Android: Netrunner is now 8 months old and with 5 additional expansions on top of the core set, an increasingly fanatical player base and more ‘Game of the Year’ accolades from gaming fan sites and blogs than Chuck Norris jokes, it’s made big strides forward in game design.
So why write a piece about a game that has already received so much attention?
8 months on and Netrunner still has had a lot of chat but the more I speak to people about it, the less I people I find actually playing it. Perhaps this is due to the already jam-packed card games market holding the attention of gamers who fail to see the need to try another potential time and money sink. After all, even Yu-Gi-Oh, Konami’s current card game giant, took a few years to become a serious competitor to the massive elephant in the room.
Netrunner has been compared to Magic “what money?” The Gathering, partly because they’re both card games and they were both originally thought up by the legend and game designing machine that is Richard Garfield (praised be his name). However, the similarities end there.
For starts Netrunner is assymetrical; it’s a two player game where one player is a corporate mastermind behind the servers of one of the 4 mega-corporations in the beautifully dystopian Netrunner setting. The other is the runner – a hacker by any other name. This means you are effectively learning to play two sides of the same coin. More bang for your buck, amirite?
And that’s before we start splitting up the corporations into the 4 different factions: from the efficient robotics manufacturers, Haas-Bioroid; the all-encompassing news network, NBN; construction moguls-cum-financiers, the Weyland Corporation and the devious bio-technology experts Jinteki. Each faction brings a different style and modus operandi to the corporate side of the table.
Meanwhile, their slick aggressors, the runners, each have different factions to play from too. Whether you decide to try your hand with the tricksy Criminals, destructive Anarchs or the pedantic Shapers. The runners offer a more personal side to the faceless, all-encompassing mega-corp; a ying to their yang; anti-heroes to bring these vast sprawling entitities to their knees
Then we come to the cards themselves. The cards bring their own art to the table to suck you into the futuristic world.
And if the art wasn’t enough, the lingo and parlance of it all doesn’t just grab you – it sucks you in and makes you want to learn more about a horribly familiar world with just enough tweaks in it to make it seem alien enough to you, yet frighteningly like we could be there in a couple of hundred years. Youngsters in the Netrunner world learn how to avoid bad Wyldsides of town in case they get mugged or tricked into having their PADs vamped. I have no idea what that last sentence meant but it sounds pretty damn sweet!
Even in-game terms are future’d up to take you to further into the world. Your hand becomes your ‘grip’, used cards are a ‘heap’ and your money ‘creds’. Every new card release brings new cards with new flavour texts that help you understand more about the game world, not to mention get your head around for building new decks.
So how does it play?
The corporation always starts and their general aim is to protect their servers– their HQ (their cards in hand), their R&D (their library, cards to be drawn) and sometimes their Archives (their used cards). To win the corporation needs to fulfil Agendas while the runner needs to steal them and can do so by busting into different servers. The corporation, for the most part, stops with them with ICE, or firewalls as we would know them.
This all seems pretty straightforward until you realise that the runner has to guess everything on the board since ICE aren’t known to them. Given that Android’s futuristic firewalls can provide a whole host of nasties to a runner including straight-up ganking them with brain damage, the runner has to be very careful. In play, this often means that the corp has to sell every piece of ICE as a bluff while the runner has to somehow get through all these hoops to steal the sweet Agenda nectar. Meanwhile the corporate player generally tries not to sweat as the wolf at their door starts to call their bluffs and busting down their doors.
As a beginning runner you tend to start out just having fun by running and seeing what delights the corporation has in store for you but as you progress you start to make judgement calls on whether or not that the corporation is going to kill or ‘flatline’ you or not. As a starting corporation player, you tend to begin the game sweating everything until you realise how to bluff or force the runner into making bad decisions. The progressive learning curve of this game adds to its desirability to continue playing.
With more additions to the game coming out regularly, which have kept established players guessing as to what will come, the game design for Android: Netrunner is not only clever but has retained game balance throughout the arrival of each datapack – the sign of truly well thought-out game design.
But then, you’d like to think that if any game would have that, it would be this one – after all, this isn’t the first installment of the game. Garfield (praised be his name) got to make mistakes in the original installment of the game, simply titled Netrunner and with the help of Lukas Litzsinger in creating the current iteration of the game, it feels like they’ve perfected it.
In a market bursting at the seems with games designed for multiple players, Android: Netrunner not only fills the 2-player niche I’ve been looking for for sometime, it sets a new, high-quality standard.
With the game still in its infancy, and with no truly defined meta-game like many other established competitive card games, what’s holding you back from getting in on the action?
I’d be suprised if it was the price, at least compared to other games on the market. For £30 for the core set and roughly £12 per datapack, released approximately every 2 months or so at the moment, you’ll be buying a game with 7 different factions of replay value.
That’s without including the new identities for each faction. An identity is a different side of the company for the corp with it’s own speciality, or in the runner’s case, an entirely new runner with a new skill set. In short, this adds up to more tricks and traps to be wary of and more bluff potential on both sides. I can’t think of another game that costs me less than a tenner per month and gives me so much opportunity to play, practice and generally fall in love with, which, in all honesty, took me all of one game to do.
Perhaps you’ll feel the same way after your first game of Android: Netrunner?
8 months on and the game is still picking up new players. Here are some opinions from local players who have recently gotten into the game:
“My favourite part of the game is the level of interaction the game creates. There aren’t really any “solitaire” strategies, and basically everything you do involves interacting with your opponent, and both people making relevant decisions that will impact the outcome of the game.”
- Chris Davie
“I like how much the game is about reading the situation rather than having a perfect deck build – even though that’s the bit I struggle with!”
- David McIlhinney