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Subject: Android: Netrunner - Review. Some thoughts and comparisons to Magic: the Gathering rss

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Christian Abratte
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There's a less wall of texty version of this on my blog here:

http://recidivismo.blogspot.com/2012/08/android-netrunner-re....

Based on the beloved 1996 cult classic CCG Netrunner, Android: Netrunner is a relaunch of the game with new and updated rules, new art, and a departure from the randomized boosters of its CCG roots. The new Netrunner has adopted the LCG format, which is characterized by fixed card sets and non-randomized expansions. This is great news for people who are interested in CCGs but are wary of the expense of getting into a game like Magic: The Gathering, where rare cards command high prices in the secondary market and drive the cost of top tier tournament decks up into the $500+ range. Released in limited quantities which quickly sold out at Gen Con this year and due to ship at the end of the month, Android: Netrunner was the talk of the convention. Over the course of numerous games in the event hall I was amazed as people stopped to stare at our copy of the game as though we were not just playing a card game, but were in fact carefully brushing the mane of a tiny unicorn. They were right to be envious, Android: Netrunner is a pretty good game.

The Basics

So what sets this game apart from the scores of other two player card games in both the CCG and LCG format? Well, a lot of things, not the least of which is the fact that it's an asymmetrical game where both sides play completely differently. Without getting too bogged down in details, one player is always the corporation and one player is always the runner. The corporation's job is to advance and protect agendas that they install face down in servers behind layers of ice. Ice is also installed face down and kept secret from the runner who is trying to steal the agendas. It's only when the runner encounters the ice that the corporation must pay the rez cost of the ice to activate it. Ice has numerous negative effects on the runner, which are represented by its subroutines, but in general the purpose of ice is to end the run. The corporation can win if it advances its agendas and scores 7 before the runner can steal that many points.

The runner's job is to steal agendas, which they do by running servers. Central servers are the corporation's hand (HQ) and draw pile (R&D). Remote servers are places on the table where corporations install agendas and other assets. To break the ice that the corporation installs in front of its servers the runner must use icebreakers that are capable of doing that. There are a couple of different kinds of ice including sentries, code gates and barriers. Each icebreaker might deal with one or more type of ice, so a runner will need to probe the defenses of each server to see what they're up against because remember most of the cards in a server will be face down until the corporation rezzes them. If the runner can access an agenda in a remote server, they score its value immediately and are one step closer to victory. If they can access a central server like R&D or HQ, then they can look at a card or sometimes multiple cards in that server, possibly trash them, and if they get lucky and reveal agendas they can score agendas that way too.

Some Comparisons to Magic: the Gathering

That's the basic gist of the game, and it works totally fine. I'd like to change gears now and say a little about some other ideas that make Android:Netrunner stick out from the rest of the crowd. I'll use Magic: The Gathering as a reference point here because it's a game that I'm very familiar with, it's from the same designer, and it's probably the most well known non-traditional card game in existence. In MtG you can for the most part play any number of cards per turn so long as you pay for them with mana that is generated from land cards you play each turn. This is one of MtG's most defining attributes and also one of its greatest flaws, because drawing too few or too many lands means that you might just not be able to do anything, and with very few ways to draw more cards, some percentage of games will find you either "mana-screwed" or "flooded" with too little or too much mana and no chance to win the game simply because of the luck of the draw. Android: Netrunner avoids this problem by giving you a limited number of actions per turn. The corporation receives 3 (but always draws a card at the start of their turn) and the runner receives 4, and with these actions they can draw a card, draw bits (resource), install cards (paying the bit cost, if the runner), advance agendas by paying a bit (if the corp) and more. The main thing to pay attention to here is that you can always draw more resources or more cards, so you're unlikely to get very far behind if you have a sub optimal draw.

There is a second difference that really makes this game stand out. That's the idea that you must interact with your opponent. In many other card games it's possible to build decks where your opponent's actions have no effect on how you play. A classic example of this might be the mono-red burn deck played in the Legacy format of MtG. Mono red burn actually doesn't care what its opponent does, its goal is to simply spit out as much damage as quickly as possible. By not playing any creatures, it invalidates a large portion of its opponent's decks and makes those cards "dead" cards. A deck like this does not seem possible in Android: Netrunner. For starters, there must be a certain number of agenda points in the corporation deck, so the runner will always have a chance to find them. The corporation can win by damaging the runner and forcing him to discard past zero cards in hand, but in most cases the runner must be actively doing runs in order to be targetted by the corporation's attacks. It's also difficult to find out what the corporation has installed in its servers without running them, so the runner must probe the corporations servers to find out if they contain agendas or if they are traps. Yes, the corporation has access to traps that look just like agendas until revealed, and it's awesome. All that said, interactivity is good and a thing that should be aspired to in games, and Android: Netrunner has a ton of it. Nothing is worse than sitting down to play a game and feeling like you've lost because of forces completely out of your control. That won't happen here.

Lastly, Android: Netrunner takes a unique approach to deckbuilding that makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Using MtG again as an example, that game allows you to build your deck using any legal cards so long as there are not more than 4 of each non-land card, and your deck contains a minimum of 60 cards. Android: Netrunner allows you to build decks containing a minimum of 45 cards so long as there are no more than 3 copies of each cards, the corp deck contains X number of agenda points based on total card count in the deck, and so long as you don't have more than 15 loyalty points worth of off-color cards. That last bit is important, because in the base set of Android: Netrunner there are 3 runner factions and 4 corp factions that differ by cards available and also sort of a unique static ability that's always on. Every card has a set loyalty value between 0-5 which is represented by little blue pips on the card, so as long as your deck doesn't have more than 15 pips worth of off-faction cards then you're good to go. This sounds restrictive, but i think it's the "less is more" kind of restriction that will actually inspire more creativity and a more diverse meta-game than just having totally open deckbuilding. Additionally, the 45 card deck size with 3 copy limit is great since it maintains the classic ratio set by MtG but requires less cards to do so.

The Bottom Line

Phew, that's a log of Android: Netrunner. I'd like to end by closing on some standard review type stuff. The cards are high quality, the same as any other LCG or CCG you might be used to. The art is nice, and the theme is dead-on perfectly represented by the gameplay if that's important to you. There's a number of thick tokens used to track your bits and also various status effects. The box is big enough to support an additional set, which you'll probably want to buy if you're dead-set on building more competitive decks. FFG made the mistake of AGAIN including singleton cards in a core set which means you'd really need 3 core sets to build every possible deck but at least it's only a few cards this time, not like it was with Call of Cthulhu the LCG. They haven't announced any expansions yet, but I've heard they'll have 3 of each card so that's good news for your wallet. The game plays in 30-60 minutes, so it's a bit longer than most card games but it never seems to drag. I played tons of games with just one set that my friend managed to get his hands on. I'm ordering two for myself and I suggest you all do as well.
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B C Z
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Well done.

I'd be interested to hear your comparison to other LCGs (as opposed to Magic) if you have experience with any of those games.
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Hank B
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Gordo789 wrote:
There's a less wall of texty version of this on my blog here:

http://recidivismo.blogspot.com/2012/08/android-netrunner-re....

Over the course of numerous games in the event hall I was amazed as people stopped to stare at our copy of the game as though we were not just playing a card game, but were in fact carefully brushing the mane of a tiny unicorn. They were right to be envious, Android: Netrunner is a pretty good game.



Hilarious line. I am probably going to pick this game up when it comes out. Great review.
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Andy Stout
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Gordo789 wrote:
There is a second difference that really makes this game stand out. That's the idea that you must interact with your opponent. In many other card games it's possible to build decks where your opponent's actions have no effect on how you play. A classic example of this might be the mono-red burn deck played in the Legacy format of MtG. Mono red burn actually doesn't care what its opponent does, its goal is to simply spit out as much damage as quickly as possible. By not playing any creatures, it invalidates a large portion of its opponent's decks and makes those cards "dead" cards. A deck like this does not seem possible in Android: Netrunner. For starters, there must be a certain number of agenda points in the corporation deck, so the runner will always have a chance to find them. The corporation can win by damaging the runner and forcing him to discard past zero cards in hand, but in most cases the runner must be actively doing runs in order to be targetted by the corporation's attacks. It's also difficult to find out what the corporation has installed in its servers without running them, so the runner must probe the corporations servers to find out if they contain agendas or if they are traps. Yes, the corporation has access to traps that look just like agendas until revealed, and it's awesome. All that said, interactivity is good and a thing that should be aspired to in games, and Android: Netrunner has a ton of it. Nothing is worse than sitting down to play a game and feeling like you've lost because of forces completely out of your control. That won't happen here.


Yet.

Old-school constructed Netrunner *did* have this non-interactivity problem, I'd say far worse than Magic. Old-school sealed-deck Netrunner was very interactive, but so is sealed-deck Magic.

The key to making sure Android Netrunner stays interactive is the cards, not the ruleset. With a small pool of cards, of course degenerate non-interactive combos don't show up, but as the pool gets larger, degenerate combos get more and more likely, especially since, without a rotating format like MTG's Standard, there is absolutely no way to avoid power creep: by necessity decks WILL get more and more powerful as more cards are released.

With MTG's Legacy format, the way the power creep is fought is by banning cards; it is also fought by printing new "hate" cards against the non-interactive decks so that really, even the Legacy decks that try their hardest to be non-interactive tend to have very interactive matches, just on a very different axis than the usual interaction.
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Jack Wraith
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FFG monitors their LCG environments in the same way that WotC monitors theirs. Cards have been restricted or banned just like they are in M:TG and different factions have gained or lost power in CoC and GoT in the same manner that colors have in Magic. I don't think there's a been a power creep issue in any of the three competitive LCGs, to date.
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JJ Belyeu
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The fact that FFG again went singleton on some of the cards rubs me the wrong way. I suckered me into buy two copies of the LotR LCG and here they are doing it again.

I an not a fan of this strategy, but I will continue to support it like a fool.
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Matt
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dragonstout wrote:
Old-school constructed Netrunner *did* have this non-interactivity problem, I'd say far worse than Magic.


I can't compare with MtG, but reading old Netrunner Quarterlies and blogs I can certainly find super-optimised decks which would have these problems.

However, they nearly always rely on including a huge number of the same card in the deck - 15 Top Runners Conference or 25 Preying Mantis or 12 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood.

The 3-limit rule in A:N should, given thoughtful card design, maintain the high level of interactivity that 1/15, sealed or casual play creates.
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This part
Quote:
stopped to stare as if we were carefully brushing the mane of a tiny unicorn
made me laugh out loud. And considering the day I've had (my son in the ICU unit) that's saying something.

Thank you for that alone.

Bravo and a superb review. Please write more of them here (but I would love to have pics, if possible).

Thank you again!
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Great review - thanks!
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Devin Smith
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One very small correction/addition: don't forget that the Runner can run on the Archive (trash pile), which isn't totally irrelevant.

Good review. As a M:tG player and judge, I enjoyed the comparison to Magic, though there is certainly room for disagreement. I'm not sure I like the mulligan system in A:NR, for instance (you get exactly one).

As a die-hard limited player I kinda wish that draft was a thing that could come out of an LCG box more easily.
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Milan Mašát
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BeerMe wrote:
The fact that FFG again went singleton on some of the cards rubs me the wrong way. I suckered me into buy two copies of the LotR LCG and here they are doing it again.

I an not a fan of this strategy, but I will continue to support it like a fool.

This time it is different. Singletons are not the cards you really want 3x, like it happened in LOTR. Here they are situational or unique. Correct me if I am wrong, but the tournament winner's deck could be build from 2 core sets (not 3) and most players can be just fine with one. EVERYBODY can use more/diverse agendas, but you will not (with exception of NBN) get more agendas to choose from with 2/3 core sets.
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Milan Mašát
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Excalabur wrote:
One very small correction/addition: don't forget that the Runner can run on the Archive (trash pile), which isn't totally irrelevant.

Good review. As a M:tG player and judge, I enjoyed the comparison to Magic, though there is certainly room for disagreement. I'm not sure I like the mulligan system in A:NR, for instance (you get exactly one).

As a die-hard limited player I kinda wish that draft was a thing that could come out of an LCG box more easily.

I also do not like mulligan system, I would cancel it entirely So it is more to player taste. If you give players more mulligans, the corp will have even bigger advantage than it has now. In A:NR you can draw cards easily, so "draw less" type of mulligen disadvantage can be easily cancelled for the runner, and it could be even benefit for corp, if they start with less, but specifically chosen cards.
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Christian Abratte
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Excalabur wrote:
One very small correction/addition: don't forget that the Runner can run on the Archive (trash pile), which isn't totally irrelevant.

Good review. As a M:tG player and judge, I enjoyed the comparison to Magic, though there is certainly room for disagreement. I'm not sure I like the mulligan system in A:NR, for instance (you get exactly one).

As a die-hard limited player I kinda wish that draft was a thing that could come out of an LCG box more easily.


I agree the mulligan system in A:NR is not great, and I would sort of prefer the mulligan system they have in magic, but I think this one works alright because you can just take more actions to draw cards, unlike in magic where you're mostly limited to the one card per turn. And yes, I did leave out running the archive in the review because I thought it was an edge case, as there are few reasons to run the archive in the set as it exists now. Hopefully in future expansions there will be more to do in the archive.

Thanks for the comments everyone.
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wytefang wrote:
This part
Quote:
stopped to stare as if we were carefully brushing the mane of a tiny unicorn
made me laugh out loud. And considering the day I've had (my son in the ICU unit) that's saying something.

Thank you for that alone.

Bravo and a superb review. Please write more of them here (but I would love to have pics, if possible).

Thank you again!


Hope everything turns out for you!
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Jackwraith wrote:
I don't think there's a been a power creep issue in any of the three competitive LCGs, to date.


Is Warhammer: Invasion included in this? If so, cards were restricted there very quickly after release.

I was really disappointed; at the time I played with a very Spikey playgroup and we'd broken the game in a few decks. Many of the effects (zero cost benefits, first-turn combos) were pretty obvious lessons from Magic.

Overall I prefer Yomi as an interactive, non-collectable option. I'm intrigued by Netrunner, but FFG has a sparse track record with balanced tournament games IMO.
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BeerMe wrote:
The fact that FFG again went singleton on some of the cards rubs me the wrong way.


Yep, apparently it's been done to death in threads, but we should really start referring to it as 'FFG's Sales Model'. If it sells, then we can't blame anyone but ourselves, but it's ignorant to think it isn't deliberate.
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Alex Brown wrote:
BeerMe wrote:
The fact that FFG again went singleton on some of the cards rubs me the wrong way.


Yep, apparently it's been done to death in threads, but we should really start referring to it as 'FFG's Sales Model'. If it sells, then we can't blame anyone but ourselves, but it's ignorant to think it isn't deliberate.


Slight hole in your reasoning: if it really was a "if it sales" mentality at work, why would they have changed the expansion pack model to be a x3 distribution when they originally were not?
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Anarchosyn wrote:
Alex Brown wrote:
BeerMe wrote:
The fact that FFG again went singleton on some of the cards rubs me the wrong way.


Yep, apparently it's been done to death in threads, but we should really start referring to it as 'FFG's Sales Model'. If it sells, then we can't blame anyone but ourselves, but it's ignorant to think it isn't deliberate.


Slight hole in your reasoning: if it really was a "if it sales" mentality at work, why would they have changed the expansion pack model to be a x3 distribution when they originally were not?


Just let it go, Anarchosyn. It's not worth debating with the people that are insistent to paint FFG as evil.
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Vodnyk wrote:
I also do not like mulligan system, I would cancel it entirely So it is more to player taste.

I like the system. Add more and you start tediously gaming it to dig for combos. Less (none, as in original) and you have the occasional ridiculous draw, esp. as the Corp (3 agendas, no ice, etc.).

I like that early decision point on a middling draw.
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"Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes...you draw 5 agendas after your mulligan."
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bhz1 wrote:
"Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes...you draw 5 agendas after your mulligan."

Minimum:
49 cards in the deck, 9 Agendas :
6 first cards with 5 or 6 Agendas = 366 chances over 1 million 1 chance over 2732.

Maximum:
45 cards in the deck, 11 Agendas :
6 first cards with 5 or 6 Agendas = 1985 chances over 1 million 1 chance over 504.
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bhz1 wrote:


"Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes...you draw 5 agendas after your mulligan."


Ha. I do like the 1 mulligan in LotR, but otherwise I don't tend to use them often. It's good there due to the resource system and dualsphere decks.

I will not complain about the sales model. Yes, it means everyday I must struggle with the completionist in me, but I have accepted I don't need more than one core set for my group, and seeing how I can never find local (not driving 2-3 hours) LCG leagues it isn't a big deal.

I do think it would make more sense to have all 2x than some 3x, 2x and 1x. Instead of having 3x of a card and 1 x of another, do 2 and 2. It provides the same wide range that they want in the core set, cuts down on excess for the players (who only need to buy 2 instead of 3), and even allows 2 players to split the second set.

Of course, FFG is a business and needs to make profit so that they can continue to bring us awesome games, and I doubt there are more people who refuse to play due to the core set limitations than there are who will buy multiple ones.

Someone already mentioned this has been done to death, so I'll stop here; I think I had to write this more for my own strength in fighting my completionist compulsion than anything else.

LCG Anonymous should be a thing. Still dropping $xx a month on 3 LCG packs, soon to be 4, maybe 5 and with star wars 6. cry
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Personally I think they did a good job with Netrunner's distribution. Two sets will be plenty for nearly all players, there are very few 1x cards and none of them seem critical to have 3 copies. If this is the price to make the game work better for new players and help grow the playerbase, then it's a price I'm willing to pay.


VTSvsAlucard wrote:
LCG Anonymous should be a thing. Still dropping $xx a month on 3 LCG packs, soon to be 4, maybe 5 and with star wars 6. cry


Yeah, I know a guy like that here too Personally, I'm just sticking wth Call of Cthulhu and Netrunner. Game of Thrones is good too, but I don't have time to play that many games. I love the LoTR setting, but being co-op just totally kills my interest in it. I tried the Star Wars demo at Gencon, and honestly I wasn't that impressed with it. I'll pick up X-Wing, but I think I'll let the card game pass or maybe retry it once the card pool is more fleshed out. It just didn't seem to have a spark for me for whatever reason.
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What I love is that the two sets I snagged let me build four very complete decks with no swapping of staple cards at all. For me that takes a lot of the sting out of buying the same box twice.
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Pyjam wrote:
bhz1 wrote:
"Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes...you draw 5 agendas after your mulligan."

6 first cards with 5 or 6 Agendas = 1985 chances over 1 million.
That isn't actually _that_ rare.

In one of the three games I recently played, I had one game where I had 4 Agendas in my hand and after drawing my sixth card the top two cards in my R&D were Agendas as well, which the Runner immediately scored since the only piece of ice went to protect my HQ.

I probably should have taken a mulligan, but I always fear getting an even worse setup, so if looks playable at all I keep it.
In the above example I would have taken a mulligan if the fifth card hadn't been ice (which I could pay to rez immediately, if required).

The only good thing was: It was over quickly
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