I talked about Android Netrunner during Christmas last year, but it deserves a second push. The original netrunner surfaced a during the big CCG explosion of the late 90s, and unfortunately died an ignominous death after only one expansion. Unfortunate because it was honestly one of my favourite games of that era.
Netrunner was an asymmetric card game where one player is the corp: evil mega-corporation intent on many things (including world domination). In comparison, the Hacker was a digital freedom fighter intent on liberating important (and often illegal) data from these giant MNCs both for publicity as well as to stick it to the man. Fantasy Flight’s update keeps much of what I loved about the feel intact, while polishing and balancing the general gameplay and giving their own spin on the universe. In fact, some cards are still applicable, but most have been tweaked for balance issues.
While Netrunner was a CCG and took place in the world of Cyberpunk 2020 (which we WILL be talking about later this week), FFG’s Netrunner is an LCG and takes place in their own Android Universe (home to a few board games as well as some novels). LCG just means that instead of randomly buying packs to look for cards you want, you just purchase an expansion every month (about $20 bucks) and you get all the cards released that month. No muss, no fuss, no burning money to get the rare you need. I much prefer the LCG system.
The Android universe is a world where humanity has taken their first leap to true intra-stellar colonisation, with a space elevator (I love space elevators) supporting colonies on the moon as well as mars. Instead of just vanilla corp and runner of the original though, FFG has multiple identities on both sides. When you play the corp, you can be play one of four companies which concentrate on specific fields; Weyland Corporation (proprietor of the Space Elevator and the most likely to break your kneecaps), Jinteki (Japanese clone-tech and genetically modified artificials, think Blade Runner’s replicants), Haas-Bioroid (androids ala the Alien species), and NBN (intrastellar news network/facebook/twitter megacorp). Similarly, as a runner you can play an Anarch (people who want to stick it to the man, and make information free, man), a Shaper (I’m doing this just to see if I can), or a Criminal (the best way to make money is to transfer some code from you to me). Each faction has its own playstyle, but because of the LCG and deck building system you can mix and match cards, bringing in neutral and even out-of-faction cards to make every deck unique.
Regardless of what you play, you can smell the geek cred wafting from the game. The art is amazing, and I’ve already talked about why I think Melange Mining Corp is the coolest card ever, and I’m waiting to see when Weyland can grow a parasitic alien monster. What’s more, in their game the first Lunar colony is called Heinlein. HEINLEIN.
Even the game system contributes to the feel of netrunner. One player is the corp, trying to score points by completing agendas, cards that he draws from his deck. He protects this via programs called ICE (intrusion countermeasures, electronic) that he installs in front of his agendas. The other player is a netrunner, a hacker in cyberspace that makes runs against the corporation. If he lucks into an agenda he liberates it from the corporation, putting it into his score pool instead.
The amazing thing is the set up of the game. Everthing, from art to gameplay is AWASH with the feel of hacking and cyberpunk. The corp’s hand is his HQ. His deck is his R&D. His discard pile is his archives. And the netrunner can run directly into the corp’s HAND or DECK (amongst other things) to score these agendas. The ICE are arranged in front of specific locations that denote servers, literally firewalls that seperate the runner from the juicy info lurking within.
That’s another thing, how asymmetrical the whole system is. The runner plays with all of his information available to the corporation. The corp player on the other hand, plays everything face down until he decides to use it. The ICE in front? It might just be a harmless little thing that forces you out of the system. Or it could be a frightening monster that could burn out all the neurons in your brain, leaving you a vegetable (the corp’s legal team will work out any issues with PR). And that nice little agenda sitting outside it all, unprotected? It could very well be a trap. The runner doesn’t know until he hits it. It’s almost as if poker and cyberpunk had an awesome little kid.
One problem with all these names and the incredibly unique setup and gameplay means that the learning curve is particularly steep. It takes a while to explain all the names and systems. However, once someone plays both sides at least once, something will click. It’s one of those games where you need to sit down and play to get what’s going on (one reason why I’m not sure if I would do a game walkthrough, but you could check one out if you have half an hour free) and I highly recommend that gamers try out this game.
Android Netrunner should be available in your local gamestores, including Paradigm Infinitum and Gamersaurus Rex. I’ll probably be around Gamersaurus Rex on Fridays, so if you ever want to come down and try a game, look me up!