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Uncle Steve

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Android: Netrunner [Mar. 19th, 2014|12:39 pm]
Uncle Steve
Thoughts on the new-ish “Netrunner” card game:

It’s good. It took me a while to realise this, and I spent some of that time convinced it was Not Very Good instead. I was wrong.

For those who have played similar card games such as “Magic: The Gathering”, this one is a lot more unforgiving. In Magic, if you pick a colour you like and just play some cards of it, well, you’ll still end up with some 2/2 creatures out and you can achieve something. In Netrunner, the cards are much more specialised and nowhere near as generally useful. You need to plan. I saw this as a weakness, because it means certain cards are too well-known. It doesn’t have the breadth of Magic where you can take a general approach but flavour it with a wide range of slightly different cards – if someone talks about a Netrunner tactic using a Scorched Earth approach, they mean the one card called "Scorched Earth". Every time.

This disappointed me, but I’m beginning to see that it’s not a negative thing. There may be a small number of well-known effective cards, but there’s more subtlety in making choices with them. You can’t have everything in your deck, so you have to specialise and hope your weaknesses don’t matter too much.

Netrunner is really quite unforgiving. If the *rate* at which you’re usefully spending time and gaining money slows down more than your opponent, you’re dead. Unless your deck has a purpose AND you stick to that purpose, you’re usually dead. If you’re not brave enough to run face-first into what could be a bluff at least some of the time, you just won’t keep up. There’s a lot of bluffing.

On the other hand, you can also still win when you are a clueless newbie with only the starting cards – something that’s completely impossible in Magic. It relies so much on plans and surprise, anyone can upset things. That immediately makes it a better game than many on the market.

The game is asymmetrical: one player is a corporation, with 3 actions per round, and the other is a hacker, with 4 actions per round (but no automatic drawing of a card at the beginning of their turn – they have to spend an action to do that). The Corporation (Corp) puts down traps, and tries to keep treasures safe behind them long enough for them to mature and give points. The hacker (Runner) breaks into everything the other player has, raiding the points and looking at all the cards. ALL the cards, including those in the opponent’s pile, their discard pile, on the table and even in their hand right now. That’s a scary change from Magic: the Runner can hack right into your *hand*.

So you’ve got an evil Corporation laying down barriers (ICE), and hiding things behind them – which might be treasure (Agendas) or an ambush. Then they wait behind those walls, and rely on the Runner to take action to trigger anything. Meanwhile, the Runner is manically attacking. It’s a very asymmetric style of playing, and grabs the player either way.

Other things you can do: as a Corp you can tag a Runner (which gives you the location they’re hacking from) and then send a hit squad around to their house. Or blow up the whole city block (that Scorched Earth card). You can leave something undefended so that they’ll try to take it, or make it a trap. Or make them think it’s a trap, while you get the points cheaply for not having had to defend it. There’s a LOT of bluffing in this. Meanwhile the Runner can build up tools until it’s impossible to keep them out, or concentrate on making huge money to buy their way past anything, or take virus cards and start breaking everything the Corp owns. The Corp can try to block them with shields which stop the attack, or let it through at a cost of time and/or money. Maybe you WANT to let them through, so that they can run into a trap, or you can play one of the revenge cards which only activate after a Runner is successful. That's a lot of options.

Great community in London so far, too. Here's my game from last night in a pub:

It's the first to 7 points and early on I'm 0-6 behind. By the end I'm up to 6/6, and I've broken through all the ICE to raid his hand (called the HQ server). Thanks to a card he played earlier, I've seen what he has and I know there's an agenda in there - if I can choose it blind out of the 4 or 5 he's holding, I can steal it away from him and gain the points immediately, and win.

BUT... he's playing the Jinteki Corp, famous for using traps which fry the brains of Runners over the net connection, and I've also previously seen that he has one of the big trap cards in his hand right now. If I choose that one, called "Snare", I'll gain nothing, take a load of damage and end up Tagged for the next turn (that is Very Bad). So it's 6/6 and I'm running blind into a trap card most people take a LOT of care to avoid ...or I might steal his agenda and win.

In the end, I only discovered a money-making card I can't use, and he managed to keep me out of one of his remote servers long enough to score an agenda of his own and get the final point. But damn. Knowing you've only got one turn and burning all your money to make a last-ditch run on his central server (when all the wisdom says you *do not do that* against Jinteki)... that was fun.

More updates once I’ve played more than 2 or 3 games. Lovely story about learning Netrunner here:

[User Picture]From: dan_g
2014-03-19 04:30 pm (UTC)
Have not played Netrunner in nigh on a decade...

And yet, I know exactly which box in ,my parents loft I left all my decks and spares in...
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