This Needs To Become A Movie Franchise. . . . . NOW! - Android Netrunner LCG Review

I used to play a lot of CCG games, from Magic the Gathering to Star Wars (my personal favourite) to Aliens vs Predator and even dabbling in guilty pleasures such as Pokemon and Young Jedi (still don't know why I ever bothered to play that one). Recently though I've grown tired of the CCG model and having to spend a fortune either trying to acquire cards in booster boxes or acquiring them online from overpriced web sites. Recently a friend got me into Cardfight Vanguard which is a popular CCG in recent years, but even that I've now grown annoyed with and am selling off my collection piecemeal.

The LCG model seemed like an answer to my wish for a deck-building card game that could be kinder on the budget. With LCG's there are frequent expansions and "packs" as opposed to boosters, but they contain the same cards and 3 copies of every single one. That way you can find out in advance whether you need the pack or not and you will have enough cards to use them in a deck off the bat as most if not all LCG's have a max count of 3 of each card in a deck. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think they all do.

Android Netrunner is the hotness right now for LCG's and my first venture into the genre though I now have Lord of the Rings as well which is very good and I look forward to Warhammer 40,000 Conquest coming out later this year. So I've certainly been bitten by the LCG bug, but I've repelled the CCG bug. So what do I think about Android Netrunner now that I've had a chance to enjoy everything it has to offer?

"A cool looking box cover, though it doesn't give off much information about the game"

Designer: Richard Garfield (2012)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 2
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 45-60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 6 / 8.30
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: 10
Category: 2 Player Asymmetrical Card Game with Bluffing/Hand Management
  
A Dystopian Future 

To try and go over the rules in brief, in Android Netrunner, two sides are competing against each other. On one side you have the Corporations who are your big money-making entities with secret agendas to advance for their own good. On the other you have the Runners who seek to steal as much information from the corporations as possible in the hopes of putting a dent in their activities while financing their own lifestyle. Both sides are competing for agenda points and whichever obtains 7 points worth (by advancing for Corp, stealing for Runner) first wins the game.

The Corporation forms his mainframe server decks consisting of R & D, HQ and Archives or to put it in normal terms (we'll get on to that later) the draw deck, the players hand of cards and the discard pile. During the game the Corporation will set up remote servers consisting of agendas, assets (useful perks or abilities) or traps (ways to hurt the Runner) and protect them with ICE cards, which are countermeasures to the Runner's hacking attempts. All information is secret unless revealed by the Corp player or accessed by the Runner.

"The components are pretty cool looking and good quality, though most people replace them"

The Runner sets up the same decks (but calls them the Stack, Grip and Heap instead) and throughout the game, purchases the necessary hardware and computer software programs necessary to break through the Corp's defences and access the agendas without getting killed or "flatlined" by the Corp's traps they may have up their sleeve.

Both sides require credits to fund their endeavours and the game is all about managing your resources, utilising your cards to the best of their ability, sussing out what the opponent is up to and reacting accordingly.

How To Do A Good Core Set


First of all, the biggest plus with regards to getting started in this game is the fantastic core set. There are four factions for Corporation and three for the Runners. In the core set you get 7 playable (and fairly competitive) decks, one for each faction. You'll get 3 copies of most major cards, 2 of others and one of the rest so if you're thinking of competitive play, then you'll likely need a 2nd core set eventually, but you can get a lot of fun out of those core decks before you even need to consider going on to the data packs.

"That's a lot of decks and components in just one box"

The layout of the cards and artwork is gorgeous as well. The theme of a Blade Runner meets Inception type future is very strong here and it comes a lot from the cards. The ICE countermeasures have really cool "computer program" style artwork that make you think you're starring in your own hacking movie. Each faction has a theme that's set in it's artwork as well. Seriously I think that Netrunner would make a cool movie franchise, just don't get M. Night Shyamalan to direct it.



Each side plays very differently to each other. A Runner's game is completely different to a Corporation's game and each faction is very different in their playstyle. That's a ton of variety right off the bat with 7 factions to choose from before you even think of deck-building. And despite that asymmetrical nature of the game, it's very well balanced, I don't notice any distinct part that suggests that one side has the upper hand over the other. And even if that were the case, in a typical round you play each side once so both of you have the same stab at it. Now as with any deck based game, a round where you get bad draws can swing the game a bit, but as you're using mind games so you don't have to necessarily reveal that fact to your opponent, hard as it is not to. But both players are subject to the same luck.



Mind Games

The game is not just about playing cards and resolving effects though. Bear in mind that everyone has access to every card in the game being an LCG so simply building a top quality deck isn't enough. You have to be able to play it well and also adapt to your opponents game. This is where one of the best qualities of this game comes in, the mind games. As the Corporation you are keeping information secret so you have to be able to bluff your way out of trouble or even goad your opponent into accessing something he shouldn't. Jinteki is my favourite faction to play by far for that very reason, they love setting traps for the opponent and I enjoy watching the opponent sweat when he's deciding whether to go for a suspicious server or not.

But even as the Runner, you have to play a deduction game to figure out where you should be targeting your efforts. Rarely do you have the ability to just run any server you like, whenever you feel like it. You have to pick your battles and construct your laptop rig to deal with potential threats. Knowing how their particular corporation works helps in this regard, but when deck-building you have the ability to use cards from other factions up to a limit, so you can throw in some cool surprises and combinations.

The LCG Format

The LCG model is one I greatly support over the CCG model. In every new pack you know what you're getting so there's no chance of ambiguity. However you only get 20 separate cards in each pack and that's split over 7 factions and the neutral cards in the case of Netrunner. So you could be forking out a tenner to get just one card you need to complete your main deck. Therefore I recommend you diversify your interests and have at least two decks for each side and across multiple factions. Otherwise you could find yourself with a lot of cards you don't use.

That being said you have a choice. You don't HAVE to get every data pack that comes out as there's little power creep in the game. Many cards in the core set are still used in tournament decks today. And if you don't play in tournaments, which by no means do you have to do, then you really DON'T have to grab every pack that there is. Now I'm a gamer with Completion Syndrome and I do like playing in casual tournaments and even took part in the UK Games Expo 2014 Regional Open Qualifiers. . . . . and didn't do very well, but as a result I have every expansion to this game, but that was MY choice. And I didn't need every pack to be perfectly honest, but I like to make multiple decks and try new things out frequently. I did win at POBCON 2014 recently so that was cool!

"The UK Games Expo - I'm in there somewhere, honest!!"

But even taking that into account, if you go out and buy every pack that exists for Netrunner, I'll bet that you'll still spend much less on the game than you do for an equivalent CCG game. I know for a fact that I spent more money on Magic and Star Wars CCG and even possibly Cardfight Vanguard than I have on Netrunner and even Lord of the Rings LCG. When you know what you're getting, there's no power creep and you have access to every card, it's just so much cheaper than buying booster boxes and hunting singles online. So don't be put off the game thinking you have to spend tonnes to enjoy it, you really don't.

Verdict

Android Netrunner is deserving of its high rank on BGG. It's one of those games that isn't that difficult to learn, but requires considerable time to master. The design of this game is spot on with the different factions having unique play styles and for the most part being pretty well balanced out. Competitive tournament play does tend to lean towards specific builds, but you don't have to go down that road if you don't want to.

The asymmetrical nature of the game is also a big plus as some games can fall flat from failing to balance the sides out or making one more fun than the other. But here it's again, spot on. Each side is like playing a totally different game, but both are very enjoyable, even though I personally prefer playing Corporation due to the bluffing aspect.

"Netrunner in action, fits on any normal pub table"

And that's the final pillar in this glorious temple - the bluffing and deduction aspect. I usually love these kind of games (not all, I don't like Coup) and here it's this that separates the casual player from the veteran gamer. All the mind games that are played trying to figure out which server is best to target or attempting to scare the Runner into avoiding a server with the threat of traps - it just gives this game a whole different vibe to any other CCG I've ever played.

If I had a "Broken Meeple Recommended" award, this game would earn it - maybe I should start doing that in the future . . . . . hmm, ideas! But seriously if you've been tempted to try it, grab a Core set and try it out, you get a lot for your money in that box and can easily cut your losses if you don't fancy it. And if that's not enough endorsement, that's Richard Garfield's name on the cover and he designed Magic The Gathering. . . . look at how much that took off.


You Will Like This Game If:

  • Bluffing and deduction are two game mechanics that take your fancy.
  • You enjoy asymmetrical games that are balanced.
  • You hate the CCG model and want to enjoy deck-building on a budget

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You're looking for a cheap game and intend to play competitively.
  • You like two player games where the players start off the same.
  • You're not comfortable with bad draws being an issue as with many deck-building games.

0 comments: