December 24, 2014 by brennon
Last week I looked at Marvel Dice Masters, a game that you should be playing and could well be a perfect introduction to the world of tabletop awesomeness. This week I’m going to take a look at something a lot more in-depth, a card game filled with mind games and intense strategy. You SHOULD be playing Android: Netrunner…
What Is Netrunner?
The best place to start of course is by explaining exactly what Netrunner is. Fantasy Flight Games picked up this world and ran with it back in 2012. The premise behind it was to build another living card game for their extensive library but little did they know what a phenomena it was going to become. It was released in the same year as X-Wing so it was quite a bumper year for FFG!
Netrunner sees you playing as either a Hacker, called a Runner, or a multibillion dollar earning Corporation. In sublime asymmetrical play you’ll either be ‘running’ as the Hackers trying to break into the digital vaults of these Corporations to steal their plans and agendas for the future in hopes of bringing them down, or as the Corporation themselves trying to stop them at every turn with deadly walls of ‘Ice’ that acts as programs in their way. If this already sounds awesome (and it should) then wait until you hear more.
As a game Netrunner is based on the Fantasy Flight Games Living Card Game system so there is a base boxed set followed by six pack ‘cycles’ that gives you extra cards followed by deluxe expansions that cap off each one. These card packs are not blind buys like in a Collectable Card Game so when you buy a pack you know exactly what’s inside. It lends itself well to competitive play where you can always keep up with the opposition. No scratching your head at another bunch of packs with nothing useful inside.
Why Should I Play Netrunner?
Would you be won over if I just said ‘because it’s awesome?’. Ok, fair enough. Here’s why…
- The Mechanics Are Sublime – Mechanically this game gets it right on so many levels. Everything feels tight and there’s very few loopholes or ways around things in this game. You will grasp the basic premise of the game very easily and then from there it’s entirely yours to play around with. The definition of easy to learn and hard to master.
- Asymmetry Is Awesome – There are plenty of card games where both sides are the same or have a very similar feel. In this Netrunner this isn’t the case. The Runner plays entirely different from the Corporation and so if you want to be good at the game you’re going to have to learn to play as both sides of the coin. The Runner is popping out tricks left, right and centre, trying to circumnavigate the intense walls of code the Corporations throw up while the Corporation itself are building their bastion of data and smirking as you hit that deadly trap set up in their system. It’s intense.
- You FEEL Engrossed In The World – Despite it being simply a card game Netrunner does an amazing job of making you feel like each of the identities you play as. If you’re playing as the Anarchs (one of the Runner types) you’ll feel like a tattooed hacker downing energy drinks with loud punk music in the background. If you’re the deadly Weyland Corporation you’ll feel like the determind and ambitious President of a Company unleashing your cyber attack dogs on the Runner, tagging his location and sending responses teams to ‘deal’ with him. Every ‘faction’ has a flavour and a feel to them that is entirely individual
- It’s A Game Of The Mind – While you can know what cards an opponent might put into their deck you can never know what they’re thinking. People play Netrunner in entirely different ways, even with established and well known decks. You will be constantly surprised by what people do and if you get to play in tournaments you’ll see this in spades. Even within a small group the meta will be very interesting and you’ll each develop styles around the friends you play. More often than not you’ll spend just as much time staring at your opponents face and trying to guess their tell as you do looking at your cards.
- The LCG Format Rocks – Put simply this is the best for card games in my opinion. No blind buys, no scrounging for cards online. You want a pack with x cards in it, you can buy it and know they are there. It’s perfect for keeping ahead of the curve and not feeling left out. It does mean you’re dropping a lot more money on this game than maybe Magic: The Gathering in one go but once you have it, you have it.
- The Artwork Is Great – I think only The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game stands above this game in terms of the pedigree of artwork they’ve got on their cards. Netrunner is a gorgeous game to look at and always has you checking out the fine details. You should see some of the promotional cards too. I have one and it’s a cherished piece of artwork as well as a card worth having!
- The Community Is Awesome! – I’ve never met a horrible Netrunner player. I don’t mean in terms of their skill but their manner. Everyone I’ve ever met who plays Netrunner is a genuinely nice person and while there must be a few bad eggs around you’ll more often than not have a good game with randoms.
As you can tell, I really like Netrunner. I never intended to like the game and it took a while for me to actually buy cards but now I’m pretty much through the first cycle and looking to expand into the first deluxe expansion. While I’m not amazing at the game I always like trying to make a deck that’s thematic (and it’s very easy to do) so I have a good time even if I do end up losing most of the time!
How Do I Play Netrunner?
I’m not going to go into too many specifics and I’ve included a rules video above to help you out but I’ll give you the basic outline below…
The Runner makes a deck with cards that are called Ice Breakers and Programs. They will also have Resources that usually give them credits and also Hardware which supplements and aids their Ice Breakers and Programs. On your turn you will have four ‘Clicks’ or actions to do what you like. You can add cards to your ‘grip’ which is the suite of programs you’re using, make runs, or spend time making money (amongst other things).
More often than not a Runner will be ‘running’ whereby you say you’re going to try and hack into a server belonging to the Corporation. You will encounter ‘Ice’ which are barriers put in your way and use a combination of your Ice Breakers and Programs to hack through them. If you make it to the end you can access cards put into these servers and hopefully score points by doing so. If you fail to break the Ice in your way then you suffer the consequences. This can be as tame as just ending the run or you may lose cards, take serious brain damage (this limits your hand size) or other things like losing programs entirely.
The Corporation plays entirely differently. On your turn you will have three ‘Clicks’ to build up your servers and add that protective Ice to it. Each Corporation plays differently but more often than not you’ll build servers and stack Ice in front of it in the hopes that the Runner will hit it and not be able to get through. In these servers you’ll put your Agendas, the scoring points in the game, and advance them with your money/credits to score them and enact the plan. The Runner will be trying to steal these from you.
It’s generally considered to be harder to play as the Corporation because the Runner can access so many places to win these Agenda points. Your hand, deck, discard pile, and all of your other servers on the table are open to him or her. As the Corporation your plans take time to score, they can’t just be snatched out of hand, so you’ll have to plan ahead. It’s a hard job being a big Corporate IT engineer in the Cyberpunk future.
Will You Be Playing?
If you like the worlds of Deus Ex (+ Human Revolution), Ghost In The Shell, Cyberpunk 2020, Blade Runner or any other cyberpunk style world then you should give this game a go.
I’d like to point you to a site that also got me really excited about Android: Netrunner and had me thinking about the game in an entirely new way…
- Leigh Alexander’s ‘Life Hacks’ does a great job of exploring the social aspect of the game as well as highlighting the thrill of the ‘run’.
- Shut Up & Sit Down’s Review – these folks really love this game and speak about it with plenty of passion.
Give everything a good think when it comes to this game and if it even peaks your interest a little I suggest you give it a go. I’ve had a lot of fun with it over the past year or so and I think you will too.
Let me know what you think!