Android: Netrunner

So I’ve been playing Netrunner a bit (and thinking and reading about it when I’m not playing it), and I’m convinced it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.

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I find this surprising and odd because historically speaking I don’t play card games beyond the occasional game of poker. In my youth there was an attempt made to learn games like the Legend Of The Five Rings (L5R) and the WWF (or WWE as it is now) collectible card game but there was nothing that ever really got its hooks into me. I found the theme and fiction of L5R (magic feudal Japan essentially, from what I remember) interesting but had real trouble understanding and employing the mechanics of play, whereas the WWF game was a bit more mechanically intuitive to me at the time but I had little interest in any of the characters or drama of that world.

As for Magic: The Gathering, the grand old daddy of collectible card games, I thought it was enormous and terrifying and the most impenetrable game I’d ever seen, for right or wrong. I was a wee teenager, remember?

I even tried a Warhammer 40,000 card game at one point, which should’ve been a sure thing as I was a 40K obsessive at the time, but nothing stuck.

Friends carried on regardless, especially a very good one who is now my go-to Netrunner sparring partner, but I rather missed out on card games like that in my youth and it makes me a little sad.

But! But, I’m an adult now, with an adult’s disposable income and an adult’s ability to put up with the frustration that comes from trying to learn the depths of something at once easy to understand but difficult to be good at.

And so we arrive at Netrunner, the game of mega corporations and the hackers who run gauntlets of cyber defences to steal those corporations’ secrets. All set in a very sexy looking cyberpunk future. I mean, that just sounds cool, and it’s the setting that first made my ears prick up when I heard the likes of Rab Florence talking about it on Rock Paper Shotgun quite some time ago.

Later, I was drawn to the board gaming website Shut Up & Sit Down (initially due to their hilarious video work) and co founder Quintin Smith is a Netrunner obsessive, which put the game back in my mind where the idea of it just sat there, waiting for me to actually do something about it.

One thoughtful partner and a birthday later I had a core set and the rest sort of follows on from there.

I think it’s such a beautifully designed game because the mechanics spring so naturally from the theme and then feed back into that theme as you play. The megacorps are these faceless, monolithic bastions of secrets and traps and dangerous fortifications, and so their cards spread out onto the table as they grow in power and wealth, ever pushing their agendas behind defensive cards called ICE designed to impede, slow down, misdirect or outright destroy the runner trying to force his or her way inside.

The runners are the fierce, iconoclastic hackers out to steal agendas out from under the megacorps, armed with cards that can disrupt, dismantle and impoverish their targets. Cards that bypass a corporation’s most fearsome ICE, or sap their funds, or cut straight into a server with surgical precision. They assemble the tools they need from their deck as the game progresses, constantly looking for a way to steal the corporations secrets out from under them.

I could go on, but Rab Florence does a much better job of selling the game in that RPS article than I ever will.

It’s a beautiful, intricate, intelligently designed game that, once you start to play reveals a depth and breadth that’s unlike anything I’ve ever come across. I never thought I’d ever be interested in card games like this ever again and I was so, so wrong.

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