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Android: Netrunner

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Android: Netrunner Review

Android: Netrunner (A:N henceforth) is an asymmetric card-game set in the motif of a dystopian cyberpunk future. Player’s can take one of two sides: either that of the corporation, a powerful entity trying to advance an oligarchical agenda, or that of a runner, a vigilante hacker seeking to steal from the company and subvert its plans. Each side has a vast array of tools at its disposal to accomplish these goals.
First off, let me say that this game is not designed for those who are novices to card-games. A:N was developed by Richard Garfield, most famous for his development of Magic: The Gathering (the first ever collectible card-game, released in 1993), and Lukas Litzsinger. The complexity of the game represents a significant upward step from the difficulty and complexity posed by MTG.
In fact, that is my biggest negative critique of this game. The difficulty, complexity, and terminology create a large barrier to entry for new players, even those who have experience with other collectible card games. The rulebook for the game is incredibly long: it’s about 40 pages, in a large-form manual with pages about the size of 8.5” x 11” (no, I didn’t get my ruler out to measure this). First, due to the asymmetrical nature, each of the two sides has different terms for what amounts to the same thing. The corporation, for example, has four major sites that it must defend: HQ (the hand), R&D (the deck), archives (the discard/trash pile), and servers (in which the corporation can play assets, agendas, traps, and other things as well), with “ices” (defenses) placed in front of each of these cards to defend against the runner’s attacks. The runner’s side is composed of the stack (deck), grip (hand), heap (discard/trash pile), and rig (composed of programs, hardware, and resources. I won’t be able to get into all the complexity of the game in this review, but this gives a little sample of the initial difficulty.
The asymmetrical nature of this game is its biggest selling point. Each of the two sides feel incredibly different in terms of gameplay. The runner plays the aggressor in the game, making runs on the corporation to destroy its defenses and steal its cards — the primary win mechanic for the runner is to steal enough cards called agendas. The runner’s deck is constructed to sabotage the corporation and get access to its valuables. The corporation, on the other hand, is constructed to defend against these runs and/or to punish the runner when he/she tries to make its runs. There is also asymmetry in terms of information. The runner plays all of its cards face up, revealing whatever nastiness it has available to the corporation. The runner’s grip and stack remain unseen. The corporation, on the other hand, plays many of its cards face-down, and these face-down cards can have some incredibly dangerous features on them. All ices are initially played face-down, although they have a rez cost, meaning the corporation must pay to bring them online. Certain corporation cards are worthwhile for the runner to attack and steal, but others are traps, which can damage or kill the runner, ending the game.
Gameplay consists of turns: the runner has 4 actions, which include drawing cards, getting money, playing cards, and making runs on the corporation’s servers; the corporation always draws a card and begins with 3 actions, which include drawing cards, playing cards, getting money, and advancing agendas. In my experience, the runner seems to have an advantage early in the game, before the corporation has deployed its defenses, but the corporation starts to become more powerful later in the game. This may merely be a function of the limited number of decks that I’ve played. It seems, though, that decks can be constructed either for early-game advantage or late-game advantage. Over time, the runner can build up a significant arsenal of programs to overpower the corporations ices, but similarly the corporation can stack row after row of defenses on each server. Early on, it is unlikely that the corporation has set up any nasty traps, and the runner can attack with relative freedom; as the game progresses, however, the danger of each run increases, as well as the cost to the runner to make them (i.e. in order to pay to overcome the corporation’s defenses).
Personally, I enjoy playing the corporation more than I enjoy playing the runner. On the side of the corporation, there is a large element of deception in the gameplay. Cards come face-down. Traps are advanced by the same mechanic as agendas, and so the runner cannot necessarily tell which cards are which. Some of your servers may have incredibly strong defenses, and some may be weak, but the runner cannot know without making the run against them.
One other element I enjoyed in this game is the artwork. A:N is a remake of an older game simply called Netrunner, and the game mechanics are fairly similar for each of the two games. A:N has beautiful artwork, much better than that of the original game, which was sort of clunky and dorky. The artwork here really pops: two examples, old and new

Lastly, I wanted to point out that A:N is a living card game, meaning that its producer, Fantasy Flight Games, is constantly creating new cards with new abilities. New decks and builds are always coming out. This creates a very immersive environment for players who want to get involved in the game. There is an enormous online community built around the game and its strategy.
Overall, despite its high barrier to entry, A:N makes for a compelling game with hours upon hours of potential gameplay. If you’re willing to tackle the difficult learning curve, A:N is worth the try.

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