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Android: The Bluffing

Jesse Dean
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For those who do not know, Android: Netrunner is a two player living card game (LCG) by Richard Garfield and published by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). It is a remake of the well-regarded Netrunner collectible card games (CCG) released by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in the late 90s, and has undergone a bit of tweaking as it transitioned from a WotC property to a FFG property. I did not play the original version, so this is mostly a fresh look at the game. I will be comparing to other card games I have played, but will not be commenting on how effective of an update it is.



Core Game Play
In Android: Netrunner each player is either a netrunner or a corporation. Over the course of the game the netrunner attempts to hack into the corporation’s servers, attempting to steal agendas by either getting them from R&D (the corporation’s deck), HQ (the corporation’s hand), the Archives (the corporation’s discard pile), or a remote server (a location established by the corporation and used to complete agendas). At the same time, the corporation is seeking to complete these agenda’s, while establishing defenses around them that will keep the netrunner out.



Game play revolves around the “run”, where a netrunner attempts to attack one of the previously mentioned locations. If there are no defenses, the netrunner is able to simply waltz in, either looking at a single card from the deck or the corporation player’s hand or accessing all of the cards that are in the remote server. In the event that the corporation has established defenses, known as ICE, then the netrunner has to use their own attack software, known as Icebreakers, to try to get through. If the netrunner lacks the ability to break the ICE’s subroutines, then they will be hit by their effects and probably be unable to actually get to their goal.

Resource management is very important. The primary currency of the game (credits) can be a major bottleneck for how effective a runner or corporation is, and it is frequently the case that the player who is able to most effectively manage their credit flow will be able to successfully defeat their opponent.

Similarly, card availability has a big impact on the game. It is possible for the corporation to lose if they get to the bottom of their deck too quickly, while a runner can lose if they are forced to discard, due to damage, when they have zero cards in hand. I have seen players lose due this forced discard, but a corporation loss due to lack of available cards to draw seems unlikely with the current set of cards. I suspect that this will change as expansions are released.

A Game of Bluffing
One thing that sets Android: Netrunner apart from most of the other two player special power card games that I have played is how important bluffing is to the game. The corporation player plays all of their cards face down and does not actually have to pay for them until they choose to reveal them. This allows the corporation player to set up all sorts of different, layered mind games with the help of their available cards. By playing cards that the runner is generally less interested in, such as most assets, or actively harmful to them, such as traps, the corporation can force the runner to make potentially fatal miscalculations as they decide whether they can get away with using valuable credits to get past the corporation’s defenses when the target may not actually be worthwhile.

This bluffing pushes Android: Netrunner above most of the other two player special power card games that I have played. The tension this creates can be delightful for either side, the netrunner has the to decide if it is worth it to spend the resources required to get through the corporation’s ICE, as a wrong decision, particularly if the Corporation has built up effective defenses, can drain so many resources that the player will be put permanently behind. In contrast, the corporation is constantly concerned about whether the particular traps and misdirection they have established are going to result in something concrete or will simply be wasted effort.

Yomi features a similar focus on bluffing, but is also a much more simple game. Android: Netrunner’s focus on tableau building and multilevel resource management are such that it ends up being a deeper game but also a longer game. They are both very thematic and thus offer a very distinct feel. For people who like bluffing in their two player games, I think that it is easy to own both of them without feeling that either one particularly intrudes on the other’s space.

Faction Differentiation
Within that basic framework there is a delightful variety of special powers and possibilities. The current available runners and corporations have a fairly distinctive feel and the deck building rules, which ensure that at least 2/3s of the deck, and possibly even more, belong to the same faction even as players have the option to customize their decks in great detail. Unfortunately, with the core set it does not appear that there is a huge amount of variety available for that customization, but there is still a lot of potential for there to be quite a bit based on future releases.



Comparison To Other Card Games
I am deliberately unfamiliar with most of the other living card games. I have not been willing to invest in them for various reasons and that lack of interest in investment has also translated into a lack of interest in purchase. I have however, played most of the other non-CCG special power card games (and my fair share of Magic), and I think Android: Netrunner stands up well to most of them. I do not think it will ever displace Race For the Galaxy or Mage Knight as my favorite card games, but it still stands well with or above the other card games that I have played.

One of the big attraction factors for customizable games is the potential to create and build a wide variety of different configurations of the game’s unit for each player, whether that is the deck, war band, or whatever. Of course, in doing so you have to be willing to put enough of a financial investment into the game to make that customization worthwhile. The expected dividend of this investment is the amount of time you are able to play and enjoy the game. Of course, in order for this investment to pay off you either need a dedicated partner or a community that is available that allows you to continually play the game and thus make it so your financial investment can turn into fun. A dedicated partner is great, but relies too much on the continued interest of said partner for my tastes. It is very easy for the partner to decide they are no longer interested in the game, and then you have to either find a new partner, and deal with the skill differential or just stop playing. Having a community to play the game against is better, but for a game like Android: Netrunner, which does not have a community yet, this requires you to actively be involved in the community building. I have been involved in community building before, and it is a frustrating activity, that I am not really willing to do again unless it is a game I absolutely and completely love. I like Android: Netrunner quite a bit, but it is not to the point where I love it enough to perform the required building.

In hindsight this is one of the things that is particularly brilliant about the Lord of the Rings LCG. By making it so you can play it solo, it allows for people who like solo and cooperative games to be able to continue to buy and customize their decks without having to rely on the continued interest of other people. I do not personally like solo or cooperative games, so this does not help me, but I cannot help but admire this effectiveness.

Conclusion
I like Android: Netrunner. It is not one of my absolute favorite card games, but I like it a lot, and I strongly suspect that the game will become increasingly deep and interesting as expansions are released. I do not expect that I will personally purchase the game beyond the initial pack, but that is due to the fact that in my personal situation I do not expect to get a good enough return on investment. For those who can, I suspect this will be a very enjoyable and engaging game for years to come.
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