The Best Cyberpunk Game You are Probably Not Playing
Chances are if you are a frequent reader of this blog you either are:
a) a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror;
b) a fan of modern board games;
c) a fan of William Gibson’s Sprawl series, particularly his seminal novel Neuromancer (1984).
Neuromancer introduced the world to terminologies like cyberspace, microsofts, arcology, and mutagens. The dystopian world depicted in this novel would create two new subgenres in sci-fi: cyberpunk and biopunk.
The new genre quickly became a subculture in itself and inspired a whole movement. Its anarchistic sensibilities striking a chord with its readers and feeling relevant after thirty-plus years.
The futuristic vision portrayed is a mix of humans abusing technology and technology dehumanizing humans (which in retrospect feels like a fulfilling prophecy).
Can you imagine playing a card game heavily inspired by Neuromancer? How about an asymmetrical living card game based on it? Enter Android: Netrunner.
If we can play games based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, why not Gibson’s cyberpunk? Android: Netrunner is easily the best cyberpunk game you are probably not playing.
It’s Like Magic: The Gathering but Not Quite
How do you explain Android: Netrunner to a non-gamer? How?
It is not an easy game to describe. My friend Dan described it to me as Neuromancer, the card game. But what if you are not familiar with William Gibson’s novel?
You could say it is similar to the phenomenal Magic: The Gathering but not quite. Unsurprisingly, both games share the same creator, Richard Garfield.
However, Android: Netrunner has never achieved the same level of popularity and cultural relevance as Magic.
You could argue it is because most people prefer fantasy to sci-fi. Or you could argue it is because of Magic’s collectible nature.
In my opinion, I believe it has more to do with the easiness to learn and simplicity in Magic.
To clarify, Magic is easier to explain and start playing right out of the box. On the other hand, Android: Netrunner takes time to learn and it is much longer to master.
Its intricacies are not easy. And yet, perhaps because the game is so demanding and there is so much world-building embedded into it, it is a more immersive experience.
The more you play it, the more you’ll feel like the CEO of an evil mega-corporation or a lowlife hacker trying to bring that corporation down, one icebreaker at a time.
Fantasy Flight Games have made an amazing job in doing the game justice with its revised edition (2012) and supporting the tournament scene. The game is full of theme. This is cyberpunk/Ameritrash like you never played before.
Android: Netrunner Explained
Two players build a deck of cards with two different goals, strategies, and winning conditions. There are four mega-corporations to chose from: NBN, Haas-Bioroid, Jinteki, and the Weyland Consortium.
Furthermore, there are three different hacker factions: Anarchs (they are angry at corporations), criminals (they hack for profit), and shapers (those who hack for idealistic reasons).
Did I mention the game is asymmetrical?
The Corps’ goal is to advance an agenda until they hit seven points and the runners’ goal is to steal the corp’s agenda’s until they also win seven points.
The corps can protect their servers and agendas with ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics). The runner can use ICEbreakers to break those ICE but the icebreaker has to match the ice type.
Furthermore, the best strategy to win may be bluffing. You need to bring your best poker face (something hard to do for me) and act like you have a good hand even when you don’t. Not only that, but you need to know how to manage your hand and decide how much to risk.
Should You Try Android: Netrunner?
If you can’t tell, Android: Netrunner is one of my favorite games and it checks all the boxes of things I love in a modern boardgame. The only reason it did not make my top ten board game list is that at the time I haven’t played it enough. This brings up my next point.
Android: Netrunner (like Magic: The Gathering) are what people call “lifestyle games”. These are games that require a lot of commitment and dedication from the player.
But do not be discouraged by the rulebook or the complexity. The more you play it the more you will start catching its intricacies and lingo.
In brief, if you love Neuromancer, cyberpunk, living card games, nice artwork, immersive play bordering in storytelling, science fiction, or are just a rebel at heart, you would love Android: Netrunner. Start with the core set and see if you like it. (You will.)
My personal play variant is draft, but feel free to visit your local gaming/hobby store and join a group.
As a matter of fact, I feel Android: Netrunner players are more welcoming and willing to teach a newbie how to play and even let them borrow a pre-made deck since you cannot play by yourself.
Finally, bring your decks to your next science fiction convention. There is usually a gaming suite. You will find people willing to play. After all, who would not want to live up to their cyberpunk fantasies? Let’s break the ice by breaking some ICE.
Are you a fan of Android: Netrunner? What is your favorite faction? Which is your favorite Mega-Corp? More importantly, do you want to play?