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Employee Review: Android: Netrunner

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Game description from BoardGameGeek.com:

Android: Netrunner is an asymmetrical game for two players. Set in the cyberpunk future, the game pits a megacorporation against the subversive talents of lone runners. Corporations seek to score agendas by advancing them. To buy the time and earn the credits they need, they must secure their servers and data forts with "ice". These security programs come in different varieties, from simple barriers, to code gates and aggressive sentries.

In turn, runners need to spend their time and credits acquiring a sufficient wealth of resources, purchasing the necessary hardware, and developing suitably powerful ice-breaker programs to hack past corporate security measures. When a runner jacks-in and starts a run at a corporate server, he risks having his best programs trashed or being caught by a trace program and left vulnerable to corporate countermeasures. Sometimes, the runner finds something of value. Sometimes, the best he can do is work to trash whatever the corporation was developing. The first player to seven points wins the game, but not likely before the player suffers some brain damage or bad publicity.

This has recently become one of my addictions. Not generally being a deck-building gamer, this was something of a new experience, but it has a very different feel of any other similar game, such as Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon. The rules are a bit involved, but individual turns for Corporation and Runner are straightforward enough. Keeping track of specific advantages and resources require close attention, otherwise the player will miss opportunities.

Playing an asymmetrical game, where the strategies and types of resources are very different for either side, is very engaging for me. Both sides of the game provide challenges that are unique for both the side but also the faction of corporation or runner. Which is where the deck-building aspect of the game becomes really interesting.

It's important to know that the Core set contains enough cards for building one deck for corporation and one runner deck for any of the 4 corporations and 3 runner factions. There are expansions for the game that contain a pre-built decks for specific factions. Creation and Control as an example, has cards for a Haas-Bioroid deck and a Shaper faction runner decks. You can also get boosters with cards for all corporations and factions. These boosters are pre-set, not random cards, so you only need to buy 1 of any specific booster or expansion.

Building decks requires creating a balance between resources (jobs, campaigns) and tools (ice, icebreakers, hardware, server upgrades, etc). Each faction and corporation has "influence" which limits how many cards from other decks you can integrate into your play decks. There are deck size limits related to the total points of Agenda cards you have in the corporate deck. Based on my game play, it would seem that too large a deck is very much a disadvantage, particularly for Runners. Keeping the deck lean and focused gets you the resources and tools you need during gameplay. It's clear that a well-constructed deck can be critical to a win.

A fan of the cyberpunk genera will recognize elements from William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick, and even elements from the Culture novels from Iain M Banks and 'Fountains of Paradise' by Arthur C. Clarke. For me the complex strategies are the real appeal. Each game, each faction or corporation that you are playing with or against requires a different approach. I highly recommend trying it out.

UPDATE: The newest Deluxe Expansion is Honor and Profit, which offers full decks of Jinteki Corporation and Criminal Runners. 165 cards (3 each of 55 cards) offers a major expansion to both decks and some wonderful new cards. A favorite new Agenda card House of Knives offers a fantastic ability to do serious Net damage every time a runner makes a run. Additionally the Chairman Hiro card reduces the runner hand by 2. The new Jinteki identity cards also offer some compelling opportunities, namely the Tennin Institute which offers advancement tokens on cards if the runner has not made a successful run previously. 

On the runner side, Criminal decks are nicely augmented by some nice Event, Hardware and Resource cards. Early Bird gives you an extra click if you make your first click a run. There's an inexpensive but handy Console card, and Tri-Maf Contact gives you a regular source of easy credits each turn. Don't worry, many good icebreakers are included in this set. 3 cards give you +3 strength for only 2 credits for Sentry, Code Gates and Tracers respectively. But the real prize is Breach: 2 CR to break 3 Barrier subroutines, and 2 CR for +4 strength. All for a 2 CR install cost. I want these in every runner deck I have. Some nice new identities as well, my favorite being Iain Stirling. He only has a 10 for influence, but gives you a +1 link strength. He also gives you 2 CR if the corp is ahead of you in scoring agendas. 

All in all, a good expansion for the game. Recommended. 

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