9 October 2017 | Android: Netrunner LCG

Corps and Runners

Preview the Bluffs, Counterbluffs, and High-Stakes Cyberstruggles of Android: Netrunner


High-stakes cybercrime. Done right.

What makes Android: Netrunner great? For starters, it isn’t just another card game. It is the most cyberpunk of all card games, and the Revised Core Set is your chance to boot up and start running.

Based on the classic, asymmetrical design by Richard Garfield, Android: Netrunner is set in the not-too-distant future of the Android universe, a not-quite dystopian setting where a handful of monolithic megacorporations control the vast majority of all human interests.

These corps, their innovation, and their labors have transformed humanity. Bioroids and clones have reshaped the workforce. The New Angeles space elevator has permitted lunar colonization and mining. And the Network binds the solar system together, transmitting more information every second than was expressed in the first five-thousand years of written language.

“If you’re a fan of Bladerunner or anything in the cyberpunk fiction genre, Android: Netrunner is an awesome way to get your fix.”
    –Game Informer

While the world has changed, crime has not.

Android: Netrunner is all about crime—the threat of crime, the thrill of crime, and the consequences of it. Wherever there are corps looking to secure their data on the Network, there are runners—those elite hackers skilled enough to weave or break through all the layers of corporate security.

But runners aren't defined solely by their talents. Being a runner isn't as simple as jacking in, altering some code, stealing some files, and jacking out. Running is a whole lifestyle. It is a life's purpose. It is a commitment to crimes of the highest magnitude that could very well cost you your life.

This is because the megacorps have their credits rooted in nearly every aspect of human existence, and they don't stop their pursuit of runners once those runners leave the Net. Seccams, detectives, PIs, psyops—these corps will stop at nothing to protect their most valuable information.

And this is where Android: Netrunner takes you—straight into the middle of high-stakes cybercrime. Battles waged in the virtual world, as well as in meatspace—while the divide between the haves and the have-nots is greater than ever. Everything you hold is valuable. And fragile. Everything you know is a weapon. Everything you don't know… could ruin you.

The Run Is Everything.

Android: Netrunner is different from most other card games in the way that it grants you an unparalleled measure of control over your tactics and strategy, both over the course of the game and from moment to moment. You always have actions you can take outside of what your cards grant you, and this means you're never helpless.

It also means your opponent is never without options, and this fact lends the game a curious psychological edge—one that was of particular interest to its original designer, Richard Garfield:

"I would say the best part of Netrunner was the space for head games that would take place between the players. Sometimes, in trading card games, it feels like the cards are playing you; the card you draw each turn defines the game. In Netrunner, you definitely play the cards, and you have enormous latitude in how you play them.
     "One measure of this is the question, 'How much would it affect things if I knew my opponents' cards?' […] For a lot of players and a lot of situations, the answer is, 'Not much.' You have to be very good (or find yourself in an unusual situation) to bluff. In Netrunner, even the most casual player will very quickly start bluffing and wishing they could see their opponent's cards."

All this bluffing and all these gambles begin with the game's asymmetrical design. One player is the Corp. One is the Runner. Each side has its own separate victory conditions and set of actions it can take. Yet both sides need the Corp's agendas to win. The Corp needs to install its agendas and advance them to score them. The Runner needs to steal them, and to do that the Runner must run.

When the Runner conducts a run, he or she targets one of the Corp's servers. This could be one of the Corp's central servers—HQ (hand), R&D (deck), or Archives (discard pile)—or it could be a remote server that the Corp created by installing one or more cards from its hand.

So here, already, we have the fact that the Runner can potentially hack into anything the Corp builds. As the Runner, you can attack the Corp player's hand or deck. You can go after the Corp player's discard pile. Or you can test the defenses of any of the remote servers the Corp creates.

Added to this, we have the fact that the Runner is hunting blind. When the Corp installs a card, it puts that card into play facedown. It's only at the very moment of interaction that the card is typically revealed. And these points of interaction come—most often—during runs.

To initiate a run, the Runner simply spends one of his or her four actions for the turn, targets a server, and begins to approach it. If the Corp hasn't defended the server, the Runner automatically accesses one or more cards—depending on the cards in play and the server the Runner targeted. If, however, the Corp has installed defenses between the server and the Runner, the Corp player has the chance to "rez" these layers of ice—paying credits to turn them face-up—as the Runner approaches them.

Each piece of ice has a rez cost, indicating how many credits the Corp must spend to rez it, a number of subroutines that will fire if the Runner doesn't break them, a strength the Runner must match in order to interact with the ice's subroutines, and one or more traits—such as Barrier, Sentry, or Code Gate—that dictate which programs the Runner must use to break the ice's subroutines.

If there are multiple layers of ice, then both players face choices at each layer. Will the Runner continue to press forward, or will he or she "jack out," ending the run to avoid any additional risks? Will the Corp rez the next piece of ice, or save the credits for a different aspect of the corporate expansion?

Sometimes the Corp can simply bluff the Runner into ending a run by looking at the rez cost of its ice, peeking underneath the facedown card installed in the root of the remote server, counting credits, and then deciding not to rez the ice. What does this mean? Is this a bluff? Or did the Corp player just let on that they are saving four credits to spring an ambush, paying for a lethal Snare! (Revised Core Set, 82)?

Click on the above image to launch a run against the Corporation's remote server.

Assuming the Runner continues the run and successfully makes it through the server's ice alive, the Corp still has the opportunity to rez any upgrades the server may contain—such as Ash 2X3ZB9CY (Revised Core Set, 75)—which may alter the run according to their game text. Otherwise, the Runner accesses cards normally, and if the Runner accesses an agenda, that card is "stolen."

To win the game, the Runner needs to steal a total of seven points worth of agendas. The Corp, on the other hand, needs to score seven agenda points by advancing them. And here, again, the game creates a rich and nuanced tension between you and your opponent.

“Last year, I found a game that gives me what I’ve always wanted from a cyberpunk game—Android: Netrunner […] When I make a run on a corporation’s server, using my icebreakers to slip past their defenses, dive into their systems, and swipe some precious, glowing core of data, it feels just like I always imagined it would.”
    –Carolyn Petit, Netrunner: Every Deck Tells a Story

Both sides want to build for the moments of interaction. But the Corp can never be certain its defenses are strong enough. The Runner can never be certain he or she isn't dashing headlong into a trap. And, ultimately, you have to take risks. The Corp needs to install its agendas to score them, but doing so places them in vulnerable locations. The Runner needs to run to steal the agendas, but can only hope its rig of icebreakers is up to the task of breaking whatever ice the Corp might rez.

So, here, in a nutshell is the game: Both sides are desperately maneuvering to exploit the other's momentary weaknesses. Both sides are withholding key information from the other and making decisions from round to round about whether to push fast through small windows in which they have the advantage—or to build for even greater advantages. And it's all driven by that ever-present threat of the Runner's attack on a Corporate server.

Accordingly, the Revised Core Set—while it reprints a good number of cards from the original Core Set—focuses on these key points of interaction. It reprints cards from the original Core Set that enhance the game's central tensions, and it moves away from others that interacted with the game's expanding card pool in ways that detracted from the threats of agendas scored or stolen. It rewards the constant back-and-forth of the round structure, playing up the cat-and-mouse analogy of the Corp and Runner, while moving away from cards that could swing a game's momentum too far in either direction.

Moreover, each of the game's seven factions approaches this core struggle according to its own style, strengths, and motivations. The result is that the game and its deckbuilding options are as rich and varied as the world in which it's set—and that's already one of the most diverse settings in all of gaming.

Your Future Starts Here

Since 2012, Android: Netrunner The Card Game has proven itself something special—it's constantly set itself one step apart from your standard card game.

This owes largely to the strength of Richard Garfield's original design and the way it lends itself to bluffs, mind games, and the variety of actions that players can take without ever playing a card. It owes a great deal, as well, to the way it was reimagined as a Living Card Game® with seven core factions loaded with theme and personality.

“In Android: Netrunner exists one of the singular cultural artifacts of our time.”
    –Kill Screen

But there's plenty to be said, too, for the way that Android: Netrunner explodes in the mind and reaches beyond our games and into the way we think about the world around us. It is set in the future of the Android universe, yes, but this is a future that everyday seems a little closer.

The issues we touch in Android: Netrunner feel more real than those in games with knights and wizards and dragons. Corporations are actually gobbling each other up and forming giant megacorps. Hackers are no longer just a geek concern; they are an everyday threat and a recurring news item. As a result, Android: Netrunner feels a bit like the card games you may have played earlier—but more grownup.

To some extent we see this maturation reflected in the Revised Core Set, which has moved the Android universe five years forward from the classic Core Set. But while characters like Chaos Theory (Revised Core Set, 37) and Gabriel Santiago (Revised Core Set, 19) may be five years older, their spirits remain young.

Android: Netrunner isn't just a game; it's a cultural artifact that's fun to play. The Revised Core Set (ADN49) is your starting point. Head to your local gaming store to pre-order your copy today, or pre-order yours online from our webstore. Then keep your eyes open for our previews of the game's Corp and Runner factions!

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