Today’s office lunchtime game break consisted of Android: Netrunner, Fantasy Flight Games’ new re-issue of Richard Garfield’s original 1996 design. This is pretty much a deck-building game, where a major component involves collecting useful cards that grant you the ability to take actions, make attacks and shore up your defenses. It’s a two-player game set in a dystopian future, where one side plays the role of a mega-corporation and the other plays a “runner”, or what you might call a hacker who is out to steal evidence of the mega-corp’s secret agendas.
Android: Netrunner is interesting in that it plays very asymmetrically. In most games, all of the players play their turn in much the same way. In Netrunner, the corporation’s moves and abilities are very different from those of the runner. The corporation’s goal is to advance their agendas while simultaneously protecting them from prying eyes, and the runner’s goal is to try to hack into the corporation’s servers and steal those agendas. Whoever reaches the winning score first wins.
For my first game I played the role of the corporation, and I have to say I had my ass handed to me. My boss (who played the runner) had previously played a few games of the original release of Netrunner, so he had a better idea of how to play going in, but he was by no means an expert. We flubbed up some of the rules — mostly in my favor — and I still ended up losing. It was a close game, though. In the end, we both agreed it came down to a lucky find; for his opening move he made a run against my R&D deck, and happened to nab an agenda card right from the very top! Given the total number of agenda cards, this was a very unlikely event that neither of us was expecting.
Despite my loss, I enjoyed playing as the corporation. I had to set up ICE on my servers to safeguard my agendas from outside attack, which is all well and good, but it’s very expensive to not only set up but also “rez” (or activate) each ICE node. Unless you rez a piece of ICE, any runner who attacks its server will just walk right past it. I lost my last agenda to the runner when I came up one credit short of being able to rez my last line of defense. For future reference, I now know that I need to bank as much money as I can in Netrunner, no matter which side I’m on — but when withdrawing credits from the bank costs you precious actions (which you get a limited amount of each turn), you’ll have to plan your moves very carefully.
The ICE effects are my favorite. When the runner comes at one of your servers and you rez a piece of ICE to stop him, he’s got to either try and defeat it with an ICE Breaker tool (which also costs him precious credits) or take the damage that the ICE security deals out. Many times, that damage forces him to end his infiltration run altogether. Other times, it actually causes him harm, which can come in the form of Net Damage, Meat Damage or Brain Damage. These different damage types cause the runner player to lose cards, memory slots or worse. But if he has the tools and the money to break down your defenses, that ICE might as well be sitting in your glass of scotch.
Every card in Android: Netrunner is filled to the brim with flavor text and excellent artwork, sourced by a variety of talented freelance artists. Even though this is “just” a card game, all of this really helps you get into the spirit of it and place yourself in the role you’ve chosen. There’s also a lot to like for fans of System Shock, one of the PC’s premier cyberpunk adventures, as the theme and even some of the jargon is similar.
The only real downer is the two-player limit. It plays exceedingly well with two, especially given the asymmetrical play styles, but it’s unfortunate that more of your friends can’t get in on the game. Today only my boss and I were available to play a game during lunch hour, so it worked out fine.
Overall, I enjoyed Android: Netrunner so much that I hope we get more chances to play it. Given the cool theme, the high quality of materials and excellent execution, this is already a top favorite of mine.
In other gaming news (of the decidedly more electronic variety), the Legend of Grimrock Dungeon Editor has finally been released in public beta for those of us who bought the game on Steam! You’ll need to opt into beta versions of the game in order to try it. I downloaded the beta tonight and pecked at it briefly, and already I can tell it’s going to be a blast to map with. It has all of the simplicity we loved from Wolfenstein 3-D’s grid-based level system, with lots more bells and whistles for the modern era. Stay tuned for some of my preliminary opinions on it.