Tag Archives: netrunner

Computer Love – Android: Netrunner review


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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It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the year…

Oh yes indeed – GenCon is nearly here! The USA’s best board games show is approaching once again, kicking off this Thursday for four days of gaming in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once again it’ll be stacked with the usual pile of new releases and exclusive previews as pretty much every major American publisher will be present along with plenty of the larger European names – but what are the big titles people are looking forward to?

Libertalia from Marabunta / Asmodee is one that I think will probably be under many people’s radars but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best releases. A role selection game at heart with up to six players acting as pirate captains on their way to retirement and looking for a final hurrah, it’s a sneaky extravaganza of treasure hunting and back stabbing with a great level of player interaction. I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy so expect a review in the very near future. Also, if you get a copy early enough, you’ll get metal doubloons! Who wouldn’t want it?!

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar by CGE was available to play in early prototype form at the UK Games Expo, but it looks like a near finished version should be at GenCon. It’s a worker placement extravaganza with a really interesting mechanism where cogs turn and interact with each other on the board. Stay on the board too long and your guys could well end up a wasted placing as they move past the resources that you’re aiming for. CGE’s games are always beautifully produced so you know this will be incredible to behold – there’s no other company out there who I’d trust to make such an involved and creative board concept.

Fantasy Flight will be there with wheelbarrows filled with stuff, of course, but the new versions of Merchant of Venus and Netrunner are both due for release at the show. Early reports say that these two remakes are amazing, managing to capture the brilliance of the original games while giving them a shiny makeover, though MoV will include the rules to play both the old and new versions. Netrunner’s asymmetric gameplay has long been a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on this modernised version to see how it compares to Richard Garfield’s classic. Also, there’s the small matter of a little game called X-Wing finally seeing the light of day…

Village, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2012, has been picked up by Tasty Minstrel Games and looks like it’ll be this year’s go to game for those who want to scratch their Euro itch. Players need to find fame and fortune for their family members in order to keep their name immortalised in the village’s chronicles – make the right moves and your legacy will live on. Screw it up and your future generations will fade into obscurity. It’s a very clever worker placement game and probably the only one I know where death is used to limit a character’s time. This will only be available in very limited amounts – apparently there’ll only be fifty at the show – so if you want a copy, head to TMG’s booth early.

AEG’s Tempest line is also due for its first public viewing at the show with the initial three games in the series getting a release. Courtier, Dominare and Mercante all promise very different playing experiences but the interesting element will be seeing how the public react to the storybuilding aspects of the world. As characters change, further games in the series will reflect these developments – for example, should the story necessitate that a major role needs to be wiped out, later games will reference back to whatever happened. We’re not looking at a Risk Legacy effort here where every person’s game will be different as time goes on; AEG will run the story along the lines of their Legend of the Five Rings property, controlling it from their end with input from players and designers. This could prove a very interesting experiment…

AEG also have the light-as-a-feather but very entertaining Smash Up ready for release at GenCon. The world’s first shufflebuilding game sees players combine two twenty card decks (ninjas with robots, pirates with aliens, that kind of thing) and utilise their joint powers to take over bases in order to score points. It’s a very quick little game but has a surprising level of depth to it as you try and work out which sets work particularly well against your opponents’ selections. I think this one will do pretty well at the show, especially as it clocks in well under that magical 45 minute mark for playtime.

Of course, one of the best things about any gaming convention is the discovery of those releases from smaller companies. 5th Street Games will be showing off their rather splendid Farmageddon while Asmadi should have copies of their very limited Origins hit FlowerFall available too. The new Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse will be selling at the Greater Than Games booth, while Leviathans, the steampunky miniatures air-combat game that I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for, is finally due – albeit in very limited numbers. Last of all, Morels from Two Lanterns Games will definitely be available and it looks utterly lovely.

Oh yeah. One final thing.

I’m very excited about is the fact that my new game, Pocket Universe, will be on show at the Game Salute booth. I’m finding it very nerve-wracking that it’s being shown at all but it’s even worse when you consider that I’m not actually going to be there. You may well have tried it out yourself by downloading the files from the site (there’s been a few, honest!) but that version is light years away from the one you’ll be able to check out at GenCon. While it’s still in prototype format, the gameplay is 99.99% finished – I’m considering tweaking maybe one or two very tiny elements – so why not have a look at it yourself? Just ask one of the GS team at the Sneak Peeks booth (#2035) and tell them I sent you.

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Episode 23 – A Bit of Magic

Get the episode from iTunes or directly from here: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/z5i7gs/LMD_Episode23.mp3

This is another one of those episodes where it baffles me how it actually happened. Why? Well, I got to speak to Richard Garfield. The guy who single handedly started the whole Collectible Card Game genre with Magic: The Gathering. There’s not many people who can say they’re responsible for beginning a genre of game, but Richard definitely can. As well as M:TG, he’s also designed games like RoboRally, The Great Dalmuti, Netrunner, Vampire The Eternal Struggle… the list is huge. He’s also just released his latest game, King of Tokyo, a battle of the behemoths! I ask him about pretty much everything I can (as you would, of course) and yet it still wasn’t enough time to get everything out! Here’s hoping I get the chance to talk with him again some day.

Chris also returns this episode with answers to a stack of questions. If you want to get in touch with us, you can email us: michael@littlemetaldog.com and chris@littlemetaldog.com. Thanks to Gryphon Games for sponsoring this episode, and thanks as always to you for listening.

Oh yeah. There might be a competition hidden somewhere in the show too. Maybe.

This episode’s links!


Mirror Mirror on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/167427101/mirror-mirror-a-game-of-deception-reflection-and-l?ref=live

Magic: The Gathering home – http://www.wizards.com/Magic

Richard’s excellent Three Donkeys site – http://www.threedonkeys.com/blog/

The UKGMN’s videos from UK Games Expo – WARNING – you will see my face – http://www.youtube.com/user/Weirdchris56

Don’t forget, we’re part of The Dice Tower Network as well! The home of fine gaming shows! – http://dicetower.com/





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Tales from the Fireside – Thematic Atac

Another Tale from the Fireside, in which Campfire recieves a gift that gets him to thinking…


The first thing I do whenever hearing about a new game is check to see whether it’s a thematic title or not. I’ll do this before noting the kind of gameplay in it, its cost or even its title. It could be called The Free Sex and Chocolate Adventuregasm, but unless it’s a thematic game, I probably won’t be interested.

It’s not that all abstract games are bad. Take Quarto, for instance. I’ve played a bit of Quarto, and I quite like it. It’s a multidimensional take on Connect 4, where you and your opponent take turns placing pieces on a grid. Each piece is unique, but all share certain characteristics with the other pieces in the game. So, half the pieces have holes in them and half don’t, half are round and half are square, half are white and half are black, and half are tall while the other half are squat – but there’s only one short, square, black piece with a hole in it, just as there’s only one tall, round, white piece without a hole in it. Like Connect 4, the object of the game is to line four pieces with a similar characteristic across the board, but – and here’s the clever part – you don’t choose which piece you put down; you choose which piece your opponent puts down, and she chooses where to put it.

It’s a devious game about laying traps for your partner to blunder into, and it’s a lot of fun. But there’s something missing.

There’s been a lot of discussion in board gaming circles about what constitutes a thematic game. Here’s my answer:

Thematic games are built around your imagination.

When I play Quarto, I don’t use my imagination for anything other than than strategy. I’ll imagine what I might do if my opponent moves her piece here, and guess what I’ll do if she chooses that piece for me to play – but that’s where my imagination ends.

Last week, Boss Michael sent me two starter decks for a mid-90s trading card game called Netrunner. Netrunner is a thematic game. In fact it’s difficult to imagine a game more thematic than Netrunner. The game’s so entrenched in its own theme that its rules are written in a dense jargon that requires its own glossary. If you don’t understand that jargon and the world in which Netrunner is set, you won’t understand the game.

I love that about it. I haven’t even played a full game of Netrunner yet, but I love the jargon and the world; I love the theme, and the theme makes the game.

In Netrunner, you and your opponent play as a Corporation trying to protect its secrets and a hacker trying to steal them. The opposing sides play differently. Corporate relies on bluff and subterfuge; Corporate cards are played face side down, and their effects aren’t revealed until the hacker accesses them or the Corporate player ‘rezes’ them by paying money to put them into play.

Meanwhile, the hacker – or Runner, as she’s known in the game – places cards representing pieces of software and hardware, and uses them to probe Corporate’s defenses. Eventually, once she’s gathered a suitable set of tools and thinks her hand is strong enough, she’ll make an all-out attack against Corporate to steal its secret Agendas.

Every stat and card type used on either side of the game has its own jargon name. The Runner’s card deck is called the Stack. She can install Program cards, and pay a cash value from her Bit pool to use them to search through the Stack for Hardware that will boost her attack, or other Programs to neutralise the effects – or Subroutines – of Corporate’s defense cards – or ICE, as they’re known.

Corporate’s deck of cards is called R&D – Research and Development. Every card the Corporate player draws from it represents a new product cooked up by the boffins down in the basement of the Corporate building. Corporate’s own cash pool of Bits represents far more wealth than the Runner’s. The Bit Pool and Corporate’s hand of cards are collectively known as HQ – they’re Corporate Headquarters. The Corporate player must install ICE defenses such as Sentries and Firewalls in front of HQ and R&D to prevent the Runner stealing Agendas, and from generally messing up his strategies.

Corporate can also create Subsidiary Data Fortresses by installing Agendas – the source of Agenda Points, which are used to score the game – and protecting them with ICE. Corporate can also install ICE on his discard pile – the Archives – to stop the Runner stealing old cards he’s discarded, but which might still be worth points.

If all this sounds complicated, well, it is. But by having this immersive story and world wrapped around the game’s mechanics, placing cards and making moves takes on a new meaning. As a Corporate player I could bluff the Runner by placing a worthless Agenda – a Commercial, say – as a Subsidiary Data Fortress, and protecting it with Tracer ICE to distract her from making a Run on HQ, where I hold a valuable Agenda in my hand. When the Runner makes a Run on that decoy Data Fortress, she wastes her turns stealing something ridiculous like one of those banner adverts for Thai Bride dating agencies, and goes away with a Trace on her which allow me to send cops after her, who’ll shoot her in the face, inflicting Meat Damage.

But then, on the Runner’s turn, she plays a Prep card allowing her to escape the trace on one of those kick-ass motorcycles from Akira, and busts open my HQ’s defences with a Virus that leaves Looney Tunes cartoons on all my computers while she steals a load of money.

Yes, it requires a bit of imagination to see the game like that, but the commercial, the ICE, the bike and the cartoons – they’re all there in the game. The cards even have little return keys on them, to signify using an action. It’s all too easy to imagine some grungy hacker chick with braids and over-sized scarlet-tinted goggles knocking back Mountain Dew and tapping the return key on her keyboard, to flood a corporation’s e-mail system with spam.

Netrunner is 90s cyberpunk par excellence. Its world of day-glo hair extensions and sleek slabs of hardware isn’t an afterthought; it’s the heart of the game. There are lots of abstract games that have had thematic makeovers to appeal to this or that pop culture phenomenon – you could argue that The Simpsons Chess is a thematic game, although I imagine you’d have a problem explaining why there are sixteen Maggies on the board, or why Bart can only move diagonally. But Net Runner wouldn’t work as a card game without its theme. Every card you play corresponds to an action inside its fictional world, and when your game’s done, you won’t be talking about the great hands you’ve had and the cards you’ve played; instead you’ll boast about the time an impudent hacker thought she could steal your Bioweapons research, and your Lich-designated black ICE left her brain-dead and drooling beneath her cybernetic implants.

And that’s something that won’t happen even in the most heated game of Quarto.


Email campfire@littlemetaldog.com with your thoughts. He’d love to hear from you, honestly.

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