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Go to the Android: Netrunner page

Android: Netrunner

28 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

Disclaimer: I have no frame of reference when it comes to card games. Android: Netrunner is not just my first living card game but also my first competitive card game. For some readers this maybe the point at which you go check out another review from a more informed reviewer. This review is meant for card game noobs like myself.

Android: Netrunner is a head to head asymmetrical competitive card game set in the dystopian cyberpunk future that is Android. The first player assumes the role of one of four corporations, monolithic beasts of capitalism **** bent on pushing their agendas. The other player assumes one of three runners, elite hackers that uses a menagerie of programs, tools, and hardware to attack the corporation’s servers with the goal of exposing and stealing the corporation’s agendas.

The first thing I noticed when trying to play Android was how difficult it was to get into. This was not an easy game to learn nor an easy game to play. The manual is gigantic and at first seemed rather convoluted, instead just saying draw deck they have to call it an R&D server (Corp) or a Stack (Runner). Here I am a spoiled baby of computer games where the learning curve of a game is introduced through playing and anything the player needs to learn is given in bite size bits to be practiced along the way. Uh uh, not Netrunner, being asymmetrical means there’s two games to play and two sets of rules pertaining to the Runner and the Corp. This makes for a learning cliff, especially if you’re like me and came into this with no frame of reference. Oh and then there’s the lingo, the multi-page glossary of terms. Netrunner players speak in their own tongue and for plebs like me this took some getting used to. Take this nugget of a post game commentary by a runner.

“On my fourth click I initiated an Inside Job and ran on Hass Bioroid’s R&D server bypassing the first ICE, an Ichi 1.0. The approach of the second ICE looked good; it was unrezzed by the corporation and they hadn’t bothered rezzing it during the last two R&D runs. But this time the Corp choose to rez the ICE, reveling Heimdall one mean server barrier. I wanted to pump my Ninja to avoid at least the first subroutine but had spent all my credits pumping icebreakers during a previous run. Lets just say the run ended badly with Heimdall leaving my runner with brain damage and one card closer to flatline. I had to use almost the entire next turn refilling my grip.”

At first the additional layer of language just complicated an already difficult system to learn. I found it obtrusive and simply an obstacle to learning. However overtime and as you get better at the game the layers of language fall into place and the game become even more engaging. The lingo draws you into both the world of Android but also helps to invest you further into the game. Now that I’m past the learning phase I’ve come to appreciate the complex vernacular used in Netrunner. What seemed like a poor design decision in the beginning is looking like a shred of unexpected wisdom.

Lets take a look at how the game is played. The corporations goal is to advance their agenda cards, to do so they have to do set them up on remote servers and then protect them with ICE cards. ICE are the programs that the corporation uses to counter runners, ICE comes in different flavors. In order for a runner to break a certain piece of ice they need to have a corresponding icebreaker of that type in their programs or face the consequences listed as ICE subroutines on the card. The corporation plays a slower game of planning and trapping. This means a corp player will take their time and set up well protected servers before attempting to advance agendas. Corporations also set traps and try to bluff the runner into making runs on these traps. In order to win as the corporation you have to advance seven agenda points or flatline the runner which means the runner has no more cards in their hand. Each of the corporations has different play-styles, some more aggressive, some more economic etc. You lose as the corporation if the runner steals seven agenda points or you are forced to draw your last R&D card. In all the games I played the corporation still had a large R&D pile left over at the end of the game.

Runners are action oriented, they have four actions per turn, known as clicks, instead of the corporations three. Runners are offensive in nature and really determine the tempo of the game. From my experience runners are quite powerful in the early game when the corporation has very little ICE protecting their servers. Or when the corp is low on credits so they cannot rez ICE protecting servers. But as the corporations defenses come online the runner is forced to play more and more carefully. Building their rigs out and saving up credits for glory runs through many layers of ICE to steal a prospective agenda. At first when you are learning you run your way into losing at least a few times as its not easy learning all the different combos of ICE and what affects what. Such status effects as being tagged or having brain damage can take some getting used to. I personally prefer playing the runners more then the corporation, I enjoy the volatility of the runners play. Games can change momentum with a single card draw or mistake on the corporations part.

Eventually you pick up the game enough to play without consulting the manual every other click this when you start deck-building. Deck building allows you to mix and match cards from other factions, this allows players to pick their favorite cards from each faction and make the deck that serves their play-style. There are rules to deck building to prevent stacking too many influential cards or too few agendas into a deck. Deck-building is quite a bit of fun and reminded me of playing in the mechlab of Battletech and Mechwarrior. Sometimes you spend more time deck-building and theory crafting then playing. Deck-building for me was one of the more enjoyable parts, I really enjoy experimenting with different combinations of cards from all the factions.

Netrunner is a game where almost every card is overpowered if played right. Which makes for interesting games, you can go from about to win via agenda points to flatline, runner loses all their cards, in a single turn. Risk must always be balanced against the reward, players are constantly running fuzzy math in their head to ensure this. Other times you can make a lucky run against HQ, the corporations currently held cards, and choose an agenda out of pure luck. These types of mechanics where all cards are powerful make for very dynamic games. Decks are shuffled just prior to starting the game. Depending on the shuffle you can be denied certain strategies early on but left with a late game explosion if you can last that long. Each corporations and each runner have strengths and weaknesses. I have tried all the different factions but I haven’t tried all the possible match ups. Strategies and tactics take front and center stage, and since this isn’t a collectible card game you don’t have to worry about encountering a player who simply purchased a better a deck then you.

I tried very hard to come into Netrunner with an open mind but was skewed towards disliking it first. This dislike was only amplified while I was learning the complexities of the game. However once I started playing and understood the rules my experience completely flipped. I went from disliking the game to trying to find more people to play against. I now really enjoy playing Netrunner and would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a challenge. This is a game for people who enjoy mastering complex systems and having to make continuous risk vs reward decisions while playing. Fantasy Flight hit a home run with Netrunner. Its hard to pick up but that added complexity and rich universe just make it all the more impossible to put down.

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