I’ve never been into card games, no, never. I did play a few games of Magic: The Gathering growing up but the combination of it costing a ludicrous amount to collect and not having anybody to play with meant that it wasn’t really something I was able to get into. (I do remember trading a large amount of cards for a playstation too, sometimes I could be too persuasive for my own good.)
Late last year I saw this post on Rock Paper Shotgun. It’s a column that has introduced me to a lot of great games since but I knew instantly, as soon I had finished parsing the description of the game that I would play the hell out of it. I ordered the core set, intending to play it with my brother on one of my visits back home.
And we did play it and it was fun. Too much fun to wait for another visit home even. I did something then that I had never really done before, I went looking for people to play with. What that lead to is this google plus community. I’ve also got in a large number of games through the frankly fantastic (and fantastically free) tool for playing card games online called OCTGN and its netrunner plugin.
But that’s my story with it, what about the game itself. What makes it so special that would make Eoghan Cregan, crypto nerd, finally expose that side of himself to the scalding wind of public knowledge. That’s actually surprisingly hard to explain but I’ll try anyway.
The Theme: I found out about Netrunner very shortly after my trip to Barcelona where I read Burning Chrome and Neuromancer and my love of Cyberpunk was fever pitch. Since then my love of Gibson has been diffused slightly by the much less likeable Count Zero but I still love the setting. Netrunner lets me play out the sometimes short lived existence of a Runner or exercise the slower moving machinations of the corporate monster. Both sides are equally thematic and fun from a role playing perspective.
The Mechanics: It’s a Richard Garfield game, which doesn’t really mean much to people who aren’t familiar to Magic: The Gathering. I think the most striking thing about his designs is how mathematically sound they are, allowing for great complexity and variety of cards while making it very difficult to design a card that totally breaks the game. This is also a card game where the cards merely assist you, representing tools and programs or assets. There is a list of actions you can carry out independent to having that card that “allows” you to carry it out.
There is also the concept of “clicks” which keeps track of the number of actions each player can carry out. Time as a resource forces extremely interesting decisions as you often find yourself in a race against the other player.
The Bluffing: Never have I played a game where bluffing was so core to the experience. You see, the corporation plays everything face down leaving the runner in the dark until he reaches out into your territory where he may well face something incredibly nasty. The runner has to take chances but at the same time the corp can see all, he can often see what actions will lead the runner to victory and must hide it from them. This is my favorite element as the longer games go on the tenser they get. The Runner will often see most, but not all, of what you have and judicious use of traps and misdirection are required on the corporation's part to scrape a victory. A lot of games also tend to end on Death or Glory runs where the Runner must act on a hunch or lose in any case. I have never seen so much Glory and so little Death as in this game.
And that’s a quick overview of the game and why I love it. They’ll continually release new expansions and I can only see it get better from here, it’s an exciting time for Netrunning in Dublin.