , Pipeline , and Tinker provide Kate with an astonishing range of versatility.

She can use Paintbrush or Battering Ram to execute a generic program and deny her opponents the next visible move. Of course, there's no guarantee the program suite won't be replenished with even more effective programs, but if it is, Kate's Gordian Blade grants her the rare ability to cancel an opponent's program, forcing that opponent to add an access point instead.

Meanwhile, Pipeline allows Kate to execute the top program in any discard pile, including her own, meaning she could use her Battering Ram again, or even copy the abilities from another runner's unique program. And her final program, Tinker, allows Kate to intercede even when it's not her turn. With Tinker, she can force an opponent to execute a program of her choice, denying that opponent the use of the generic program she might want on her turn, or even denying that opponent the use of a program that might secure a valuable zone.

It's noteworthy to mention that while a program like Tinker might appear more valuable than a program like Paintbrush or Battering Ram, since those only interact with the suite of generic programs, there's a reason Kate counts those programs among her most valuable. Your games of Android: Mainframe end whenever all players pass, and this usually means it ends when the players are no longer able to perform actions.

To get to that point, though, you must first run through one of your vital supplies—access points, partitions, or programs. Of these, programs usually run out first, meaning that by clearing out the program suite and forcing it to be fully replenished, Kate is also cleverly accelerating the pace of the game.

Nero Severn

Where Kate is all about tinkering with her programs—and yours—info broker Nero Severn prefers to operate from a place of greater knowledge. Naturally, this inclination is reflected in his suite of unique programs: Switchblade , Leviathan , Snitch , Expert Schedule Analyzer , and Sneakdoor Beta .

As Nero might argue, the best option is to have more options, and the majority of his signature programs grant him additional options. Switchblade, Expert Schedule Analyzer, and Sneakdoor Beta all grant Nero advanced access to the stack of generic programs, allowing him to make plays from a range of options his rivals can't even touch. While two of these programs, Switchblade and Sneakdoor Beta, allow Nero to execute a generic program immediately, the third, Expert Schedule Analyzer, doesn't allow Nero to execute another program right away. Instead, it adds two generic programs to his hand, extending the range of hidden information he has at his disposal.

Snitch functions similarly in the way that it grants Nero access to additional options, but it doesn't target generic programs. Instead, it targets the unique programs in his opponents' hands. While it's unclear that he'll find a perfect play from the options he unveils, it's likely that he'll find an option more potent than any he'd find among the generic programs. And more than that, he gains advance knowledge about the plays his opponents are likely to make, allowing him to anticipate and counter them throughout the remainder of the game.

Meanwhile, Leviathan doesn't allow Nero to make an immediate play, but extends his future options by allowing him to take two turns back-to-back in the next round. While this definitely changes the nature of the chess-like progressions of a two-player game, it—like Expert Schedule Analyzer—has even greater ramifications in a multiplayer game.

The more runners in Titan's servers, the more you're likely to see them cutting off each other's moves, and a runner like Nero may be able to bank on his opponents blocking each other for a round in order to gain the options afforded him by Expert Schedule Analyzer. And the sort of delay provided by Leviathan? That's not nearly as important as the chance to plot out two movements with perfect information of the board state—no disruptions.

Plan Your Route to Riches

Just as Kate "Mac" McCaffrey and Nero Severn represent two wildly different approaches to the runner-versus-runner challenges of Android: Mainframe, so do each of the four other runners and their signature programs. You'll soon be able to sample all the different playing styles of Android: Mainframe, so head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy today.

Then, in the meantime, stay tuned for our next preview, in which we'll look at how the game is scored and learn more about the talents of two of the game's other runners!

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