Review: Android – Netrunner


I’ve been mulling the possibility of this review around in my mind for a while now.  Every time I’d start to outline a review, I would hesitate.  I really wanted to spend more time with the game, exploring its depth and intricacies to ensure I really had a refined impression.  After having spent a sufficient amount of time with the game now, I feel I can no longer delay.  I must share the glory that is Android: Netrunner with my friends and our readers.


Android: Netrunner was originally published in 1996 by Wizards of the Coast as simply Netrunner.  It was designed by the now revered and esteemed creator of Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield.  It was released as a Collectible Card Game, using the same “Starter/Booster” sales model as Magic: The Gathering and other CCGs of the time.  Taking place in a cyberpunk setting, Netrunner has a unique “Asymmetrical” style of play.  One player assumes the role of an enormous megacorporation or “Corp” and attempts to complete a number of various agendas.  The opposite player takes the role of the elite hacker or “Runner” and is tasked with stealing those agendas by making “runs” on the Corp’s various servers.

While receiving much critical praise and a devoted following, the game simply did not reach the level of popularity required to sustain a healthy market.  Some might attribute this to the combination of the asymmetrical nature of the game and the booster pack/rarity model that most CCGs followed at that time. A planned second expansion was never released as production was halted near the end of 1996.


Original 1996 Starter Pack (opened) contained two decks and a rulebook.

A Living Card Game

Fast forward about fifteen years to 2012 and we have Fantasy Flight Games with the licensing rights to produce a game under the Netrunner moniker.  This is  where things get really interesting…  As you may or may not be aware, Fantasy Flight Games already produces a number of card games under their “Living Card Games” model of design and production. Living Card Games are a fixed distribution method and a great break from the traditional CCG model.  They offer the ever expanding library of cards, innovation, growth, and evolution that makes CCG’s so attractive to gamers, while doing away with the manufactured rarity of booster packs.  No longer will you feel the need to spend more money than you want and STILL not get the card you were hoping for.  No complex network of trading required.  When you buy a “Data Pack” expansion, which are released monthly, you get a fixed distribution of 60 cards.  Three copies each of twenty brand new cards, a complete playset.  Now THAT is convenient collecting.


New Core Set box from Fantasy Flight Games.
Randomized heartbreaking crap rares, not included.

A Two Player Asymmetrical Card Game – Corporation vs. Runner

Asym-what, you say?  Asymmetrical, where the two sides are not identical.  Megacorp vs. Runner in a war of cybercrime and electronic espionage.  I will take some time here to give you a nibble of the mechanics.  It would not be worth my time to dig too deeply into the rules, as the rulebook is 36 pages and you would most likely be better served by watching the 20-minute tutorial video.  Having said that, I can’t really talk about the game without giving you a small dose of the crunch.  I’ll go over some of the differences between the two sides of the game and in doing so, hopefully we will have fleshed out a healthy bit of mechanics.

First we have the corporation.  The megacorporations influence every part of life in this world, they control or are connected to everyone and everything.  They are powerful and they wish to hold on to and foster that power.  What’s the best way to maintain power?  Secrets.  The flavor of the Corp deck is “what you don’t know… you don’t know.”  The CORP plays or INSTALLS all of their cards face down without paying any costs.  When they want to use the card they REZ it, paying the costs to do so.  The goal for the corporation is to score SEVEN agenda points, by paying to advance the agenda.  Alternatively, if they were to discover that those corporate agendas were at risk then they would also consider it a win to eliminate the threat against the agendas.  They do this by flatlining the runner dead (causing them to discard more cards than they have in their hand).  The corporation always starts the game with the upper hand, they always start first and they always draw a card every turn.  Because they are a large entity and are bound by their own bureaucracy they get only three CLICKS or actions per turn.


Corp Cards

As the Runner your goal is to liberate those corporate agendas.  If you score SEVEN agenda points, you too will win.  Your alternative win condition is drying out the corporations R&D department (draw deck).  Without new lies to sell, how can they succeed?  Because you are not bound by corporate laws, you’re more mobile and therefore have four clicks (actions) per turn.Corp-Actions

The corporation has lots of information.  This information is stored on servers.  Their deck is their R&D.  They never know what’s cooking down in R&D, but when they send that info upstairs, that’s when the magic happens.  Their hand is the HQ, where all the decisions are made.  The discard pile is known as the archives, usually used up programs, dried up resources, but sometimes things get misfiled and there might be something valuable in there.  You never know.  To score an agenda the corporation must install that agenda into a remote server.  All these servers, how do you keep runners from just walking in and stealing things?  ICE.  Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics;  Sophisticated programs that can use SUBROUTINES (abilities) to trace, damage, end the run, and generally make life hell for runners.


Runner Cards


On the other side of the conflict we have the runner, assembling assets, hardware, programs, credits, etc., all with the goal of hacking into the corp’s servers to liberate agendas for themselves.  The runner does this by MAKING A RUN on a corp server.  If the server is protected by ICEthe corp has the option of REZZING the ICE.  The runner then has a chance to subvert the ICE, typically by using a program such as an ICEBREAKER.  Runs can be a complex endeavor and the runner will often have very little information, so every piece of information they do have is incredibly important to them.

The twists come in when you understand that the corporation can install TRAPS for the runner. That server that you think holds an agenda that the corp is trying to advance and score, might actually hold a trap that does 3 NET DAMAGE, causing you to discard three cards from your GRIP (hand).  As a runner, if you’re ever forced to discard more cards than you have in your grip, you’re flatlined and the corp wins.  Since the corp installs all cards face down, the game can become a game of bluffing and misdirection.


If you haven’t picked up on it so far, this game is dripping with sci-fi, cyberpunk, tech, flavor.  It is heavily themed as such and if that’s not up your alley, it might be difficult aspect for you to get past.  The theme is so thick, that it tends to add to the learning curve considerably.  New players will tend to struggle with the terminology of the game, as with most FFG games, they don’t call a deck a deck nor a hand a hand.  The runner hand is the GRIP and the corp hand is the HQ.  Personally, I love it, but I can understand the criticism.  Especially if you add the layer of iconography of these new terms.

Box and Contents on display.  TONS of value in there.

Box and Contents on display. TONS of value in there. 252 Cards and counters.


Android: Netrunner is an absolute joy to play.  The theme is perfectly matched to the mechanics.  It is a perfect fit for Fantasy Flight Games’ Android universe, hard sci-fi, heavily influenced by cyberpunk and science fiction staples.  It is almost certainly unlike any other card game you’ve ever played.  There is an incredible amount of variety directly out of the core set.  There are essentially seven (SEVEN!) starter decks in the core set alone.  That is some serious value, in my opinion.  The game was released towards the end of 2012 and already has seen three “data packs” released to expand the card library.  Again, let me repeat, there are no “rare” cards in these expansions.  When you buy a data pack, you get the same sixty cards as everyone else that buys the data pack.  As a collector, this is ideal.


packed with sci-fi references!

While there is a bit of a learning curve, it may take more than the typical one or two matches to truly get a feel for the game, it is most definitely worth the time and effort.  The main hurdle for new players will be the terminology of the mechanics.  While the new terms completely fit the theme of the world and make absolute sense when taken in that mindset, I’ve witnessed firsthand some players have difficulty getting past that particular mental block.  I highly recommend reading the rules two or three times, watch the tutorial, and play your first games with someone experienced who has plenty of patience.

Now get out there and buy yourself a copy, find a friend and hack the planet! Or trace that runner, tag ’em and bag ’em!  Or simply layer that ICE so thick the runner fries his brain while you score that final agenda giving you ultimate corporate power!


External Resources:

Images are the property of their creators.  All images sourced from galleries at

About Michael Boyd

Gaming, Movies, Science Fiction and Fantasy are my passions. Combine any two of these and I typically lose my mind over whatever that thing is. Living in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. with my beautiful wife and our four legged little ones. Together, we do the best we can to improve our life every day.

Posted on March 13, 2013, in Reviews, Sci Fi, Tabletop Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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