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Beginner's Guide to Android: Netrunner

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So you’re thinking of leaping into the tense world of strategic bluffing and cyber warfare that is Android: Netrunner, but you aren’t sure where to start? Look no further as GKG covers a few common questions you might have about the game.

Overview

Netrunner is set in the dystopic Android universe and is a two player, asymmetrical Living Card Game (LCG) where Megacorporations (Corps) control humanity’s everyday lives and interests for their own morally ambiguous ends. One player takes the role of one of these Megacorps, while the other plays as one of the hacker elite, known as Runners, who want to thwart the Megacorps plans for their own equally morally ambiguous reasons. Both players begin with five cards drawn from their deck, as well as five Credits; however each side plays in a completely different manner and will use these resources in very different ways.

Ultimately each game is a struggle for the Corp’s agenda cards, either side wins if they can score or steal seven points worth of agenda cards. The Corp must try to play and advance agendas before scoring them for points, all the while fending off the attacks of the Runner who only has to find an agenda in order to score it. The Corp can play assets and upgrades to provide themselves strategic advantages and money that they will need to advance their agenda cards and activate their defence cards. These defences are known as “ICE” programs and they represent cyber security programs that the Corp can set up to guard against potential attacks made by the Runner by either damaging them or denying them access to the Corp’s cards. However the Corp has very few ways to directly attack the Runner themselves so must be cunning and careful about when they choose to play an agenda they will later want to score. If they play one too early then they risk not having enough defences to protect it and so it is stolen by the Runner before the Corp had a chance to advance it the required number of times. However play an agenda too late and the Runner might choose to attack the Corp’s hand, which might reveal the agenda and the Runner will steal it that way instead.

On their turn, the Runner can choose to attack (known as “running”) any of the cards the Corp chooses to play, as well as attacking (running) the Corp’s deck, hand and discard pile. If the Runner can break through or survive all of the ICE defences the Corp chooses to activate then the Runner will access some of the Corp’s cards and if they find any agenda cards then they can immediately steal them for points. The Runner will also play programs, hardware and resources to help fund their attacks on the Corp’s servers; arm themselves with weapons to use against the Corps defences or find ways of exposing the Corp’s tricks so they don’t become a victim of a vicious trap. The Runner’s hand of cards not only represents their options, but also their life total and if they ever have to discard a card but have none to discard then they are ‘flatlined’ and the Corp player wins. Thus the Runner must always be vigilant of any surprise attacks the Corp may launch to kill them!

One of the key game elements is that the flow of information is controlled almost entirely by the Corp. Almost all the cards the Corp plays are kept facedown and inactive until the Corp activates them or the Runner successfully makes a run on them. The Corp could choose to install an ambush asset to trick the Runner into breaking through the Corp’s ICE defences, which will cost the Runner valuable time and money as well as inflicting damage or other negative effects when the Runner accesses the trap instead of an agenda as they had hoped!

Corporations and Runners

The game has been designed with four Corporation factions, each with its own style of play and set of faction specific themes and mechanics. For example, Weyland Consortium is a large investment and construction company that uses heavy-handed and hostile tactics to further its business empire, this theme is carried over to its approach to cyber defences where many of its ice cards are allowed to be advanced to make them stronger with more investment, Weyland also utilises some of the most punishing ice in the game, albeit with an expensive cost to activate. By comparison, the NBN Corporation is a media network that controls almost all the forms of media distribution throughout the world and so its defences often focus on tracing information about the Runner during their attack (known as “tagging”) and then utilising these tags to suddenly have the Runner’s bank account closed, among other possibilities. Jinteki and Haas-Bioroid represent clone or “bioroid” development companies respectively. Jinteki contains a plethora of traps and ice that seeks to directly hurt the Runner in the hopes of playing mind games and killing them before they can score the required number of agenda points. On the other hand, Haas-Bioroid is an efficient Corporation that contains the strongest all-round ice, known as bioroid ice, which represents cyber security guards complete with personalities constructed from the memories of deceased humans, however because their ice is a constructed personality then they can be bypassed by the Runner simply giving up some actions to represent spending time with the Bioroid ice; overall strong ice but with that noticeable drawback.

For the Runners then there are three available factions. The Criminals, who utilise sneaky tricks to bypass the Corps defences and try to steal Credits directly from the Corps. Criminals are effective at making the Corp play by the Criminal’s rules, constantly leaving the Corp poor so they cannot afford to activate their defences, thus granting the Criminal Runner some easy accesses. The Anarchs, who specialise in virus programs and have many ways of destroying the Corp’s assets or upgrades for cheap. Their play style can seem chaotic or reckless, but there is a carefully honed destructive force behind the madness. Finally the Shapers, who are highly technologically capable and have a wide array of hardware and efficient program options to try and leverage a technological advantage against the Corps. Shapers view running as an art form and do not necessarily seek to deprive the Corps of their agendas for any political motivation, but perhaps just for fun or as a challenge.

Which factions will be your favourite? Players generally find a preferred Runner and Corp faction, but many choose to experiment with them all every now and then for a change of pace.

Where do I Start?

The Netrunner Core Set is the perfect starting point for any new player to the game. It comes with all the necessary game tokens and rule explanations as well as seven pre-built decks, one for each faction in the game, which results in 12 different match ups. This number increases to 24 if you swap sides after each game and increases even further if you play each match up a few times. As well as being a great starting point for the game then the Core Set makes an excellent standalone, traditional style board game that you can play anytime you would normally decide to play a two player board game.

 

How do I customise the game?

After playing with the pre-built decks a few times then you may notice that your favourite faction seems to lack some of the good tricks and options from another faction and you want to enhance your strategy and play experience by adding those cards from other factions into your preferred faction’s starter deck. The game uses a simple “influence” system that allows a small number of cards from other factions to be used in your deck as if they were your own faction’s cards. Many new players report how simple and satisfying it is to make a few small tweaks to the starter decks and even those can significantly alter the game play. If you are still hungry for more customisation after that then you can take the starter decks apart completely and make your own deck design from the ground up. Many players quickly find they enjoy the style of one or two particular factions over the others and there are an easily manageable amount of cards to start deck building with so that you are not overwhelmed by choice, but can still create a deck that plays differently to one your friend might make.

How do the expansions work?

Android: Netrunner functions well as a standalone game, but you can also buy additional booster pack and deluxe expansions to give you more cards from which to choose from when you are designing your deck. You could simply include all the new cards for your favourite faction into your current deck, however for the best play experience then you may prefer to choose the cards that best complement your strategy, the choice is yours!

How is this different from a trading card game like Magic: The Gathering

Android: Netrunner distributes additional cards using Fantasy Flightnetrunner-what-lies-ahead-small.jpg Game’s “Living Card Game” model, which is a “fixed distribution” model. This means that there are booster packs – called data packs in the world of Netrunner. Each data pack has exactly the same set of cards in it as all other same-named packs. For instance, if you bought the first data pack ‘What Lies Ahead’ then it contains the exact same set of cards as any other copy of that pack. Additionally, each data pack comes with three copies of each unique card in it, which is the maximum number of copies you can include in a legal deck, so you never have to buy the same pack twice to get more copies of a good card for your deck. The cards for each released data pack are often available for viewing on-line, so you can look at what each pack contains before you commit to buying it; if there are no cards you want then you can skip that pack altogether. A new data pack is released roughly once every month and a deluxe expansion (which provides lots of cards for specific factions) is usually released after every six data packs or so.

Are there any recommended data packs?

The first six expansion packs (known as the Genesis cycle data packs) were designed to augment and embellish some of the strategies that were first introduced in the Core Set. Each pack provides cards for every faction but each one also has a focus on a different faction, providing a few more cards for that faction and introducing a new strategic theme for them. The first pack What Lies Ahead provides all the Corporation factions with an additional agenda choice, which greatly opens up the customisation options for every Corp, as well as some important Runner card options that cover over some of the weaknesses in the Runner strategies from the Core Set. These two features usually make What Lies Ahead a strong first expansion choice, after that what you choose to get is up to you, if you have a favourite faction then consider getting the pack in which they were the focus. Alternatively, if you particularly like the Shaper and Haas-Bioroid factions then the deluxe expansion Creation & Control provides many cards focused almost solely on those two factions – it also comes with two more pre-built deck suggestions for you to try. As mentioned earlier, the cards for each pack are often available on-line so you can check in advance what each pack contains before you decide which you might like to get.

Competing

You may become so engrossed in Netrunner that you want to seek out more players to compete against and Netrunner’s explosive popularity is providing that too. The game has grown so much that game shops around the world now hold regular tournaments in which you can win prizes like alternative art versions of cards and play mats containing card art from the game. In addition to these regular events then there are also annual FFG sanctioned regional and national tournaments in many countries as well as the World Championship held in the U.S.A. around October/November.