Welcome, denizens of the net. Almost a decade ago, when Magic fever had gripped game and comic-book shops, Richard Garfield & Wizards of the Coast presented us with another CCG, Netrunner. A CCG which pits a subversive hacker against a monolithic corporation. Unfortunately in the glut of CCGs that were released in this time Netrunner was passed over and shoved off to obscurity. Fortunately fans of the game have strived to keep Netrunner in the hearts and minds of the people. Thanks to ebay Netrunner cards are still available (although somewhat expensive). I built a couple sets of custom starter decks form my collection and with my daughter in grandma's arms, headed out to the pub for a couple rounds.. of Netrunner.
Netrunner's primary components are its cards. However other counters are needed to play, you need something to represent "bits", the currency of Netrunner and something to keep track of action points (although a good memory is sufficient for this) you'll also need some miscellaneous counters for card effect reminders. The cards have a metallic finish and are somewhat resistant to the occasional drop of liquid, but all cards are vulnerable to flooding. Given the limited availability of replacements, combined with the fact that card rarity could cause a loss to be virtually irreplaceable, I must give netrunner a low mark on the component scale.
Rules & Gameplay: 9/10
The rules of netrunner are fairly complex, although once you've got them down gameplay feels very intuitive. Also the rules are slightly different for the player in the role of the corporation than for the one playing the runner. Each player gets 4 action points and 5 bits and a hand of five cards from their respective deck. (Green backed cards for the runner, purple backed cards for the corporation).
The corporation begins, his objective is to complete agendas. For one action point the corporation can Install a card (placing it face down in or in front of a data fort), gain a bit, spend a bit and place an "advancement counter" on an agenda or draw a card. Additionally there are cards that allow the corporation to take special actions. It costs nothing but an action for the corporation to put a card in play, their bit cost is paid when they are "rezzed". Rezzing a card is turned face up and can now be used by the corporation. Cards which require "advancement" do not have to be rezzed in order to place advancement counters on them. There are 5 types of cards for the corporation Nodes, Upgrades, ICE, Agendas and Operations.
Nodes must be placed in Data Forts in order to be used, this is an area on the table which can be protected by ICE (see ICE, below), nodes come in a variety of subtypes, most allow the Corporate player to perform some special action with their action points, or enhance the effectiveness of a corporate action, generally improving the corporate player's lot. The second major type are "Trap" nodes which do nasty things when the runner tries to access them.
Upgrades are also played on Dataforts, but may also be played on HQ (the corporate player's hand of cards), R&D (the corporate player's draw deck) or the Archives (the corporate player's discard pile). Upgrades improve that data fort in some way either enhancing the effectiveness of ICE, doing nasty things to a runner accessing that fort or even allowing multiple nodes or agendas to be placed in a single fort. A fort may have any number of upgrades but only one of them can be of the Region subtype.
ICE are the protective programs which defend the corporation from incursions by the runner, these are placed in front of the data fort. The first ICE costs nothing to install, additional ICE cost one bit for each ICE already in the data fort when played. Ice must then be Rezzed by paying it's bit cost when the runner first encounters it. All ICE has a type and a number of Subroutines, the Type of ICE, aside from giving you a general idea of what it does, determines what types of Icebreaker programs the runner will need in order to get through it. Subroutines are the effects the ICE will have on the runner if/when they encounter it, this can be a great number of things from merely ending the run against that data fort, causing damage to the runner or trashing the runner's installed programs. ICE is vital to the corporation because without it the runner can easily access the Corporations cards and steal the agendas a runner needs to win (and that the corporation needs to complete to win).
Agendas are the key to corporate victory, they must be installed in a data fort and advanced. Each agenda has a cost in advancement counters, and a point value, these points are awarded to the corporation if he completes them and the runner if he steals them. When completed many agendas also reward the corporation in some way (extra bits, special abilities, etc...)
Operations are one-use cards that allow the corporation to undertake a specific action, to play these cards a corporation to pay an action point, pay the associated bit cost then undertake the action printed on the card.
A special note on "Tags", many operations, upgrades and ICE subroutines allow the corporation to "Trace the runner" this is a blind bidding of the corporation's "trace" value against the runner's uplink value, if the corporation is successful (trace value + Bid higher than the Runner's uplink value + bid) then the corporation may "Tag" the runner. Many operation cards require the runner to be tagged in order to play them. In addition the corporation my spend an action and spend two bits to destroy any of the Runner's played Resource Cards if the runner is tagged.
The runner is attempting to access the corporation's Data forts and steal agendas, he may steal them from anywhere, the corporations hand, draw deck, discard pile or installed data forts. To do this the runner spends an action point to make a "Run" on one of these locations. The corporation will then rez ICE against the runner (or the runner will encounter previously rezzed ICE) revealing the security measures which the Runner must break through. If successful he accesses that structure, if it is an agenda he may steal it (and thus score points), otherwise he may pay the "trash cost" in bits to throw the card in to the corporation's discard pile (if accessing a card that has no trash cost the runner merely places the card back where it was). The runner has many tools to aid in this, they are Programs, Resources, Hardware and "Preps". A runner plays all cards face up and must spend an action and pay the cards bit cost in order to lay it down.
Programs are the meat of the runner sandwich. Programs fall into two major categories, Icebreakers and Other. Icebreakers all have a "strength" value and some informational text which describes their cost to break ICE subroutines. An Icebreaker's strength must equal or exceed the strength of the ICE in order to break any subroutines, then the runner must usually pay a number of bits to break each subroutine. Most programs can only break on of the three types of ICE (Sentry, Code Gate or Wall). A runner may have up to 4 Memory Units worth of programs installed unless he has a card to up this number. Other programs provide the runner with uplink, earn the runner more bits, allow him to look at unrezzed cards or grant similar special abilities.
Resources are the support network of the runner, they are much like Nodes in that they grant special ways for the runner to spend his actions, provide bits, uplink, etc..
Hardware is the runner's computer, they enhances the effectiveness of the runner's programs and/or provide additional Memory units to install programs or even protect the runner from damage.
Preps are one-time use cards that provide the runner with a wide range of special abilities, most notable are "deck management" abilities which allow the runner to retrieve or rearrange cards in their deck, abilities which are notably absent in the corporation. These abilities give the runner an "agile" feeling being able to locate a card when most needed.
A note on damage: There are three types of damage in Netrunner; Net, Meat and Brain, All of which force the runner to discard cards from his hand, Brain damage reduces the hand size of the runner by one. If the runner takes damage and is unable to discard enough cards from his hand the runner is dead and the corporation wins. The runner can also win if the Corporation runs out of cards, although I have never seen this happen.
Sobriety Edge: 4/10
The cards are complex and there's a lot to take into account, a game can be won or lost when by ill expenditure of bits. Thus the more sober player has quite the edge over someone who may no longer be able to properly analyze the situation.
Wotcha' Doin'?: 5/10
Let's face it, Netrunner is nerdy. Magic has spawned a CCG stereotype and Netrunner enhances it further by being "about computers". Reactions are therefore polarized form Disinterest to Disgust for those not "in the scene" to incredible interest amongst Techies and CCG players.
As a two player game requiring significant concentration Netrunner does not lead itself to much in-game conversation not related to the game itself. An appropriate amount of smack-talk keeps it from falling completely flat in this category.
Netrunner is one of the most fun times I've had with a CCG, as a game it is great. As a Pub activity it's a bit "accounting heavy" to really be appropriate. In addition those with poor eyesight may have difficulty reading the cards in the dim light of most drinking establishments. It should be said that Netrunner oozes theme, it's really evocative and play conjures different feeling when you're playing the corporation as opposed to playing the runner. I notice that my posture even changes when playing the different roles. As the corporation I like to sit back in my chair as a general observing the battlefield, occasionally checking an unrezzed card to remind me of some tidbit or another. As the runner I tend to hunch over my cards, constantly scanning the Corporations defenses and my own resources looking for that one opportunity to strike. It is this very phenomenon which make me love the game, the effect is profound.