Android: Netrunner Review
I had never played a living card game before. In fact, I'm frightened of Magic: The Gathering due to the exhausting amount of cards, strategies, depth and customization. Of course, this kind of customization comes at a price, and when you see the price tags on certain rare cards, you'd be astonished too.
The main difference between MTG and Android: Netrunner is the fact that the company that makes Netrunner produces box sets that include all of the cards you need to play. No buying boosters. This is the main reason I wasn't intimidated by this game.
The game itself is actually an updated, reimagined version of a game from the 90's called Netrunner. It was collectible just like MTG. It had its fans, but it ultimately withered and died because MTG was simply too big. Fantasy Flight Games has brought the game back in a big way, using the core game mechanics but changing the theme to fit into their existing Android universe, which we've previously seen in a game called, well, Android.
Enough history. The gameplay of Netrunner is asymmetrical. One player plays the Corporation and the other plays the Hacker (or Netrunner) whose job is to infiltrate the Corporation's secure servers and steal enough information to win the game. It's a thrilling game of deception and it works brilliantly.
In fact, this kind of cat-and-mouse gameplay lends itself to some intense moments of bluffing and stress. This is done by the game's clever use of information. Security systems are played face down and not revealed until the Hacker tries to get past them. Once the security (called Ice) has been activated, it's activated for the rest of the game. Uncertainty is the root of all fear; as a Hacker, there's quite a lot of it.
The Corporation, meanwhile, is a little like playing the Red team in Team Fortress 2; they are exclusively on defense during the game. The only way for a Hacker to win the game is to steal victory points from the Corporation. The Corporation, meanwhile, must spend time and money to "build" his victory points, all while keeping the Hacker away long enough to finish.
By its very nature, you'd think an asymmetrical game would be hard to balance, but the game's designers have done a good job creating decks that all play differently. In the base game there are three different Hacker decks and four Corporations, each with its own flavor, playstyle and theme. For instance, one Hacker deck emphasizes viruses that will make breaking security systems much easier, while another might be better at simply robbing the Corporation at every turn.
If you're familiar with this kind of game, you'll know there's a strong deck-building element that makes the game much more interesting in the long term. While you can play with the base decks of recommended cards, once you see how each identity plays, you'll definitely want to customize and tweak your little engine of destruction until it's as lean and efficient as possible. This is done as follows:
- The player picks a “core deck” of cards. For example, the Green Hacker.
- The player then has fifteen points to buy other cards to include in the deck. These cards can come from other identity decks (for instance, the Blue or Red Hacker decks).
- Once the cards are picked, other cards can be removed until a certain card limit is reached (which is typically 45).
This process is the same for both the Hacker and Corporation.
With one core set, two players can square off with a wide assortment of cards. It doesn't take long to put decks together, and the game is fun to play.
• Theme perfectly meshes with gameplay
• Fairly easy to teach new players
• Lots of variety in the core box, even if you decide to never buy additional expansions (but you'll definitely want to)
• Only one initial purchase needed; no boosters or rare cards
• Low buy-in
• Eye-catching art and design
• Lack of card rarity might bother diehard MTG players
• Rules from rulebook can be hard to learn initially (having someone teach you is preferable)
Despite the fact that I'm terrible at this game, it's still a good time.