Once upon a time there was man named Richard Garfield. He seemed to enjoy games, and was fond of inventing new games for the people to enjoy. His most popular game was something called Magic: The Gathering
which was a weird game that used a deck of cards, but what cards were used was not pre-determined but rather selected from a wide pool by each player. The game proved popular and was played all throughout the land. Each year, hundreds of new cards were made, and the masses snapped them up. All was well, and everyone lived happy ever after.
This thread, however, isn't about Magic.
This thread is about Magic's younger sister.
Once upon a time there was a man named Richard Garfield, and in 1996 he decided to make another card game. Unlike the swords and spells of Magic, this would take place in the future as seen in many novels of the 1980s. The internet was in its infancy, and romanticized stories about hackers going up against faceless mega-corporations were the popular subject of science fiction. Unlike Magic, which had both players on even footing, this new game would place each player in a radically different position. This game was Netrunner
Netrunner was highly praised: many would even go so far as to call it the best TCG of all time. Yes, even better than Magic itself. Netrunner, however, was not highly sold: the game's didn't even make it out of the 90s with its last set being released in 1999. This would be the end of Netrunner's story were it not for intervention: Fantasy Flight games got the rights to remake the series, and now players can rediscover Garfield's lost child.
Okay, enough with fancy prose. What is Netrunner?
Netrunner was a TCG from 1996-1999 by Richard Garfield. After being dead for over a decade, it was been brought back from the dead by Fantasy Flight Games. This is not a re-release, but a full remake with changes to the rules and theme. The latter actually uses the pre-existing Android IP from Fantasy Flight Games, but the general hackers vs. corporations feel is there. I never played the original, but it seems like veterans are overall happy with the rule changes. There's nothing earth-shattering and a good list of differences between the two Netrunners can be found here
The game also benefits from a decade of knowledge on card layouts and a decent budget for art.
Why is Netrunner so great then?
While TCGs dabble in asymmetric gameplay sometimes (different factions, dark/light sides, etc.), the rules generally remain the same and the cards themselves provide the main difference. Netrunner, while having some shared elements between the two players, has very different rules for the runner and corporation players. It's drowning in theme, and is surprisingly well-balanced and fun regardless of which side you play. Despite being over a decade old, it will probably feel very new and different to you from any other card game you've played recently.
How does one play this game?
I'm not going to get too specific on the rules, as you can read them right here
free of charge, but I'll give an overview.
Basically, one player is a corporation and the other is a runner. The corporation just wants to advance his or her agenda of gaining more money and power on the backs of the oppressed population, and the runner wants to fuck with the corporation for personal gain, revenge, or simple bragging rights. The corporation sets up agendas with point values and invests resources into advancing these agendas. Advance them to a certain level and you can score them (higher score value = more resources needed), whereas the runner can steal these agendas to gain their point value. First to seven points immediately wins.
Alternatively, the runner also wins by leaving the corporation high-and-dry via decking and the corporation can win by just fucking killing the runner.
The corporation protects his agendas by playing "ice" that are basically programs designed to stop the runner from reaching the delicious agendas within, and the runner has "icebreakers" that can ignore the nasty parts of certain types of ice. So the corporation has to strategically employ ice and the runner must have the proper icebreakers ready to deal with it. And BOTH must have resources on hand to utilize these weapons.
What makes the game really tense is the fact that the corporation keeps nearly everything face down. The runner won't know kind of ice there is until they are actually going after something and the corporation pays the money to activate it. Even then, the runner doesn't know WHAT the ice is guarding until he or she reaches it. A savvy corporation may have set up three nasty pieces of ice to guard nothing more than a neural bomb designed specifically to make the runner's head explode. On the other hand, the runner can call the corporation's bluff, and it turns out that the ice they have set up is far too expensive for the corporation to activate, and you run past every piece of ice without any resistance.
There's a lot more to it than that, but it covers the core gameplay. The corporation can run traces on the runner, which can give them access to a whole bag of nasty tricks. It sucks when the corporation knows where you are. Likewise, the runner can expose the corporation and give them bad publicity, which rallies the public to the side of the runner and means extra cash when you go on the offensive. Like many card games, there are factions and characters for each side. You can be the Fox News of the future, or an even more evil version of Apple. There are three groups of runners, from criminals to hacker "artists," and within these groups are the specific characters you play as. Want to be an overweight gamer? Well you already are, but Netrunner can make your reality even more real.
Rorus, Magic is also attached to my wallet like an aggressive lamprey. I cannot afford another TCG!
Android: Netrunner is part of FFG's "Living Card Game" line, which means that there are no boosters. You buy the core set for $40 or so, and then there are "data packs" that cost about 15 bucks each. NONE of these sets are randomized, meaning you know exactly what you get. The only real downside is that this doesn't mean you get a full set of singles for your deck, so you will have to trade or just buy another core set/data pack to get all the copies of a particular card you want.
This is KINDA shitty, but let's break it down: two core sets are like 25 bucks on coolstuffinc. Assuming you got FOUR CORE SETS (you don't need four for a full set of each single), that is roughly the cost of a box of Magic boosters, which doesn't guarantee you a playable set of ANYTHING. Netrunner is kinder to your wallet.
There's already four data packs in the pipe, and the first one JUST GOT RELEASED. Finally, you can be the WHIZZARD.
Be awesome: play Netrunner.