Tag: lcg

Tabletalk: Netrunner Basics

Cyberfeeder, by Gong Studios
Art by Gong Studios

I have been well and truly hooked by Android: Netrunner for a variety of reasons. The game is steeped in atmosphere and flavor, from the names of each player’s decks and hands to some truly stunning artwork. The second-hand market for individual cards is practically non-existent, making it a slightly more economical choice, even if the up-front investment can seem a touch daunting. And much like Hearthstone, it’s possible to build a deck just using the Core Set of the game that has a fighting chance, or will at least yield a good time.

The asymmetrical nature of the gameplay, however, can be off-putting for new players. I thought I would take a bit of time before diving into the nuances of the game’s different Corp and Runner factions to talk about how the two sides play, and give some tips to newer players, or players who have tried to play Netrunner before and for one reason or another ran into obstacles not generated by the board state.

Both the Corp and the Runner are trying to score Agenda Points. Only the Corp player has Agenda cards in their deck. The Runner must steal Agenda cards from the Corp before they can be installed and advanced. The Corp advances Agendas by installing them in remote servers, areas of the playing area to the side of their identity card (which represents their hand, or HQ), then spends credits one at a time to match the Agenda card’s advancement requirement. The Runner can run on any server, be it one of the remotes created by the Corp, the Corp’s HQ, their R&D (or deck), or Archives (discard pile). The Corp can protect any of their servers with ICE, specialized software cards that are installed perpendicular and face down in front of the servers they protect. The Runner has means to break or circumvent this ICE, but it buys the Corp precious time to score their Agendas.

That’s the basic rundown; let’s get into some specifics.

If you are the Corp, you control all of the information.

The Runner has to keep their cards face-up on the table. From their Hardware to their Resources, you will always have a good idea of what could be coming at you. When you install a piece of ICE, it’s face-down, as are your Agendas, Assets, and Upgrades. The Runner has no idea how, when, or even if you’ll be paying the cost to rez (turn face-up) those cards. Knowing what you know, you can either push to beat the Runner before they get up to speed, or sit back and play a shell game, luring the Runner into traps or watching them bounce off of your ICE. Some of that comes from the choice you make in faction, but the confidence to follow through on your strategy comes from the fact that you know a lot more than the Runner does, at least in terms of board state information. Use that.

If you are the Runner, you should be running.

Running is the crux of the game and it should be done as much as is reasonable – and maybe some times when it isn’t. It’s how the Runner learns information, from the ICE the Corp has installed to the assets they’re trying to protect. It keeps the Corp player engaged and can lead to them interacting more, be it choosing different ICE or exploiting the Runner’s action in order to tag them or otherwise make the Runner pay. But it’s also the only way the Runner can possibly win the game. The more the Runner runs, the better their chances of stealing an Agenda, and every run also has the potential to throw the Corp off-balance and derail their well-laid plans. Sure, you might end up getting tagged or taking some damage, but Netrunner is all about risk management.

This is true on both sides. The Corp asks, “is it safe to install this Agenda? Can I convince the Runner that it’s a trap? Should I stockpile credits instead?” The Runner asks, “can the Corp flatline me if I make another run and take more damage? Will I have enough time before he scores that Agenda? Is than an Agenda in the first place?”

The game is rife with player choices, informed decision-making, potential for storytelling, and great moments of interplay. If you tried it before but found the asymmetry daunting or a particular player uncooperative, I hope after reading these tips you’d consider trying again. I’m going to be talking about the factions in the weeks to come; you might find something you like in one of them that’ll convince you to give Netrunner a shot. The card catalog is growing, and player bases are becoming more established; now is a great time to get started.

500 Words On Netrunner

Art by Alexandra Douglass

I find myself wondering: is this going to be a thing? I don’t mean Netrunner, that is most definitely a thing. It’s a thing I’ve fallen in love with all over again. I can’t remember why I stopped playing the new iteration of Richard Garfield’s cyberpunk asymmetrical card game of bluffs and gambles and deception and tactical thinking. I think it was due to a lack of local players. I don’t know.

I’m actually wondering if this 500-words-on-a-Friday thing I’ve done twice in a row now is going to be a thing. “Friday 500”? In lieu of full-length reviews? Time seems to be at a premium these days. I have things I’m planning for, work schedules to plow through, and other projects I’m trying to line up to get knocked down, but time always seems to slip through my fingers. I’m going to try and get back on track in a few ways in the next couple weeks so I’m not completely out of sorts when big changes start happening.

Anyway, back to Netrunner. What’s changed since the last time I rambled about it? Quite a bit. I mean, not mechanically – it’s the same game of one player establishing large monolithic constructs full of juicy information (or deadly traps) while the other player pokes said constructs to extract the information and generally undermine all of those carefully laid plans. And it’s still pretty damn fantastic. But now I’ve started going down the rabbit hole of Data Packs.

Let me explain. Instead of randomized booster packs, Fantasy Flight releases 60-card ‘Data Packs’ on a regular schedule. There are ‘cycles’ of packs, all related thematically, with six packs per cycle that release each month for six months. Between cycles are larger expansions that focus on two identities – one Corp, one Runner. The interesting thing about these expansions is that each of them contains 3 copies of every card. You normally only have to buy one Data Pack to get the card you want, and you’re certain to have enough to put into your next deck. It saves money in the long run and keeps the playing field nice and level. It also appeals to the part of my brain that loves putting decks together. The Core Set does not have the same distribution of cards, which is unfortunate, but I think another $30 for a second Core Set is a better investment than spending that much on a single card in Magic: the Gathering’s somewhat cutthroat second-hand market.

How good is this game? Quinns won’t shut up about it. His friend Leigh loves it. Communities and subreddits remain abuzz about it. The competitive scene is going strong.

This game is so good that my long-suffering wife, with a rather well-documented history of disliking games like Magic, plays it, and doesn’t hate it.

She’s even gone so far as to buy me a copy of Neuromancer to help maintain my dystopian cyberpunk-y mood.

It’s a good game, and you should definitely play it.

The Running Returns

Art by Alexandra Douglass

I’ve mentioned the game of NetRunner off-handedly twice before. Back when I finally got around to sorting all of my old CCG cards, I found I still have my decks for the game. A couple weeks ago, I played the new iteration of the game, and many of its ideas hold up despite the intervening years, even if the game has changed in many significant ways. And it’s kicked some other ideas into overdrive, to the point that I feel I’m on the edge of something very interesting provided I motivate myself to carve out the time and space I need.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The year is 1996. Magic the Gathering had already become a big part of my life, I was heading towards my senior year of high school, and cyberpunk dystopias were now being depicted with true computer-generated graphics, even if the graphics weren’t all that great. Johnny Mnemonic, The Lawnmower Man, and Hackers were all fresh in the minds of those on the edge of the digital frontier, and Wizards of the Coast, no fools but their own, published a new Deckmaster game aimed at this emerging demographic. But rather than simply slap a coat of pixelated paint on Magic and call it a day, they tried something new.

While cribbing notes from R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 game, Richard Garfield also envisioned an asymmetrical play environment. The game has two players. One represents the Corporation, a monolithic capitalist juggernaut bent on turning profits by any and all means necessary, advancing hidden agendas that increase their influence over anyone within reach of their advertisements. The other is the Runner, a hacker extraordinaire hurling themselves into the unknown wilds of security systems to spy on, destroy, or steal anything they can, especially from Corporations. Both players win by scoring a set amount of agenda points, but the Corporation is the only player with said points in their deck. The Runner has to steal them, and that means breaching the Corp’s defenses.

On top of this interesting foundation is the element of hidden information. The Corporation sets up their side of the table with cards that represent their remote servers, using programs for interdiction called ICE to stop the Runner from getting to whatever information they want to protect. Their hand, deck, and discard pile also count as servers, and are also viable targets for the Runner. ICE, remote server assets, the precious agendas – all of these cards are played face-down by the Corporation. The Runner, more often than not, will not know what the face-down card is until the Corporation chooses to pay the cost required to reveal it. The Corporation relies on careful planning, deception, and the intimidation of utter brutality in response to intrusion; the Runner is fueled entirely by intelligence, courage, and more than a little luck.

Unfortunately for Mr. Garfield, NetRunner never really took off the way Magic did. It faded into relative obscurity and was battered around as an IP a bit before Fantasy Flight Games came across it while developing their Android universe of tabletop games. Now, rather than their identities being amorphous and generic, players build their decks around an identity, a persistent aspect that grants a bonus throughout the game and helps drive the focus of their strategy. Are you looking to achieve victory as quickly as possible through the traditional means of scoring agenda points? Do you have a more nefarious aim, such as doing as much damage to the Runner as possible, or making all of the Corp’s ICE extremely brittle? Or is your aim just to watch the dystopia burn?

The game has also changed in that rather than being a collectible card game, it is now what is referred to as a living card game. Instead of randomized booster packs, the game is available as a core set with several ‘data packs’, and each one contains the same amount of the same cards. This levels the playing field for competition, makes it a touch easier to teach, and ensures that as the game ages, older cards have less of a chance of becoming either obsolete or overpowered. In addition, the core set includes a plethora of counters and markers (or as I call them, “FFG fiddly bits” as Fantasy Flight Games loves its cardboard punch-outs) that are a welcome addition, as the old game required you to track things like credits, memory, and so on with coins, jelly beans, or whatever else you had handy. Top it off with some breathtaking art, a comprehensive rulebook, and high-quality cards, and you have one of the most successful resurrections of an older game I’ve ever seen.

I hope to eventually find more local players of the game, or failing that, convert some people I know to it. The future is coming…

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