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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Android Netrunner

Android: Netrunner came out in 2012, and caused quite the splash in the board gaming world. It has held a top spot in Board Game Geeks' "The Hotness" since released (currently at number 1) and also maintained a high overall rating (currently 8.46/10). It is a Living Card Game. What makes it unique in the overcrowded realm of card games, however, is its asymmetrical play - both players are competing for similar goal, but go about doing so in different ways. Netrunner is set in the future with a heavy cyberpunk setting.

The box

Netrunner is a "Living Card Game". This is FFG's answer to Collectible Card Games (such as Magic: The Gathering). LCG's retain a lot of the core concepts that make CCG's so successful, such as deckbuilding, customization, and a constantly changing metagame, but eliminats the random trading and collectibility. Instead of buying randomized booster packs (or boxes...or crates...), you buy a $15 expansion pack whenever a new set is released, and you get a full playset of all the cards. So rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars every few months chasing rare cards, you drop down $15 every month or so and have access to anything you want from that set.

36-page rulebook!
 The game comes with a pretty awesome 36-page color rulebook, as to be expected with a Fantasy Flight game. It takes each side through everything they need to know, has a handy index, quick reference flowchart, and a few pages describing the background of the Netrunner universe.

Basics of the Corporation
One player takes the role of the Corporation. The Corporation's deck contains valuable Agendas, which are the victory point cards for both players. They are worth 1-3 VP's each, and the first person to seven wins.

Assets - the hunt for these is both player's objective
The Corporation must develop these Agendas behind well-defended Servers. They install hidden layers of Ice in front of the server to protect them, and over a turn or two, they advance and develop the Agenda, and eventually advance it far enough to score, claiming the VPs as their own.

Basics of the Runner
The other player takes the role of a Runner. The Runner's goal is to break in to the Corporation's Servers and steal their Agendas before they can be advanced to development. They are aiding with various hacking Icebreakers to accomplish this, which must break through the Corporations defensive layers of Ice. The Corporation can hack and attempt to go after Assets directly as they are being developed, but they can also go after the Corporation's HQ (their hand), their R&D (the deck of cards) and their Archives (discard pile), attempting to steal assets before they even hit the board. All of these areas (called Servers) can be defending with Ice.

Sample board layout
Still with me? Good. Here you can see a sample board layout. If you were sitting in the blue position, the cards closest to you facing vertically are your Servers. The horizontal cards infront of them are the Ice defending them. You'll notice a lot of face-down cards. Ice is played face-down, so the Runner doesn't know what's there until he encounters it. Also, Agendas are played upside down, so the Runner doesn't know if he's attacking a valuable Agenda worth VPs, or perhaps an Asset that's just giving the Corporation some secret benefit. There's even face-down traps played in the Agendas area just to keep the Runner second guessing!

Sample Icebreaker and Ice
The Runner makes attack Runs on the various servers. He encounters the Ice piece by piece, and uses his Icebreakers to "break" them. Each piece of defending Ice has different subroutines that must be broken by the Runners Icebreaker. The Corporation builds different types of styles of Ice, forcing the Runner to alter his Icebreakers as needed to adapt to the fight.

This game has caught on pretty big locally, and we're loving it. It's just completed it's first cycle of expansion - the base starter set and five smaller expansions. A new expansion cycle should start in a few months. I personally really like that it has the basic feel of a game such as Magic: The Gathering, but it's a mirrored game where both players are doing the same thing. Having each side play in different, opposing manners, really adds to the game! I'm looking forward to playing this quite a bit at Gencon, and Templecon 2014 just announced their theme will be Cyberpunk, so I expect this to be pretty popular there too.

It's a great time to jump in. If you have any questions about the game, please feel free to ask!

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