Android Netrunner: Jack in, slice the ice, and steal the data

William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, introduced us to a whole new world. A future where giant mega-corporations control our lives, and the brave ones who resist, the runners, steal their secrets and expose their lies. Today, that reality is not to far off, with the internet, VR technology, and hackers running amok in the world of cyberspace.

In Android Netrunner, you do just that, with a twist. While one player is the runner, the other is the corporation, hiding their secrets and advancing their agendas before they are stolen.

Netrunner is a living card game from Fantasy Flight, sadly, no longer in print, but can be found in the secondary market very easily. The starter box, comes with 3 runners, each unique and with their own goals, and 4 corporations, also unique in their strategies and tactics. There is a lot of game in this box, with abilities to combine factions and build the ultimate rig, or the most fortified servers.

There is a lot of unique terminology in this game; those who enjoy the cyberpunk genre, will understand it right off. The runner builds a rig, which is his computer deck and software he uses to hack the corporation mainframe. His cards also contain his allies and abilities.

The Corp, also has allies and abilities, but his main defense against the runner are his Internal Counter measures, or ICE. these are his defense programs that block and hold a runner back from attacking his HQ (hand of cards) R&D (draw deck), Archives (discard pile) and his remote servers where he installs his Agendas.

To play, first players decide who will be a runner, and who will be the corporation. Each player uses his customized deck, draws 5 cards and gains 5 credits (currency). The Corp player goes first, and must always draw a card BEFORE any other actions. He has 3 clicks, or actions he can perform . He can gain credits, draw a card, install ICE, install a program or upgrade, or advance an Agenda. After his 3 clicks, He then discards down to 5 cards, and passes play to the runner.

The runner has 4 clicks of actions he can do. He has similar options like earn a credit or draw a card, install a card to his rig, or his most important action, make a run.

To make a run, he first declares which server he wants to attack, the Corp player can then rezz (activate) ICE he has protecting that server by paying the credit cost. When the runner hits ICE he must break it, or he will suffer the penalties listed on the card (subroutines). As ICE costs credits, so do ICE breaker programs, as well as cracking the ICE. A runner needs a good amount of credits to gain access. If the run is succesful, the runner can then access the server he attacked. If he recovers an Agenda, that card is stolen from the Corp and the runner earns those points. After the runner performs his 4 clicks, play returns to the Corp and continues until one side has achieved their victory conditions.

The runner wins by gaining 7 points of stolen agendas or when the Corp R&D deck is empty. The Corp wins by advancing 7 points of Agendas or flatlining the runner depleting his hand (grip) to zero by giving the runner brain damage. Each point of brain damage a runner suffers, reduces his grip by one.

Netrunner is a brilliant combination of bluffing and strategic card play. Each player operates in a unique way in order to win. The Corp wants to hide their agendas, or do they? Does that server with no ICE hold an Agenda or is it a trap? Does the runner hold up to gather credits, or make a bold run? These are the types of choices players make in the cyberspace world of Netrunner.

While no longer in print, there are plenty of expansions made and available to keep the game fresh and alive for newcomers and veterans alike.

To get a look and feel of the game, Fantasy Flight has a nice tutorial for you to watch.