Running the Nets for Fun and Profit – Android: Netrunner – An Introduction

So. Android: Netrunner. The newest LCG from Fantasy Flight Games.

It’s awesome.

For those of you who don’t know, LCGs (Living Card Games) really only differ from CCGs (Collectable Card Games) in distribution method. Whereas CCGs are sold in random assortments (you get X amount of random cards in a pack), while LCGs are not randomized (when you purchase a pack, you know exactly what you’re getting). Otherwise, things are pretty much the same. You get cards, you build decks, there are expansions, etc. It is just a less secondary market happy distribution model.

Netrunner is an old CCG created by Richard Garfield (of Magic: the Gathering fame). It is a cyberpunk themed world, where villainous hackers penetrate the defenses of heroic corporations, ruining their plans, stealing information, and all around being terrible nuisances. Or something like that. Either way, it involves futuristic hacking, like you’d see in Neuromancer or another cyberpunk classic.

Anyhow, Android: Netrunner is a remake of Netrunner. From my understanding, rules wise, the games are actually fairly similar, with Android: Netrunner featuring some revisions to create a more balanced and exciting game. While I have not played the original Netrunner (a fact I’ve been regretting since I picked up Android: Netrunner), I have fallen completely in love with Android: Netrunner, indicating that both Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight have both done something quite right.

So, that background aside, what is the game like and why do I love it so much?

Well, what makes Android: Netrunner stand-out is that it is an asymmetrical game: one player plays as one of the four corporation (Jinteki, NBN, Weyland, Haas-Biodroid) while the other plays as a runner from one of the three factions (Shapers, Criminals, Anarchs). This means that a full match of Android: Netrunner consists of two games, with the players swapping off who plays Runner and who plays Corporation. Each side plays drastically differently, having different ways to win.

The Corporation wins by either scoring 7 points worth of Agendas or by Flatlining (killing) the Runner. To expedite this, the Corporation establishes defenses (known as ICE), installing them in front of various servers to prevent the runner from accessing them. ICE has a variety of effects on the runner, ranging from forcing them to abandon to run, allowing the Corporation to “Trace” (and subsequently destroy the Runner’s resources or, sometimes, send some hitmen to deal with the Runner), or even directly frying the Runner’s brain.

What makes the corporation particularly dangerous, however, is their secretive nature. When initially installing cards to their servers (or ICE in front of them), the Corporation installs them facedown, only revealing them once they choose to Rez (activate) them. This means the Runner will often be going in blind, hoping that they can handle the ICE the Corporation has in place… and hoping that the card installed at the end of that server is an Agenda to steal and not a deadly trap that the Corporation had waiting for them.

The Runner, on the other hand, wins by either stealing 7 points of Agendas from the Corporation or by running the Corporation out of cards. They accomplish this feat by acquiring resources, hardware, and programs (notably Icebreakers) that allow them to penetrate the Corporation’s defenses without cooking their brain. Of course, the Corporation is going to be hard pressed to defend against a clever run, as they are not only capable of accessing cards that the Corporation has played, but they are also capable of accessing the Corporation’s deck, hand, and discard pile, forcing them to defend not only the cards they’ve played, but every part of the field.

Speaking of playing cards, another big difference between Android: Netrunner and other card games is that everything in the game requires actions, of which each side has a limited number per turn (the Corporation getting 3 actions and a forced draw while the Runner gets 4 actions). These actions are used to do everything: draw cards, play cards, gain credits (the game’s primary resource), make runs, advance agendas, etc. This creates difficult decision: do you spend your precious actions drawing more cards to find something you need? Filling your coffers with additional credits to Rez your ICE or installing ICE hoping to scare the Runner off?

There is a lot going on in this game. Individual decisions matter quite a bit, with every action you make possibly being the critical error that fries your brain or costs you billions as your new software plans are stolen despite your best efforts. This is a game where the way you play (between bluffing and constant decision making) can matter a lot more then your deck choice.

This serves as a pretty decent primer. I’ll be talking a bit more about Android: Netrunner next update: primarily the exciting world of deckbuilding.

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