Preview: The Return of Netrunner
by Moss Scheurkogel
*THE GAME SHOPPER HAS MOVED!*
The new link for this article is: http://gameshop.com.au/blog/thegamesshopper/2012/06/14/the-return-of-netrunner/
Thanks for your patience.
Gamers the world over have cause to rejoice this year, as the classic card game Netrunner is slated for a hard reboot. Personally, I have another reason to celebrate, since the previously discontinued game is being resurrected under the banner of one of my favourite ridiculously overdeveloped, more-of-a-life-experience/therapy-session-than-a-game games, Android. As I implied in my previous discussion of this beautiful monstrosity, Android has enough theme for ten games squeezed into its bulging, brittle husk; so it’s no surprise that Fantasy Flight has positioned a few other games beneath Android to catch the spill-over before it dribbles all over the carpet. With the recently released Infiltration and the upcoming Netrunner, Android is becoming the franchise that film nerds all wish Blade Runner had become.
The Road Away From the Collectable Card Game
For most people though, the new theme is just the faintest feature in this monumental recovery of a gaming great. Netrunner’s original run was from 1996 to ‘99, and in its heyday it was a collectable card game similar to Magic: The Gathering. The similarities don’t stop there, either. Netrunner was actually created by Richard Garfield, the mastermind behind Magic Cards and just about every other collectable card game you can think of from the late 90’s.
Being a CCG, Netrunner was vulnerable to the same limitations of chance and price that plague the genre. Packs of random cards had to be purchased, with variable results, and the price creep continued to rise as new expansions were released with new rare or uncommon cards that collectors and competitive gamers would have to rabidly chase down if they wanted their decks to stay relevant.
As you can tell, I’ve never been overfond of the CCG model. As a former Magic player, I know how expensive it can be to stay afloat in a continually evolving game. This is why I appreciate efforts to steer away from the CCG model, like Kosmos Games attempted with Reiner Knizia’s Blue Moon, or like Killer Bunnies continues to do. These are games where players can buy full sets, ready to play, and can add on to them with predefined boosters that are finite, regulated, and consistent in the cards they offer. No more disappointment when you tear open a ten dollar pack of random cards to find that you already own them all.
This, luckily enough, is what Fantasy Flight games is doing with their reboot of Netrunner. Joining the ranks of games like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Call of Cthulhu, Netrunner is going to be a “living card game,” which is FF’s term for a game that is fully playable at launch, but which will benefit from consistent monthly expansion packs that will feature a non-random selection of new cards. Is it still a way for the developers to suck in a steady stream of income from their content-hungry audience every month? Of course. But the core product of Android: Netrunner will still be fully playable, and should offer tons of replay value based on the brilliant mechanics of the game itself, not just on the value of the cards you buy.
Why it Came Back
The real reason everybody is salivating over this rerelease is because Netrunner was, is, and will be once more, a fantastic game. The ads all seem to focus on the fact that it is an ‘asymmetrical card game,’ meaning that each of the two players has a totally different set of cards and options, and this is definitely one of the key selling features of the game. One player takes on the role of a powerful multinational corporation, hellbent on advancing its agendas and protecting its secrets. The other player is a lone hacker, a netrunner, one puny figure who stands in the shadow of legions.
Like my favourite war game, War of the Ring, this is a game where one side holds all the power. The corporation sets up the board, creating secretive data forts that can be used to advance their agendas. The runner can try to crack into these forts, but will be opposed by the corporation’s defences. The runner’s advantage is that they can dart and weave and strike at exposed areas in the corp’s network.
Not even the corp’s hand is safe, in fact. The runner can attack the corp’s hand (thematically referred to as the ‘HQ,’) their deck (R&D,) or their discard pile (Archives.) The corp, however, can lay traps in any of these targets to cripple, wound, or even kill the runner. Indeed, the life of a renegade hacker is perilously fragile.
The beauty of Netrunner, though, goes beyond the dynamic nature of an asymetrical game or the ingeniously employed theme (no wonder Android took it over – barely a change needs to be made.) Even when it was a true CCG, surrounded by peers that were largely dominated by deck building and tactical purchases, Netrunner has been a game of choices. Each player is given multiple options on their turn that are not exclusively tied to their cards, making a player’s skill more important than the hand they drew. Indeed, I’ve heard whispered rumours of netrunners so talented that they’ve won games without playing a single card.
Such fairy tales are, of course, best left at the Wyldside club if you want to survive in the harsh, oppressive reality of running.
A Welcome Return
I have friends who still keep shoeboxes full of their old Netrunner decks, eager to pull any unsuspecting mark into the world of corporite espionage. Fantasy Flight states that some upgrades have been made to the original game to streamline it, and while these changes are largely unknown at the moment, early previews indicate that the game will maintain its core appeal. It will still be a deliciously robust cyberpunk game about either sticking it to the man or swatting the irritating insect that keeps buzzing around your secrets. With luck, the new release will appeal to the uninitiated as well as the old bastions, those friends with their shoeboxes.
The game is prepped to hit the shelves in August of 2012, and when it does I truly believe that we can hope to see one of the most exciting card game releases of the year.