Android: Netrunner is a cyberpunk’d game set in a dystopian future where you must hack and take down an evil corporation… or… Android: Netrunner is cyberpunk’d game set in a dystopian future where you, the CEO of a successful business must build up your securities to prevent malicious attacks from troubled hackers trying to ruin your firm. Which is it? Well, that’s up to you and your opponent, in this week’s breakdown of this beautifully complex, two player deck builder.
Two Games in One?
Ok, so it’s just one game, but, depending on which side you’re on, Netrunner plays severely different. Each player plays as the Runner or the Corporation, attacking or defending against the other in an attempt to score agenda points. First one to seven agenda points instantly thwarts his opponent by taking down the man… or being the man, depending on your position, of course.
Both sides play cards. The Corporation plays cards in an attempt to prevent the hackers from gaining information on their agendas while attempting to complete those agendas themselves. Agendas take time and money to complete, so while you are working on them the hackers are spending their time and money upgrading their gear to hack into your systems and find out that vital information.
I think one of the games strongest positions is the ability to swap sides and experience a new exciting role in the association. It’s complicated in learning two roles completely, which is not necessarily a great thing, but the rewards in being able to understand your opponent’s abilities and play both roles really pay off in the end, you just have to be willing to get there, but more on that at the end.
Playing as the Corporation is most easily described as a tower defense game. You have your main draw deck, discard pile. hand cards, and “remote servers” that hold the agenda information while you are researching it. All of these decks are hackable by the runners and must be protected with ICE (firewalls); ICE is placed face down and can be placed on service as needed to block the Runners. ICE costs money to activate and can do a lot of damage to the Runners, such as shutting down computer systems or even damaging their brain connected to the Net.
The Corporation has all the control in Android: Netrunner. The agendas are yours to activate, pay for and score. You can hide the agendas, show them, or even bait the enemy with viruses that look like agendas. The problem is, all of your assets, including the cards you’ve thrown away, are stealable by the hackers. The more you spread out, the faster you score points, but the less protected each of your agendas will be; if you try and protect one thing with everything you have, the Hackers will figure out ways to circumvent your ICE or potentially go straight to your headquarters and steal agendas still in the works.
Hackers are the antagonists of this tower defense style game. You “run” against all the aforementioned corporation’s servers to steal those agendas. Every time you successfully run on anything they own you steal cards with potential agendas in them. A run is instantly successful if it is unprotected. Think of the Runners as very adept hackers with the skill required to do the job. As the ICE builds up to protect the data, the Runners must constantly upgrade their tech. Runners play their cards and get things that allow them to bypass securities, take extra cards, or give viruses to disable the ICE, forcing the corporation to spend money they need for agendas to rebuild their firewalls.
The runners are arguably more difficult to play but have the reward of playing the underdog facing the men oppressing the poor and weak. Being offensive, vice defensive, means you are constantly required to spend all your resources reacting to new defenses. Sit back, and the corporation will win no matter what. Playing the Runners, you can’t ever let up on your attacks. The Corporation can win the game by doing nothing, the Runners must earn every victory.
What to Love
Android: Netrunner is a beautiful game. The cyberpunk artwork is amazing, it looks like a full-fledged comic book in a game, each card wonderfully illustrating it’s purpose. It’s important for any card game to be more than just a series of instructions, and Netrunner does this very well. As far as a two player game, it’s hard to beat. The game is complex, deep, and interesting. It’s interesting to play either side and is winnable both ways. The previously mentioned choices each side has to face add the depth needed to be a strategic deck builder without just becoming another luck-of-the-draw card game.
Each side, the Corp and the Runners, also have multiple decks you can choose from. Each deck has base cards matching the deck and universal cards. You can build your decks with any number of combinations that end up giving really powerful cards that work well together. Each boss also has special abilities that can change the strategy of the player. Netrunner is, in a word, quintessential to any deck building fan, it just has one major fallback…
A Little Complicated
I’ve attempted to play Android: Netrunner with a number of people. It’s been successful on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, on a few others, it has not been. Netrunner is not a simple game. It’s complex strategy, with many choices every turn and constant back and forth between offense and defense. Between the Runner’s constant need to upgrade, “virus” markers that can both help and damage the runner, trackers that can permanently lower the Runner’s hand limit, and corporations making new remote servers with new ICE, the game can get pretty intense. You will find yourself looking at the rules, and then looking at the wiki page, and then reading a forum more than once when you first start out.
Even with one person experienced in the world of Netrunner, since you play both sides so differently, assisting the new player can be quite difficult. They can’t follow what you are doing, and essentially you will have to guide them through each move against your own hand. Understanding the first couple games are going to be major teaching sessions is important, but means you will lose a couple of those precious hours of 1 on 1 board gaming excitement.
For the novice gamer, especially those unfamiliar with deckbuilding, this game may not be for them. It’s too much to learn in a single game, too complex to learn with just the rules, and requires multiple lookups to fully understand some of the finer points. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying this amazing game, but it’s hard to encourage anyone to buy it without trying it. One of the strangest things to say about something you love it to stay away from it, so I urge you to look into it and give it a shot before being discouraged by this review. It’s one of the best two-player games out there in terms of replayability and strategy and once you learn it you will appreciate every part.
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