Cyberpunk dystopia, evil corporate conglomerates hell bent on controlling the soul of humanity, matrix-style hackers that are looking to expose the high end machinations of the super-elite, and WAY too much specific terminology all add up to one of the best card games I’ve ever played. Jesus Christ, this game.
Android: Netrunner is yet another Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games. If you don’t know, Fantasy Flight Games excels at making me want to give over all my moneys. I’ve never really bought into a Living Card Game, but here we are, and I’m taking the plunge. What is a living card game? Well, a Living Card Game isn’t collectible insofar as there are chase cards and rarity. Every month a new card pack comes out, and you get as many copies of each individual card that you could possible run. There are no rare cards, and so for the investment of about $10.00 a month, you get every card in the game. Once you’ve bought the back catalog of cards (about a $200.00 investiment right now), you just have to pay $10.00 a month to stay current (plus tournament entry fees- which you should obviously be playing because you have EVERY RELEVANT CARD). This is a game for people on a budget, who want access to everything for their investment. Even the core set has enough gaming in it to last a long time.
Netrunner is an assymetrical game- one players plays the corporation, and the other plays the runner, and the way they play is very different. The card pools are completely separate. When building a deck, you also have to pick which faction you want to play within the two big umbrellas. If you’ve picked Corporate, you have to decide if you want to play as a Blackwater style security firm, an evil medial conglomerate, a biotech research corporation or Sony with Psychics. If you’re more interested in Running, you have to pick from the faction that has a lot of technology, the criminals and the Anarchs (think a legion of Jokers that just want to blow things up). If you want to play competitively, you have to bring two decks- one corporation and one runner.
I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of how you actually play this game, but here’s a quick rundown. Every player has to get 7 points. There are a number of cards called agendas, that have to be included in the corporation’s deck. If the corporation can meet the scoring requirements on these cards, they get the points listed on the card. If the runner can FIND these cards, they get the points instead. The corporation gets to play cards in front of them facedown, and runners have ways of accessing the facedown cards. They also can access the corp’s deck, the discard pile (because certain cards go into the pile facedown) as well as the corp’s hand. In front of all of these various locations, the corporation plays Ice (firewalls) that can keep the runner out. The runner uses various programs to try and get around the Ice and get to the facedown agenda cards. The Corp can also disguise certain traps as agendas, so the runner never really knows if the final card is a trap or not (traps often do damage to the runner, and if the runner takes enough damage, they lose the game). So at its best, it’s a game of hide and seek, where the seeker has to navigate traps that could kill them.
Is it a game I would recommend? Yes. I’d recommend that you give it a try for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s very unlike other card games that you’ve likely played. If you’re used to Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, despite being designed by the same person, is something else completely. Often, card games are just derivates of Magic (mainly because Magic is fantastic in its own right). Netrunner takes a lot of the important aspects of Magic and just chucks them out the window for something else entirely. Resource management is handled completely different, there are very different considerations in terms of card management, and what you learned about card advantage in Magic plays a much different role in Netrunner. You should give this a try just to see what else a card game can be. Secondly, you should give this a try because it’s hugely flavourful. It’s hard to explain just how flavourful Netrunner is, but the theme of the game is directly linked to the actions you take and the types of cards that you play. You’re running on these matrix-style servers and are trying to get around Firewalls so that you can figure out what the corporation is up to, and as the corporation you’re setting up those servers so that you can push your agenda forward and score it (and get the bonuses that come with scoring agendas). Your every action immerses you further into the game.
Finally, the art on these cards is bonkos. Fantasy Flight Games really does an amazing job with art and Netrunner is no exception.
Whether you want to take the plunge, or just pick up the base game and see what all the fuss is about, Netrunner is a game that expands the limits of what a card game is, and what it can be.