Before I get into my experience I should probably explain what Netrunner is. Netrunner is a Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games that is based in their Android Universe. Android is a dystopian cyberpunk setting and Netrunner pits runners against megacorporations in a hacking battle in the digital world. It is based upon the WoTC Collectable Card Game of the same name (from the 90’s) but as opposed to being set in R Talisorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 universe it is set in FFG own Android setting. Those familiar with Cyberpunk 2020s Netrunners or Shadowrun’s Decker/Hacker/Technomancer concept will be immediately familiar with the idea of the setting.
I recently decided that Fantasy Flight Games don’t get enough of my money, what with my ever growing X-Wing collection, Arkham Horror, Mistkatonic Horror, Elder Sign and the other, innumerable board games they produce that I seem compelled to buy. So I decided to get into Netrunner, I’m not sure how that happened as I’ve vowed for a while not to, as it’s not exactly cheap to buy into for a completionist, I’m guessing I’m feeling a lack of Cyberpunk in my life since the conclusion of my Shadowrun campaign last year.
Now, under normal circumstances I won’t just buy into a game, especially one with so much content, so with that in mind I figured I should play a couple of games first, having only really played it once or twice before and not really understanding it then. I got in touch with a friend of mine who has been playing and collecting since release and arranged a couple of intro games, just using the base decks from the core box.
It goes without saying (because I’m writing this) that I was hooked pretty hard, pretty fast. I loved Collectible Card Games when I was a kid (one day I might do an exploration of my Blood Wars, X-Files and Mythos collections) but as I’ve grown I just can’t buy into something with a blind booster element and FFG have gotten around this with the Living Card Game mechanic. Living Card Games work almost exactly like a collectable Card Games (like, say Magic or Pokémon), but they don’t have the blind element, every core box, every datapack, every expansion comes with the same cards as the others of the same name. This means that if you buy a copy of the Datapack Opening Moves you will get exactly the same cards as everyone else who bought it and this means that there are no rare or chase cards and there is little to know secondary market for cards.
So, within 24 hours of those first games I bought into the system. I was pretty fortunate to find someone on Facebook who was selling a core set, 4 datapacks and the first deluxe expansion for £50, which is about 50% off retail. This seemed like a solid entry point and so I went for that. I also, almost immediately started playing games on Jinkeki.net as this meant I could play at a moments notice, without leaving the house or even the sofa.
My first thought was to try to find the factions that most suited me. Netrunner has 2 different sides, Runners and Corporations and both players will play both sides as part of a normal game. There are 3 Runner factions, Shapers, Criminals and Anarchs and each seeks to win the game in a different way. For me, I was immediately drawn to Anarchs since they seemed to be very close to the traditional Shadowrun Neo-Anarchist although I’m advised that Shapers are probably the easiest to use to learn the game.
Corporations are split into 4 factions, each representing a different megacorporation in the Android Universe, Wayland, Jinteki, NBN and Haas Bioroid. Like the runners, each of these play differently but Haas Bioroid is certainly the easiest to learn Corporation play. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Shadowrun megacorps here with Wayland being Mitsuhama, NBN being Horizon, Jinteki being Renraku and Haas Bioroid being Saeder Krupp. Despite being strongly drawn to NBN and Jinteki I started playing with Haas as I wanted to learn the game quickly.
I’m not going to go into the mechanics, there are dozens of video’s on YouTube demonstrating play and the rules can be found here . Needless to say both sides work differently and utilise different rules for how they play. Victory is determined by the first person to score 7 Agenda points or when the Corporation has to draw a card and can’t, as they have run out or the runner has to discard more cards than are in their hand. Both sides, as well as each separate factions, have different ways and means to achieve any or all of those conditions.
My introduction to the game was pretty straightforward after those first games. A friend, who ‘d also convinced to buy in, and I agreed to first use basic core decks, then with decks constructed from the core set and finally decks constructed from the core set, plus a single deluxe expansion. This latter condition is because I’ve signed up for a tournament, 2 weeks into playing, and it’s designated as a beginner tournament and so players can only build decks from the core set and a single deluxe expansion. As we’ve been playing I’ve gradually learned what different cards and builds do, how to refine a deck, and how to try to win via specific means. A runner deck that mills the corporations draw pile to win via them not being able to draw is very different to one that wins via stealing agenda.
Netrunner is quite an easy game to get into. The rules are complex by necessity, since both sides work differently, but there are very few situations that reading the rule book won’t quickly and easily resolve. When buying in just a single core set is enough to get you started and give you a feel for what you like. After that I’d suggest this Reddit Thread for what to buy to expand upon your chosen factions, it’s a little out of date now but it’s a fantastic resource for new players.
Buying in to play competitively is a completely different matter. To compete at a fairly high level you basically need to buy everything, including multiple copies of the core set (2 or 3 depending on your build). Fortunately you only ever need 1 of any expansion, since each gives you 3 copies of each card, the most you can include in a deck, but the core is a different matter, with only 1 or 2 copies of some key cards being included.
The longer you wait to buy in for competitive play, the more it will cost, to a point as FFG have confirmed that a cycle rotation system will take place once a sufficient number of cycles (sets of 6 datapacks) have been released. When cycle 8 is released, cycles 1 and 2 will be rotated out from legal combative play and then every 2 new cycles thereafter will result in the two oldest being removed.
I do have a couple of criticisms of the game. Firstly, the core set, it needs to have 3 copies of every card or 1 copy, so you either get everything you need or you aren’t wasting money on duplicates by buying multiple copies. My understanding is that the Game of Thrones LCG 2nd Edition has actually gone this route, with 1 copy of each card in the core set. Second is the complexity that the game has reached now, which makes it very hard for new players to break into the competitive scene. All games have this to a degree, my other FFG obsession, X-Wing, certainly has that same issue and it’s not one that’s easy to combat, since existing players will always want more depth and it’s needed to keep the game fresh but that doesn’t make it easier for new players.
My last couple of criticisms are personal. Firstly, I’d love the game more if it was set in the Shadowrun Universe, not Android, I cannot express how awesome I’d think that would be and, honestly, I have a hard time not thinking it in those terms already. Secondly, the cards should be printed on acetate, like Gloom, with circuitry around the edges as this would make them look 1,000 times more awesome.
With those small niggles aside and the only one that’s actually a real problem is the core set one as it does actually lead to a very minor secondary market on the cards you only get 1 or 2 of in the core set, Netrunner is a fantastic game. It plays quickly, it has amazing tactical depth and it takes real skill to properly craft a rounded deck and make it work well, there is an art form in making a deck that guarantees you can do something with any given combination of cards.
I’ll keep with the game. The Mumbad cycle of cards is due out shortly and so I’ll start buying them as they release while rounding out my older collection. I’m looking forward to my first tournament on 06/12 at A Fistful of Dice in Portsmouth and I’m going in with low expectations fully assuming that I’ll come dead last. I have my decks ready, an Anarch Deck and a Haas Bioroid Corp deck and they’ve been tweaked enough that I’m happy with how they should play (even if I can’t quite get it to work yet). I’ll post them up over the next few days, as reference, and I’ll write something on how the day went next week, so check back then