Tag: Netrunner (page 1 of 2)

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.

Flash Fiction: When I Change Your Mind

Chuck’s Random Song Challenge had me shuffle my music, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “When I Change Your Mind” came up first. I decided to try my hand at some Netrunner fiction while smacking this challenge around. Please enjoy!

When he wheeled himself over to his rig and pulled out the lead, he questioned again if he had a legitimate shot at changing things. The world was big, and getting bigger. The Corps were getting their tendrils into more and more aspects of daily life, and the masses were buying into the fiction that everything was awesome more and more every day. Runners, like him, were definitely in the minority, and everybody ran for different reasons. Anarchs ran to tear down the system, and Criminals ran to make money. Shapers, like him, ran because they could.

In his case, he ran because he had to. He had a mind to change.

Seamus (or as he called himself in Runner circles, ‘R0bR0y’) gently prodded his scalp with his fingers, the lead in his hand. The access port was down near the base of his skull, the terminal of the spinal drive that interfaced with his nervous system. The bank of towers and monitor systems in front of him would, theoretically, protect him from any Corp backlash from his run. It was theory, at this point, because like most Shapers, he’d built the thing himself. So for all he knew, the moment he jacked in, it would fry the rest of his body, leaving it as limp and useless as his legs.

He slipped the lead into the port. He leaned back into his wheelchair and closed his eyes. Sirens sounded far away in the city, and closer, he heard throbbing beats of music, the clatter of pans as someone frantically made dinner, shouting, laughter, cursing, lovemaking. He held on to that memory of the real, the tangible, the living. Then, Seamus flicked the old-fashioned toggle switch in the center of the rig.

His senses immediately were overwhelmed by an ocean of static. Like the rising tide, the data pulled him under. For a long, timeless moment, he was spinning away from everything, his mind lost in the bits, absorbed into the ones and zeros until Seamus ceased being his own individual self and he was one with the vast expanse of untamed information.

And then, R0bR0y rezzed on the outskirts of the local Haas-Bioroid branch and their monolithic servers.

Each rose like a featureless black titan against the backdrop of sickly green cascades of numbers. Their surfaces reflected the data, encased in layers of thick, slippery Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics – the famous ICE Corps used to protect their servers. Walking on the legs his avatar had rezzed, R0bR0y moved from server to server, peering at their ID tags. The remote servers were mostly obscure, but a tip he’d brought with him told him the one in the center contained current cybernetic trial records. He took a deep breath (unnecessary here but old habits die hard), dropped into the stance of an Olympic sprinter, and bolted towards the server.

The initial layer cracked and shattered the moment he hit it. It was like the layer of frozen water on top of a deep snowbank. The sound raised the alarm. The first real ICE R0bR0y encountered took shape before him. A faceless thing, its limbs too long to truly be considered human, weapons sprouting from its forearms and shoulders. The label on its chest read “VIKTOR.”

R0bR0y reached behind him, to where a highlander would wear his scabbard. The blade came into his hands, glowing white-hot, bits dripping from its edge. Despite its appearance as a sentry, this ICE was a code gate, awaiting the proper passcode to disable its damaging subroutines. Instead of trying those infinite combinations, though, the Runner gave a howling battle-cry and charged. The blade, dubbed ‘Gordian’ by its creators, seared through the body of the bioroid before it could take proper aim. It collapsed into a bloodless pile of broken bits, and R0bR0y charged forward.

Out of the darkness of the next layer came a figure in a long coat, adjusting its hunter’s cap and lighting a pipe. It looked up at R0bR0y with a curious expression.

“Now, who are you and what business do you have here, I wonder? Oh, don’t bother speaking, I can deduce the answers soon enough.”

Despite his digital nature, R0bR0y felt nauseous, and he tasted peanut butter. A trace! He reached behind him, into the programs installed back on the rig, and produced a glowing lotus in his hand. The Sherlock sentry cocked its head to one side, the trace momentarily forgotten. R0bR0y triggered the self-modifying code, and from the lotus burst a human-sized spider, a black-bodied arachnid with glowing red eyes and long, spindly legs. It pounced at Sherlock, the Sentry backing away to fight it off as R0bR0y sprinted past. The server was close enough to touch.


R0bR0y skidded to a stop, a third figure now barring the way. It was tall and wide-shouldered, bearing an imposing sword and a helm tipped with horns.


Heimdall. He’d heard of this ICE. Like Viktor, it was not the sentry at it seemed. It was a barrier, and a hard one to break at that. Fortunately, R0bR0y was not without friends, and one of them had loaned him something for this task. He snapped his fingers, and a lithe, somewhat ethereal woman faded into view beside him. She took one look at Heimdall, and a confident smirk slowly blossomed on her blood-red lips.

“Ooo,” she cooed, sauntering towards the barrier. “You’re in trouble, now.”

With a grin, R0bR0y ran past the pair and into the server itself. He found the file he was looking for, edited the lines, and looked over his shoulder at the distant, faded point of light from where he’d begun.

Seamus snapped awake. The rig’s fans began to wind down as he gingerly pulled the lead free. The sensation of walking, of running, slowly faded as he breathed, letting the real world return to his senses.

And then, the phone rang.

My Board Gaming Future

Courtesy Theology of Games
Courtesy Theology of Games

For those of you who don’t know, Shut Up & Sit Down is an excellent show about board games. Most of them are reviews, but there are a few Let’s Plays and specials sprinkled in. Paul and Quinns are great hosts, breaking down game mechanics and thematic elements in concise and entertaining matters, and games feel truly reviewed, not just discussed. They are also, however, horrible bastards. There are a few games out there I simply have to acquire in the future, and I blame them entirely for making me aware of said games.

I unfortunately have not played NetRunner in some time. As it is a two-player game, it can be difficult in my situation to nail down a convenient time for myself and another person inclined towards asymmetrical living card game play with a dystopian cyberpunk theme to throw down. However, it still very much appeals to me, and more expansions have been added since I last played. I want to experiment with these new cards and find both the most fun and subversive Runner deck and the most obstinate and dastardly Corporate deck I can build. I like deckbuilding, I like Blade Runner and Snow Crash and Deus Ex, so NetRunner remains a winner.

One of SU&SD’s most recent reviews was Tales of Arabian Knights. I’m a great fan of storytelling, especially in a collaborative setting, and Tales seems particularly inclined towards creating new tales with fun and interesting twists. The fact that the game is pure cooperation like Arkham Horror but with more chances for your friends to be directly involved in your actions is also an idea I like. I like games where players are encouraged to work together, even if there can only be one ultimate winner. It seems to me that, in Tales, everybody wins if the stories told make everybody laugh or keep everybody interested.

So that’s a co-op game. But what is this “semi co-op” distinction I’ve heard? Archipelago is such a game, according to the boys, and it centers around representing colonialism in a very thematic way without referencing direct historical events. The game begins with exploration on the open sea, and players travel to new undiscovered islands to expand their holdings. The land must be exploited to get ahead, and while there is no true extermination to make Archipelago a true 4X game on a board, it feels so close to the likes of Civilization and Master of Orion that I’ve nearly bought it a couple times already. You and the other players do need to prevent disaster and uprisings to keep the game going, but in the end, only one of you will acquire enough victory points to be the winner.

Terra Mystica has no co-operative elements whatsoever, but the elements it does have really appeal to me. In the review, it’s clear that progression is a balancing act, weighing the potential to win points over the speed of future expansions. In Terra Mystica, your fantasy race must transform the very land itself in order to expand its holdings, sort of like if the races of SmallWorld took up agriculture (…and sorcery and elemental worship and aggressive territorial expansion through real estate). I can see chess-like move-countermove action happening in this game, as well as unexpected twists like casting the right spell at the right time or the sudden rise of a cult. It’s one of those games where it seems no two games would be alike, and that is right up my alley.

Last but certainly not least is just about any game designed by Vlaada Chvátil. I’ve played Galaxy Trucker once, and I’d love to do it again, this time focusing more on my opponents’ misfortune than my own. It’s that kind of game; there’s just as much fun in a little schadenfreude as there is in building spaceships. Mage Knight has strong appeal due to its theme of powerful wizards striding across the world doing battle to win glory and power, and as intimidating as the rules might be, wrapping my mind around them seems like a worthy challenge. Then there’s Space Alert. I’ve heard it is an intense, challenging and ultimately hilarious game, much like Artemis for computers or Spaceteam for mobile devices. We shall have to see!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like board games. I like them a lot. I want to play more of them, and in fact, I’ve been contemplating some ideas of my own that may or may not get developed in the near future. My challenge is finding people to play with. I appreciate a solitaire experience as much as the next gamer, but sometimes, you want to share the game with at least one other person, and let strategy, interaction, laughter and the occasional verbal deluge of caustic profanity fill your evening.

At least, that’s what I want.

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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