Thursday, 28 February 2013

New version of Netrunner cardgame: first impressions

FFG has rereleased the Netrunner 2-player cardgame. This is an original design by Richard Garfield, and the game is licensed by Wizards of the Coast. FFG have set the game in the Android SciFi universe (based very much on the Bladerunner movie). My first impression is that it is a tight and tense game with a lot to learn.

I never played the original game, but the broad outlines appear similar to what friends tell me was in the original. The best part of the game is still that it's asymmetrical, with a very different experience for the 'Corp' player and the 'runner'. There are four Corps in the game and 3 runner factions to choose from. 

The former tries to complete a number of 'agendas', while the latter tries to steal these agendas to score. To do this the runners amass hardware, programs and additional resources. The programs are mostly 'ice breakers' to gain access to the corp servers, the hardware determine the overall performance of the programs and the resources

The corp tries to defend its agendas by defending the servers with different forms of 'ice'. Some of that ice will just obstruct or deflect attacks, while other cards will set traps to hurt or tag the runner so that he can be counterattacked. But the most effective part of the corp's strategy must be hiding and bluff to tempt the runner into costly attacks while securing the agenda's.

The game hand book is pretty clear although it took me considerable time to read and digest the rules. There's a lot of terminology and the different types of actions available to corp and runner also take time to sink in. But you're good once you're going and we didn't do a lot of referencing during the game.

The main resources in the game are the credits needed to buy or activate cards and the clicks of activity, which limit the amount of things a player can do in a turn.

Add in a number of events available to both sides and you have a widely varying experience where the balance of the game can shift during the game, as I experienced on Saturday playing against Tom in the role of corp.

View from the Runner's side, late in the game

Early on I was able to capitalise on Tom's weak defence of his root server (ie card hand) and archives (ie discard pile). This allowed me to inspect and sometimes discard from his hand*. In this way I had very good information on his card hand  and could limit his actions. Linked to a reward of two credits for every time I accessed his root server (a special ability of Gabriel), I had set up a very powerful combo that allowed me to steal two agenda's early on, on the verge of winning.

However, by then Tom had realised he should plug the gaps and I soon ran out of helpful cards to evade the ice. This gave me less information on Tom's card hand and I had to spend more time on building up capital for runs. Tom also took his time to set traps and decoys. With limited information I was forced to take calculated risks, which backfired so that he was able to level up on agendas.

We then entered a long phase of hide and seek, where Tom tried to reduce my stock of credits and I built up my attacking power. I was saving a special icebreaker card for the decisive attack, but then lost it as I got bitten by a trap. By the time I had gotten a new one, I was too low on credits to use it effectively.

In the final turn it was clear that there was an agenda card out there, but I didn't have the money anymore to break through the defences. I could try three desperate things: break into the archives, R&D (draw pile) or root server and hope for an agenda card. I thought I had a fairly good chance to defeat the ice on each of them, so I weighed the chances of the top cards of the archive and R&D being agenda cards or one of the five cards in Tom's hand.

So I went for R&D on the hunch that there weren't many cards left there and I hadn't seen too many appear yet. Turns out my assessment was correct and I got LUCKY! So I won the game, but not through superior play. Maybe Tom could have delayed bringing the agenda card into the game a bit, but he told me he had another one in his hand so there was a real risk I would get lucky attacking his root. I think he recovered very well from being on the back foot early on.

First impression is that the game is tense and offers a lot to learn. On the other hand, if every game ends in a long stand off, that would make it less enjoyable. And I need to see how the play balance is between runners and corp. There might be a faction effect, in the sense that some corps deal better with certain runner factions than others.

I look forward to finding out.

* I played with the Gabriel Santiago cyber criminals faction. This deck includes the Sneakdoor Beta card, which allows you to access the root server from the archives.


  1. I'm sure there were mistakes on both sides that could have prolonged the game. In my experience an average game lasts about 30-45 mins.

    In time you'll be able to manage your credit flow better and upgrade your programs through deckbuilding.

    I think gameplay just gets deeper the more you play, but occasionaly you can have a longer game but I find those can be very very tense games.

  2. thx Doc

    Sure, this was tense because we were both in winning distance and he was hoarding his agenda cards (I couldn't be sure though). As the corp player decides when he shows his intentions, there's a lot of calculated risk taking for the runner.

    Sure, misunderstanding of the game and bad tactics may have played a role.

    I'm not dismissing the game for this long sessions, it's just that I'm curious whether it's a regular occurrence.

    We didn't do deckbuilding. For a first game we thought the starter decks would be easier.

  3. I'm planning to play this for the first time tomorrow, and have been reading the rules on the web. It looks really cool, thanks for sharing your game!


I appreciate comments. Let me know what you think!