Android: Netrunner; Why I Love It

Android: Netrunner might be the card game for you. Up until October of 2013, I wasn’t much of a card game person. The TCG format didn’t make too much sense to me, but that wasn’t even my biggest issue. I have several groups of friends who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering, so last summer I tried to get into it. A bought a started deck at a somewhat-local card shop, and a customer there took the time to explain the game to me. Of course, many of the rules went right over my head, but that didn’t stop me from hanging out with my M:TG group later that night. They gave me a second crash course on the game, and I played a few half-assed matches that night.

Once again, the TCG format never really made sense to me. At the back of my mind, two things were (and still are) present. The first is that I don’t want to buy randomized packs of cards. I’m fine with spending a lot of money on a hobby (God knows how much I’ve spent on comics this Winter), but I can’t really justify spending the money for a chance of useful cards. To me, that doesn’t sound like a satisfying way to spend the little cash I have for this kind of stuff.

The second thing is a sense of “been-there, done-that.” I appreciate Magic’s longevity, considering that the game is literally as old as I am. But as a child, I played multiple trading card games, and many of them run with similar mechanics. The idea of cards having strength/defence numbers as they protect your life points is something I have seen before. In a time of my life where I am constantly experiencing new board games, on a weekly basis, it doesn’t make sense to put so much time and money into something that doesn’t feel all that original. Once again, I am aware of Magic’s longevity, and that it set the traditional format for many game afterwards. It just doesn’t make sense for me to jump onto this bandwagon this late into the game.

So up until October, I was happy to ignore card games entirely. The only card games I played were contained into a single box, and blended its categorization with “board games”. Smash Up is responsible for getting me into this whole craze. Gloom, Love Letter, and Dixit are other examples of how I steered clear of TCGs in 2013.

You can imagine my surprise looking back, as I am currently hundreds of dollars deep into my all-time favourite tabletop game, Android: Netrunner. But this time, things are different. I am getting ahead of myself, so lets dial back the clock to October. At that point, I was visiting Snakes and Lattes (a board game cafe in Toronto) several times a week. I was, and still am, one of the most recognizable locals. One day, in early-to-mid October, I walked in the place like it was any other day. But it wasn’t. Half of the cafe was occupied and reserved for a tournament. Now, I am fully aware that it was the “Plugged-In tour”, and hate myself for not being a part of it, but at the time I was just interested by the crowd. I asked an employee what was going on, and he explained that it was a tournament for Netrunner. I didn’t know a thing about it, other than the fact that the box art was really nice. Other than a few comments throughout the night, I proceeded along the rest of the night as if the rest of my year wasn’t going to be entirely impacted by this.

Throughout the month, the selection of games to pick up and learn was narrowing. Eventually, I decided to grab Netrunner off the shelf and take a crack at its instructions. Things didn’t go well. I spent about an hour and a half trying to understand such a complicated game. The rules and cards were written with so many symbols and specific terminology that it was entirely hopeless. Netrunner was simply too complicated to play that night. So I finally put down the book and put away the game. The art was still really nice, and the lore was very interesting, but it was just too hard.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I won’t take defeat that easily, though. So, despite what would be the wise thing to do, I bought the game anyway. For quite a while, it just sat on my shelf at home, unopened. But during that time, I was watching and reading beginner’s guides on the internet. It took a while, but look at me now.

So, that’s the long, and very unnecessary story of how I got into the game, but why do I love it so much? Well, for the very two reasons that I didn’t love Magic. The first was that it is not a Trading Card Game. Fantasy Flight Games has created their unique format for their card games, called Living Card Games. This means that the game can be played out of the box, and all expansions are contain three of every card, non-randomized. You never have to make a blind purchase with Netrunner. Every month, a “data pack” is released with the same 60 cards for everyone. Isn’t that nice?

For someone who doesn’t mind spending the money, like myself, it isn’t hard to go out and own every card available in the game. For someone who doesn’t want to inherit a small fortune into a card game, all they need is the starter set. If they want a specific card afterwards, they know exactly what to buy.

It just makes sense.

The second reason why I fell in love with this game is the game itself. It is formatted in a way that plays like a board game. First of all, it is asymmetrical. The two players take the side of the “Runner” (an at-risk hacker) or the Corporation. The corporation sets up his or her three central servers; Head Quarters, Research and Development, and the Archives. These are you hand, your draw deck, and your discard. Notice how the theme is absolutely everywhere. Anyway, The corporation places ICE (protective programs) in front of the servers in order to stop the Runner from making successful runs. All of this is in order to protect and score “agenda points”, which can be placed in additional “remote servers”, which should also be protected. Meanwhile, the Runner sets up his ICEbreakers and tries to steal the Corp’s agendas.

Are you still following? Its complicated, and unfortunately, that doesn’t cover the half of it. But it does show you how much the theme really matters. Everything exists around these “runs” on servers, and everything you play revolves around scoring agenda points. Since the Corp always plays face-down, it also becomes a substantial mind-game. Did the Corp just instal an agenda, or a trap? If it is an agenda, why did he leave enough credits (money) to rez (flip over) the ICE in front of HQ (hand)? These scenarios are at the heart of what makes Netrunner so different from other card games.

So the second point I wanted to make was that it is nothing like Magic: The Gathering. It is nothing like Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon. Netrunner is very much its own game, more so than many other games I have seen. That doesn’t make it the great game that it is (I would attribute that to the theme, the bluffing, the strategies, and the feeling you get after setting up an elaborate trap that actually worked out), but it certainly ups the intrigue.

And maybe that justifies why I am on Ebay, spending too much money on alternate art cards and playmats.

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