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Computer Love – Android: Netrunner review

NetrunnerCOVER

Out of all the things that comprise this world of play, the aspect that impresses me most are card games. I love the scope that cards offer the designer and the gamer, the range of opportunity and the variety of formats that a few simple bits of paper can provide. Consider games such as Dominion and Love Letter, Flowerfall and Yomi… all little more than words and images on paper but all very different games. I find it incredible how card games can conjure up theme so well, and now another has been added to my pile of favourites – Android: Netrunner.

I was honoured to have Richard Garfield on the show a while ago. As the designer of the original Netrunner (as well as Magic: The Gathering, of course) he’s responsible for one of the lost classics in gaming, one that has gathered fans through the years despite only really being available through eBay and other second-hand routes. Perhaps going up against M:TG was too much of a struggle, but now Fantasy Flight have taken the reigns some sixteen years down the line. After running it through their great big LCG machine, it’s now available again – albeit in a slightly new format – and is even better than before.

Android: Netrunner is a masterclass in asymmetrical design. Players take either the Runner or Corporation side and attempt to score Agendas, with the first to seven points taking the win. The faceless Corporations will spend their huge reserves of cash to advance these Agendas while also trying to protect them with various pieces of Ice, technological marvels that only the greatest hackers will be able to break through. Unfortunately, the Runner has the tools at their disposal to do precisely that, deftly breaking subroutines and stealing the Agendas from under the Corp’s nose.

Kate is a Shaper, determined to create and play within the confines of the Corporations.

Kate is a Shaper, determined to create and play within the confines of the Corporations.

Of course, it’s not as easy as that. There’s a huge element of bluff in A:N – having control over secret information is key to gaining the upper hand over your opponent.Timing is also vital, especially for the player in control of the Runner. If you can manage to attack the Corporation servers often, you’ll put a huge dent in their coffers meaning that they won’t be able to flip the Ice protecting their precious Agendas. On the other hand, you may well be racing headlong into a trap that will cause you damage – you never know what could happen, which is why attempting to outmanoeuvre the other player is so vital.

If being the Runner is to dart about, looking for weaknesses and chinks in armour, playing as the Corp is all about force and using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Building up well protected servers and confusing the Runner should be the order of the day if you side with the big bad guys in A:N, trying to swat them away like a mosquito. You really do get a feeling of power when you take one of the Corporation roles, creating a (hopefully) unbreachable row of defences as you march relentlessly towards victory. After all, the Corporations in Netrunner rule the world – how could a pesky little Runner stop them from achieving their goals?

Jinteki are one of the Corporations, ready to crush any attacks made on them.

Jinteki are one of the Corporations, ready to crush any attacks made on them by forcing Runners to frequently discard cards.

Quite simply, actually. Despite both players having very different goals (as well as methods of reaching them) the game is generally well balanced. Sure, the different Runner factions and Corporate identities may have a few positives and negatives when thrown into the mix, but most of the time you’ll find that match-ups are pretty even. It’s even suggested in the rulebook that you play twice each time, switching roles after the first game – if anything, it’s a great way to ensure that your skills are relatively even no matter what side you play. You’ll invariably end up preferring one side over the other – personally I enjoy Running much more – but if you want to get truly good at the game you’ll need to work on both.

As you’d imagine, what with it now being under the Fantasy Flight banner, the whole game has a sheen of class about it. The images throughout are lovely, instructions are nice and clear… even the flavour text on the cards is good. Hell, I’d go so far to say that some of it is downright funny; there are plenty of in-jokes and pop culture references to pick up on. A personal favourite is the Archer quote – definitely one for fans of the TV show.

Android: Netrunner has taken the original game and improved on it in countless ways. Where it could often require the assistance of someone else to get into the intricacies of how to play (and more importantly, how to play well), it’s now a lot easier to pick up and understand. Even the rulebook is well put together – where many other FFG products can be like molasses when you’re trying to wade through them, it’s comparatively easy to find out the information you require in this one.

Oh man, they're all so pretty.

Oh man, they’re all so pretty. And useful!

For far too long, Netrunner was left out in the rain. Those who knew how good it was championed the game but with dwindling stocks of cards, managing to play was a challenge in itself. Now, thanks to this relaunch, more and more people are getting to experience this fantastic game properly. With regular expansions being made available, FFG have demonstrated their desire to support it and sales have been good, so here’s hoping that Android: Netrunner is here to stay.

Android: Netrunner is strictly for two players only and games take around 15-30 minutes. Designed by Richard Garfield with assistance from Lukas Litzsinger, it’s now produced by Fantasy Flight Games. A copy from Gameslore will set you back £26, while the expansions (called Data Packs) are an additional tenner each. And seriously, it’s worth every penny.

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