Game Review by Rafael Cordero
Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, Android: Netrunner is a reimagining of the old card game Netrunner. A:NR is one of Fantasy Flight Games’ “Living Card Games” and unlike Collectible Card Games like Magic, each Core Set of a A:NR is exactly the same. The game is expanded through Data Packs which are boxes of 60 cards that are all exactly the same. No collecting booster packs hoping for that 1 card you need; each Data Pack is exactly the same so you can always get the exact cards you’re looking for. As of this writing, FFG has released 3 data packs with 3 more to come in this cycle.
A:NR is an asymmetrical card game which means that each player is almost playing a different game. One player takes on the role of the corporation and the other on a hacker called the “Runner”. The two different players have completely different cards and card types, and also a different number of actions per turn. There are 4 different corporation factions and 3 different runner factions, and the core set is designed so that you can build decks for all 7 factions. This gives a great amount of replayability right out of the box. Add in the ability to import cards from other factions for deck building, and you can have a ton of fun without ever expanding your card collection. Of course, the deck building can be half the fun (I’ll get into that later), and the data packs add a number of cards you’ll want to include in your decks as you try to win!
The corporation wins by installing and advancing agenda cards in order to score 7 points, or by forcing the runner to discard more cards than he is holding. In order to advance agendas, the corporation must install these cards in remote servers and protect them with “ICE”: firewall like programs that can do everything from kick the runner out of the server, to force the runner to discard cards, to permanently reduce the runner’s hand size. This can be very desirable as the runner’s hand represents his life! Servers are made by playing cards face down, and late in the game it can be quite impressive to see a corporations servers protected by physical towers of ICE cards. The corporation also needs to protect his own hand, deck, and discard pile because in Netrunner, the runner can come charging right into the corporations hand to trash cards and steal agendas before they can even be played! In addition to agendas, the corporation can also install traps called assets, and upgrades that enhance their servers making them tougher to run. All corporation cards are installed upside down, so the runner never knows what the corporation is planning!
The runner wins by stealing 7 points worth of agendas from the corporation. Agendas can be stolen from the corporation’s remote servers, or from their hand, deck, and even discard pile. The runner does this by going on “runs” which represent hacking attempts on the corporation. In order to get through the nasty ICE that the corporation may have installed, the runner builds his computer rig by installing hardware and ICEbreaker programs that allow him to break through the ICE that the corporation has installed. Similar to the corporation’s playing space, a late game runner will have an impressive array of cards in front of him representing a super computer. Because the runner can’t see installed cards until the corporation chooses to turn them face up, he must carefully weigh his options. Is that a partially advanced agenda that you can’t let the corporation score or is it a deadly trap that could kill you and end the game immediately? If you wait until you have all your icebreakers installed and your rig fully built up, it may be too late for you to steal anything! Because of this, runs can be very tense mini-games of cat and mouse as the runner must decide to push through and see the card at the end of the server, or abandon the run to avoid potentially getting himself killed or “flatlined”.
As I noted above, there is a huge component of bluffing in this game. Is that a trap or an agenda? Does the corporation need to worry about the runner completely bypassing his ice with certain event cards? Trying to guess what cards your opponent is playing and playing around them is very important. There is a corporation card that can cause a lot of damage to the runner, so much so that many runners assume that all players of that specific corporation faction use this card. Knowing that, a smart corporation player may decide to not waste deck space on this card knowing that the runner will slow himself down in order to avoid an instant loss. Likewise, corporation players know they need to protect their deck against the runner faction “Anarch”. A smart Anarch player may bring in cards from a different faction that attack the corporation’s hand because the corporation won’t be expecting it. This makes each game very exciting because you never know what you’re going to see. Different play groups will play with different cards, and bluffs that work against experienced players may not work on new players. As new data packs of cards are released, strategies change and flow.
Android: Netrunner is a great game, relatively easy to pick up but full of strategy. With seven different factions in the core set, you can play many games using these pre-constructed decks. If you decide that you want to shake things up, the cards in the core set allow for many deck building options and of course, the monthly data packs bring new cards and strategies for both the corporation and the runner.